Retinol is a derivative of vitamin A. It is widely accepted as being the only skincare ingredient, along with SPF, proven to have any effect on the skin’s ageing process. Skin ageing is an intricate biological process consisting of two types. The first, intrinsic, (or chronological) ageing is an inevitable process. The second, photoaging, is premature ageing caused by cumulative exposure to ultraviolet radiation.
What does ageing actually mean?
Ageing is the manifestation of biological attrition at a cellular level. It presents as a decrease in ability to perform normal functions and it occurs throughout every organism’s life. Simply put, it’s the result of a program or clock within the genetic make-up of every living species. Concurrent cumulative damage to the genes also leads to a compromise in function. (Most genes contain information needed to make proteins which are functional molecules). This leads the organism towards premature ageing¹.
What this really means is that there is nothing we can do about intrinsic ageing. It’s a normal part of life. We can however prevent, or at least reduce, premature skin-ageing by wearing SPF. But can we reverse the signs of photo-ageing?
What are retinoids?
Retinoid is the umbrella term for Vitamin A derivatives: retinoic acid, retinyl esters and retinol all come under this umbrella.
Retinoic acid has been used since the 1960s as an approved medicine to treat acne. Two decades later, evidence begin to emerge that it had anti-ageing benefits, a positive and unexpected side-effect noticed by some long-term users. Dermatologists began to study retinoic acid for its benefits on photo-aged skin. However, retinoic acid is inherently unstable and it can cause irritation, hence why it is a prescription only medicine. They had to look at other retinoids that might be suitable for use in cosmetic skincare.
Retinyl esters are sometimes called Pro-retinol- they’re converted into retinol in the skin. This class of retinoid is stable, mild and suitable for those with sensitive skin.
Retinol is stronger than retinyl esters. It can be difficult to deliver in a stable and effective form and it can cause irritation. Skincare companies have devised formulations that deliver efficacy with minimal irritation.
My experience with retinol
Before I tell you about my experience with retinol, I’d like to give a little bit of background about the way in which I work with skincare brands.
Over the last few years, through my blog, I’ve had the opportunity to try a lot of skincare products. It’s rare that I write a sponsored skincare post, (in which the brand pays for my work) because beauty isn’t my field of expertise so I don’t do many paid partnerships. I do however get offered a lot of press samples to try.
It takes anything between four and eight hours to create a blog post, so I usually accept such offers and say that if I love it and believe in it, I’ll include it in a “round-up” post or put a review on Instagram Stories. If I don’t love it, (the name of my blog is the giveaway), or if I wouldn’t buy it with my own money, I just don’t mention it. I can’t justify the time it takes to write a post, (either positive or negative), if it isn’t commensurate with the value, (not necessarily monetary), of the item. Most brands understand, respect and happily accept this arrangement. It means I can try their product without prejudice and without obligation to write about it. They know that in return, if I do write a review, it is a genuine one.
As you might imagine, a forty-something blogger like my good self, gets offered a lot of anti-ageing skincare products. Over the years, I’ve tried several products that contain retinol and they always caused irritation. Nothing major- a prickle rather than an itch, and sometimes, especially at the corner of my eyes, a mild dermatitis. They didn’t suit my skin so I stopped using them on my face and used them on my hands instead. (I’m not wasteful). So of course, I didn’t write about them
But, it turns out I just didn’t know how to use retinol properly. Insert hand on face emoji here.
How to use retinol
No 7 sent a bespoke skincare regime to me in August. It contained their Advanced Retinol 1.5% Complex Night Concentrate, Protect & Perfect Intense Advance serum, eye cream and night cream and Facial Suncare SPF.
The Retinol Complex Night Concentrate contains among others, the following ingredients.
- 0.3% Pure Retinol – the expert recommended powerful level for efficacy and skin comfort.
- Retinol optimiser – an intelligent slow-release oil encapsulation system for enhanced delivery throughout the night.
- Retinol Soother – helps to calm the skin.
And it was created to be the first stage in an evening regime.
- Apply 2 pumps of the evenly onto a cleansed face avoiding the eye, outer eye and lip area.
- Allow the product to completely absorb into the skin.
- Apply serum, eye cream and then night cream.
- Retinol can make the skin more sensitive to UV radiation. Limit sun exposure and apply minimum SPF 15 Day Cream every morning while using the product.
The products came with an instruction booklet with the most important advice being: “limit initial use (of the retinol) to once or twice a week on non-consecutive nights, gradually increasing frequency to every other night, then every night as tolerated. As a guide, it will normally take at least 4 weeks to reach nightly use.”
So now I know why it didn’t work out before. I didn’t know to avoid the outer eye area with retinol or that I should increase the frequency of use gradually. This time, I followed the advice to the letter and I now use the regime on a 3-1 basis. Three nights using it, one night using my beloved Ark Skincare products. Incidentally, I assume the same advice will apply to similar retinol products from other brands. It just happens that I tried the No7 one.
How retinol has improved my skin
I haven’t quite finished the retinol complex but I restocked when they were on 3 for 2. (The same promotion is running at the time of writing this post-click here). I’ve had excellent results and I can, hand-on-heart, see a difference. My skin is smoother, firmer and has a more even texture. It’s difficult to photograph and is very subjective, but all I can say is that I wouldn’t have spent £68 if I didn’t believe in the product. (£34 each, 3-for-2 offer).
I won’t replenish the other products yet because I already have serums, eye cream and night cream from other brands. Instead, I’ll experiment and mix and match with the No7 retinol. I much prefer my usual daily sunscreen, the Vichy Ideal Soleil Mattifying Face Dry Touch Sun Cream to the No7 one. The Vichy has a matt finish which works brilliantly under make-up. The No7 one isn’t matt enough for what I want.
So all-in-all, now I know how to use retinol in my skincare regime, I will always include it.
No 7 gifted a bespoke skincare regime to me in August and I started using the Advanced Retinol 1.5% Complex Night Concentrate then. And just so you know, this isn’t a sponsored post and I was under no obligation to write a review. I’m just pleased I now know how to use retinol properly!
Please note that the links are affiliate links (which means I will make a very small commission if you follow the link and make a purchase).
Hi Lizzie, Thanks for the blogs, really good to read about other lives, particularly at the moment when it is so easy to be isolated. This post was definitely of interest. I’ve used the Boots No. 7 serums for about 5 years. My Mum bought me my first and they really are good for anti-aging/wrinkling. My lockdown ‘pick-me-up’ has been a Beauty Pie subscription and I’ve enjoyed using their retinols, and through them learned that they have to be introduced carefully. Incidentally, I asked if you could recommend a waterproof mascara that would stay put even with ‘dry’ eyes. I’ve tried several since then and the best so far has been the latest Boots No. 7 Lash Impact Waterproof Mascara. Hope that Poppy gets home ok from Uni and that this term has been as ‘ok’ as it can be.
Hi Sue. Lovely to hear from you. And interesting that you rate the Boots serums too. I’ve really enjoyed trying the No7 products. The Beauty Pie subscription always sounds very tempting!! And yes, I’m looking forward to having Poppy home over Christmas. They’ve missed out on so much this year. I feel very sad for them. I hope your son is going well. He’ll be home soon too I assume? xxx
Thanks for your due diligence on this Liz. I’m a big fan of retinol but I probably wouldn’t have looked at the Boots No.7 brand without your recommendation. It looks fantastic value, I’ll definitely try it.
It’s been an eye-opener, especially now I know how best to use a retinol skincare system! xxx