Expand your Reti-knowledge: Why Vitamin A is taking over the beauty world

dropper oil
If you're shying away from this beauty holy grail, you're not alone. Photo credit: Getty.

Beauty fans: Hands up if you want to diminish fine lines, brighten dull skin, treat acne and overall give your skin a more youthful appearance? 

Right, so, that's all of us then. 

The answer is skincare's current holy grail ingredient you've probably seen pop up on your Instagram feeds or favourite beauty blogs. Retinol has been touted by experts for ages for its ability to basically reverse ageing, in a Benjamin Button-esque way. 

But if you've been wary of trying it, I don't blame you. The name sounds a little scary, like something you learned about in NCEA science, and the side effects even more so: flaking, dryness, and increased sensitivity to the sun.

This means that a lot of people in their early to mid-twenties end up ignoring retinol until later years, in some far-off age when crow's feet are an issue.

But prevention is better than cure, and retinol is something almost all of us can benefit from - you just have to be careful how you tackle it. 

What is retinol?

Retinol is a synthetic derivative of vitamin A, the group of fat-soluble vitamins common in carrots, eggs and kumara. When applied topically in skincare, it converts to retinoic acid and speeds up cell turnover, basically tricking your skin into thinking it's younger than it is. 

"Retinols work by increasing collagen production as well as increasing the rate of skin cell turnover," New York dermatologist Shari Marchbein told Glamour. "They also help treat acne, blackheads, and clogged pores by reducing the stickiness of the cells that clog pores, as well as speeding up the rate at which the skin turns over and regenerates." 

How do I use it?

As I mentioned above, retinol use can come with some nasty side effects, including flaking, irritated skin and even breakouts upon its first use. This is because it's strong stuff - so strong it's not recommended to be used by pregnant or breastfeeding women, due to high levels of vitamin A. The key is to go in slowly, using your chosen retinol product once a week to start, and eventually moving up to every other day. This is not a process you need to rush, and I definitely recommend staying away from other actives like Vitamin C or salicylic acid on days you use it. If your skin is easily irritated, you can try 'buffering' to begin, using your retinol on top of your favourite gentle moisturizer to slow the absorption into the skin. 

And the number one retinol tip: Use a high SPF sunblock every. Single. Day. 

Our retinol picks: 

Dermalogica retinol clearing oil

This wondrous product is perfect for those of us in our mid to late twenties who are battling with the hormonal acne of our teens, along with the first signs of ageing of the future. Cute! The oil provides a slow-release form of retinol which works gently overnight, meaning its a lot less harsh than many other more concentrated forms. Meanwhile, salicylic acid clears pores and kills off acne-causing bacteria. It says it can be used every night, but as with other retinol products, start off once or twice a week. 

Emma Lewisham Supernatural retinol 

This Kiwi brand is making waves in the skincare world, and we're sure this new innovative retinol product will be no different. Using natural vitamin A derivatives, including anti-inflammatory bakuchiol, this is a great option for those making the switch to natural skincare. In a pretty revolutionary twist, due to its natural properties, it’s safe for pregnant and breastfeeding women to use, unlike other forms of synthetic vitamin A.

Sunday Riley Luna oil

If you have easily irritated skin, this is a great product to dive into the retinol world with. This evening oil treatment is blended with blue tansy and avocado oil to soothe redness and ensure skin looks luminous the following morning. For best results, apply Luna as the first step of your evening skincare routine, before layering other serums and moisturisers on top. And don't get a fright when it comes out blue, it becomes clear upon contact with your skin. Phew!