The unassuming ingredient set to become the holy grail of skincare

Retinol. The answer is always retinol. Talk to any dermatologist or beauty geek about your skin issues, and they’re most likely to recommend a retinol-based formula. Want to treat fine lines and wrinkles? Retinol will boost collagen production. Acne? Retinol will unclog pores and fade scars. Dullness and dark spots? Rely on retinol to even out pigmentation and smoothen complexion. 

“Retinol is a baby version of tretinoin [aka retinoid], a prescription medicine, and they’re both derivatives of vitamin A,” explains Dr Harshna Bijlani skin expert and medical head at The Ageless Clinic. The many other versions of vitamin A go by retinoic acid, retinyl palmitate and retinol aldehyde, and are just as effective. Studies have proven that retinol works at a molecular level and significantly changes the appearance of skin over three months of daily use. 

For an overachiever, retinol has quite a bad rep amongst those with sensitive skin and rosacea. The reason? It often causes dryness, peeling and rough patches (especially if you’re too heavy-handed). The next-gen offerings are formulated to be much more gentler. “Some of the new formulations combine retinol with hyaluronic acid and vitamin C,” explains Dr Bijlani. “They come in different combinations, strengths and textures giving consumers more options to choose from based on their skin type and needs.” More recently, rosehip and bakuchiol have also gained popularity for their retinol-like effects. But Dr Bijlani is not convinced, she says, “Retinol has years and years of data and studies to back it up. While the natural oils would work well in combination with retinol, I would not recommend them as a substitute.” 

Word to the wise: practise restraint with retinol. Dr Bijlani recommends, “Start by mixing one drop of any retinol-based product in your moisturiser, and leave it on for a few hours every alternate night until your skin acclimatized to it. Make sure your cleanser doesn’t have any acids that will sensitize your skin further. And always wear sunscreen.”


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