What Does Retinol Do to Your Skin?

Reviewed on 7/1/2022

What Is Retinol and What Are the Benefits?

Woman holding a bottle of retinol with a dropper
Retinol has many benefits including helping pores to stay clear, preventing acne, diminishing dark spots (hyperpigmentation), reducing fine lines and wrinkles, and softening rough patches of skin.

Retinoids are vitamin A-based products used on skin. Retinol is a type of retinoid used to improve uneven skin tone, pigmentation, and texture. 

Products that contain retinol are available over-the-counter (OTC) without a prescription. These products are not as strong as some prescription retinoids and don’t work as well to reduce wrinkles, but they are also less irritating. 

  • Retinol works to increase cell turnover so healthy skin is revealed. This helps pores to stay clear which can prevent acne and helps even out skin tone by diminishing and preventing dark spots (hyperpigmentation).
  • Retinol also increases collagen production which can enhance skin elasticity and help reduce fine lines and wrinkles and soften rough patches of skin. 
  • It can take three to six months of regular use before seeing improvements in wrinkles. For the best results, the products should be used up to one year. The products must also be used continually to maintain their benefits.

What Are Examples of Retinoids?

In addition to retinol, which is available over-the-counter in a wide variety of products, other retinoids and their uses include: 

What Are Side Effects of Retinoids?

Side effects of retinol and other topical retinoids include: 

  • Skin dryness 
  • Skin irritation
  • Skin redness
  • Scaling of the skin
  • Itching
  • Skin discoloration
  • Initial acne flare-up
  • Eczema flare-up
  • Skin swelling 
  • Blistering and stinging
  • Sensitivity to sunlight (photosensitivity)
    • It is important to use sunscreen during the day because the skin will be more sensitive to UV light

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Reviewed on 7/1/2022

Image source: iStock Images