woman applying serum on her face

What does retinol do

Everything you need to know about what does retinol do and how to use retinol in your skin care

What is retinol and what does it do?

An anti-ageing hero, retinol is a derivative of vitamin A that is celebrated for its ability to plump, smooth and rejuvenate the skin. 

This active skincare ingredient has become the go-to anti-ageing product for many, but if you’re new to retinol, knowing how to use it and understanding what to - and what not to - combine it with - can be daunting. 

Retinol is best introduced slowly and steadying into your routine, but even then, it is not for all skins. 

Here we take a look at how retinol works, how to use it - and its effects on the skin and alternatives. 

What is retinol?

Retinoids are derivatives of vitamin A - the most common of these is retinol. They can come in many concentrations and potencies, and stronger formulas are usually  prescription only. Over-the-counter retinol, found in numerous products from serums to night creams, is the one most people will reach for to improve uneven skin tone, pigmentation and texture. 

How does retinol work?

Until your 30s, your body produces fresh skin cells every 28 days. But as you reach your mid-30s, the skin cells' regeneration becomes more sluggish and continues to slow down over time, until the cells only replace themselves every 50, 60, or 70 days. With the older cells lingering for longer the skin can look dry, dull, and dehydrated. 

Retinol stimulates cellular turnover in the skin, increasing the frequency at which fresh skin cells regenerate, leaving soft, baby-like skin.

Retinoid vs retinol

Retinoids are chemical compounds and derivatives of vitamin A. It is a broad term that covers over the counter retinol (such as those used in skincare products), as well as prescription-strength retinoic acids, like Tretinoin and Tazarotene.

Retinoids are stronger and more concentrated than retinol and, as a result, turn over skin cells at a faster rate. Retinoids are most often used in medicine to regulate epithelial cell g


How to use retinol

If you are new to retinol, you should approach it slowly and steadily. Using it too frequently or at too high a concentration can irritate the skin, leaving it red, inflamed and in some cases, peeling. This is often known as “retinol uglies” or “retinol purge” and is common in many people, but sensitive skins may find the reaction more intense. 
brunette woman smiling
It is not uncommon for retinol novices to experience excess dryness and some irritation when first using retinol and, if it is not painful, experts recommend pushing through this purging stage. The best approach is to apply once or twice a week and increase frequency as tolerance builds. Using hydrating serums and calming moisturisers as part of your skincare routine will help soothe irritated skin. 

Introducing retinol to your routine does require patience. Don’t expect results overnight; it can take two to three months of consistent use to notice brighter, firmer-feeling skin. 

How to start using retinol

Nivea Expert Lift Cellular products range
- Start by using a retinol product two to three times a week before working up to nightly
- Use no-more than a pea-sized amount 
- Apply a moisturiser to your skin after you apply retinol product at night
- Use a hydrating serum before you apply a product containing retinol 
- Apply only at night and use suncream in the day as retinoids can make skin more sensitive to sun
- Avoid using acids before or after a retinol product as this can irritate the skin
- If your skin is particularly sensitive to retinol, some experts recommend applying a light moisturiser before your retinol to cushion the skin
- Don’t introduce retinol products to your routine if you have a big event, such as a wedding or holiday coming up to give your skin time to adjust to it

Retinol comes in several concentrations and you don’t need to opt for full strength to reap the anti-ageing benefits - studies have shown low-strength retinol continues to give as good a result as stronger concentrations, so you don’t need to continually scale up. 

As a hydrating alternative to retinol with all the same anti-ageing benefits, NIVEA Bakuchiol range’s formula boosts collagen and strengthens skin. Regular use can transform skin, smoothing the appearance of wrinkles and brightening the complexion. 

Our NIVEA Pure Bakuchiol range offers a daytime alternative to retinol that works - plumping and smoothing and hydrating and the skin - as you are, and includes an SPF30. Bakuchiol stimulates the cell activity of skin cells and helps to refresh on sluggish skin. 

What are the benefits of retinol skincare for the face?

By pushing fresh skin cells to the surface and kickstarting your skin renewal process, retinol can reduce fine lines, dark spots, and acne. Those fresh skin cells will leave your skin brighter, tighter and clearer.

Benefits of retinol include:

- Reducing signs of ageing by diminishing the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles 
- Treating acne 
- Evens out skin tone and reduces dark spots and the appearance of scarring, including acne scars


What products should I not combine retinol with?

Retinol is a powerful active ingredient and layering it with other ingredients can, at best, reduce the benefits of both, or, at worse, cause irritation and soreness. 

Check the ingredients on the products you regularly use, and avoid layering any that contain the below with retinol: 
- Vitamin C
- Benzoyl peroxide (BPO) 
- Alpha hydroxy acid (AHA)
- Beta hydroxy acid (BHA) - also known as salicylic acid 

woman checking her skin

Retinol and acne

Retinol can be boon to acne-prone skin and is a useful ingredient in fighting breakouts as it regulates oily skin and prevents pores from clogging. Regular use can lead to fewer blackheads, cysts and spots, and can calm inflamed skin.

But if your skin is sensitive and you are already treating acne with specialised products, approach retinol with caution. If you use products containing active ingredients such as benzoyl peroxides or salicylic acid, alternate these with your retinol product - don’t use them on the same night as you could further irritate the skin.