July 12, 2018

A Beginner’s Guide to Retinol—Here’s Everything You Need to Know

Ah, retinol. When it comes to defense against fine lines and maintaining a healthy glow, there’s no ingredient in skincare more lauded. The irony? Even though the revolutionary youth-enhancing active is a mainstay of drugstores, department store counters, and dermatologist offices alike, it still manages to mystify. And thus, is often misused or underutilized.

To bring it back to the basics, retinol—alongside other retinoids, such as retinoic acid and retinyl palmitate—is essentially a derivative of vitamin A, which is one of the body’s key nutrients for boosting cell turnover. “It’s added to topical skincare products to promote skin renewal, brighten skin tone, reduce acne, and boost the collagen production,” explains New York City dermatologist Whitney Bowe, MD. “It also functions like an antioxidant to help address free radical damage, which leads to visible signs of aging.”

Here, Bowe and other experts break down how to carefully incorporate the powerhouse ingredient into your regimen to achieve a supernaturally fresh-faced complexion, now and for decades to come.

Begin in Your Mid ’20s or Early ’30s
Thirty has long been the banner year for introducing retinol into one’s routine, but motivated by early signs of aging, such as sun spots or crows feet, or simply eager to get a head start and utilize the latest technologies, many women are starting before then and under the careful watch of their dermatologist. “Your mid-twenties are a great time to start using retinol,” says Ellen Marmur, M.D. “Many patients who have used it for years swear by it.”