Name for the entire vitamin A molecule. Retinol is a powerhouse ingredient that has value for skin on several fronts: It’s a skin-restoring, wrinkle-smoothing, firming ingredient and an antioxidant, allowing it to improve a variety of skin concerns, most related to visible signs of ageing.

Packaging is a key issue, so any container that lets in air (like jar packaging) or sunlight (clear containers) just won’t cut it. Lots of retinol products come in unacceptable packaging; these should be avoided because the retinol will most likely be (or quickly become) ineffective. Look for opaque, airless, or air-restrictive packaging.

Many consumers are concerned about the percentage of retinol in anti-ageing products such as serums or moisturizers. Although the percentage can make a difference (especially if it’s too low), it’s not helpful in understanding how a retinol product will benefit your skin. Far more important is the delivery system, packaging, and the other ingredients present with the retinol. 

Using a product with a range of anti-ageing ingredients plus retinol is far more valuable for skin than using a product with only a supposedly high percentage of retinol. Skin needs far more than any one ingredient can provide, however great that one ingredient may be. See our article on this topic for detailed information.

There are several myths about using retinol with other anti-ageing ingredients or products, such as those with vitamin C or exfoliants like glycolic acid. See our article on this topic to learn what the research has shown to be true.

References for this information:
Journal of Drugs in Dermatology, March 2015, pages 271-280
Dermatology, May 2014, pages 314-325
Dermatoendocrinology, July 2012, issue 3, pages 308-319
Toxicological Research, March 2010, pages 61-66
Archives of Dermatology, May 2007, pages 606-612
The Journal of Pathology, January 2007, issue 2, pages 241-251
Clinical Interventions in Aging, December 2006, pages 327-348

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About the Experts

Paula Begoun is the best-selling author of 20 books about skincare and makeup. She is known worldwide as The Cosmetics Cop and creator of Paula’s Choice Skincare. Paula’s expertise has led to hundreds of appearances on national and international radio, print, and television including:

The Paula's Choice Research Team is dedicated to busting beauty myths and providing expert advice that solves your skincare frustrations so you can have the best skin of your life!