A deep dive into Retinol

by mera

By Mera Tabarruk

Chances are if you’re interested in skincare, you have probably already heard all the hype around retinol. But for those who have no idea what it even is, we’ve got you covered.

Below you’ll have all your retinol questions answered by Mele Olivetti, founder of Feniu; an Australian owned and made, organic luxury skincare brand.

Mele Olivetti Founder of Feniu

What is retinol and what can it actually do?

The easiest way to explain it is that retinol is a vitamin A derivative. Retinol (along with other retinols such as retinoic acid and retinyl palmitat) are an active vitamin A ingredient. It’s used in a host of skincare products to address a wide range of skin concerns such as reducing fine lines and wrinkles through to minimising dark spots and acne. It’s incredibly beneficial to the skin because essentially tries to mimic the body’s own Vitamin A which can boost cellular turnover. By speeding up this process, retinol can remove dead skin that has accumulated on the surface, clear impurities (helping to reduce breakouts) and diminish the appearance of pores, fine lines and wrinkles. 

Can retinol cause – or help – acne?

In the short-term retinol can actually make acne worse, however be patient! Most people might experience what is called a ‘skin purge’ where all the impurities within the skin rise to the surface due to the active agent. The good news is that a skin purge is good for the skin in the long term, helping to clear out blocked pores, dead skin cells and any other impurities which can cause acne. So yes, it can certainly cause more pimples temporarily, but once those pores are de-clogged, you can make way for clearer skin. 

Retinol versus Retinoid

This is a question that comes up a lot – what is the difference between a retinol and retinoid? The easiest way to explain it is that ‘retinol’ is one of the many types of retinols available that all fall under the banner of ‘retinoid’. So, it’s a bit confusing because they are essentially the same thing, but generally speaking, ‘retinoid’ is a generic term for any topical product that contains a vitamin A derivative. The term retinoid typically refers to prescription-strength retinoid products, whereas a retinol is generally a gentler version of retinoid and therefore available without needing a prescription. 

Can retinol burn your skin?

Yes, it can, although typically when using in a high potency. If you are introducing a retinol into your routine, start off with a smaller potency. When using Feniu’s Advanced Retinol Repairing Eye Serum, we recommend doing a patch test first to monitor how your skin reacts (this is especially true for those with sensitive skin). Our eye serum is formulated with a smaller dose of retinol and paired with skin nourishing ingredients like Organic Moringa Oil which makes it perfect for first time use. As it is created for the delicate area around the eyes, most people will ease into the use seamlessly. However, if you are to opt for a product that has high dosages of retinol, tread with caution and always do a patch test first. Also be very mindful about the other active ingredients that you use with retinol. More on that below! 

What ingredients can’t I use with retinol?

This really depends on the potency of the active ingredients in each product, however as a general rule, try not to use retinol with vitamin C, benzoyl peroxide, and AHA/BHA acids. A Any active ingredient that is exfoliating like AHA and BHA acids, when used with retinol can dry out the skin and, in some cases, cause irritation. When it comes to benzoyl peroxide, when paired with retinol, they cancel each other out. This means the active ingredient essentially stops working and so you’d be wasting your money! When introducing any active ingredient into your skincare regime always do your research to ensure that you aren’t going to introduce ingredients that might react with another skincare product. Layering or mixing ingredients together can cause them to lose their efficacy or worse – cause harmful reactions to the skin.

Can retinol shrink pores?

Let’s clear the air on this topic – no ingredient will ever shrink your pores. What an ingredient can do however is minimise the appearance of them. Unfortunately, your pore size is typically determined by your age or your genetics (or both)! This means it’s not something we have much control over. Typically, people with oily skin tend to have larger pores because they’re more active in releasing oil through a wider opening. Our pore size can change or seemingly get bigger as we age, due to older skin slowing down production of collagen and losing its elasticity (hello stretching and sagging of the skin which make pores look larger). Here’s what retinol can do for pore size – reduce the appearance of them. Studies show that applying retinol can help to reduce the appearance of pore size by its ability to keep them clean. Retinol can empty out the impurities which can often be the culprit for an oversized appearance.

Will redness caused by retinol go away?

Redness usually only occurs when you are using high dosages or potency of retinol. If you burn your skin with a high dose, it’s likely your skin will be red for 24 hours or in some cases, a week. It really just depends on your skin (how sensitive it is) and the potency of the ingredient. If you are prone to redness and you use a retinol in high percentages, there is a chance your skin will look pinkish or red from use. It does go away over time, but if your skin looks irritated, raw or is painful to touch, stop using immediately. 

Can you use retinol while pregnant?

The jury is still out on this one, but I would advise avoiding the use of retinol altogether whilst pregnant. Some studies suggest there is a low risk of harm, however other experts strongly advise to avoid applying any vitamin A-based formulations (like retinol) to their skin during early pregnancy. 


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