This Skincare Product Had a Bad Rep, But It’s Back and More Effective Than Ever

Retinoids are amongst the most potent and effective ingredients you can have in your skincare arsenal when targeting common skin concerns—from uneven tone and texture through to pigmentation, wrinkles, and acne. "Retinoids work to increase cell turnover and rejuvenate the skin, so they work particularly well for anyone concerned with signs of ageing or breakouts that they want to reduce,” says skincare expert Caroline Hirons. "They are brilliant for treating hyperpigmentation, signs of ageing such as fine lines and wrinkles and breakouts.”

Basically, retinoids are the over-achieving multitaskers of the skincare world, and if you’re the type of person who not only wants to see really noticeable results from your skincare but wants to see those results fast, then you’re in the right place. "Retinoids are such a popular ingredient because they work and the results are really visible,” adds Victoria Evans, education manager at Dermalogica. "They’ve also gained popularity across social media in recent years and the hype continues to build.” 


(Image credit: @JULLIE.JEINE)

And as the hype has built, so has the innovation. Indeed, the best retinoid products to come out in recent years are those which strive to present the ingredient in hardworking and fast-acting, but also sensitive skin-friendly formulas. "We are able to formulate more sophisticated formulas with advancements in ingredient technology to create retinoid formulas that are efficacious and minimise the sensitivity issues often associated with retinoid use,” adds Evans. 

For Hirons, who has years of experience within the skincare industry, launching her brand, Skin Rocks, with retinoids made total sense. "I have always loved retinoids and as soon as I decided to launch a skincare brand, I knew I wanted to release retinoids, but only if they were right and bringing something new to the market,” she tells me.

The first Skin Rocks serum, Retinoid 1, is aimed at those who are new to retinoids or are scared of using them from previous reactions. "We have had so many comments from people who have previously reacted to retinoids and can now get on with Skin Rocks Retinoid 1 comfortably and are moving up to Retinoid 2, including those with eczema and psoriasis,” she says. Retinoid 2 is Skin Rocks’ more advanced retinoid serum, aimed at those who have already used retinoids and are looking for a maintenance product. According to Hirons, "It’s not always about chasing the highest percentage but it’s about using an efficacious formula that will still give you results.” Welcome, to a new era of retinoid products.

Scroll down to find out more about retinoids and shop the best new retinol creams and serums. 

1. What is retinol?

In order to find the best retinol products for your skin type and concerns, it’s important to understand exactly what retinoids are. "Retinoids are vitamin A derivatives that help regulate skin cell turnover and collagen production, which support healthy-looking skin with less noticeable pigmentation concerns, such a sunspots or post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation,” explains Evans. "Our skin naturally produces a retinoid compound known as retinoic acid, which contributes to a normalised rate of cell turnover and desquamation, decreasing the build-up of dead cells on the surface of the stratum corneum which causes rough skin texture.” As retinoic acid is considered a prescription strength retinoid, skincare products are formulated with weaker derivatives like retinol. "Once applied to the skin, it naturally converts into retinoic acid to give us the positive skin change,” says Evans.

It's also worth nothing that while the terms 'retinol' and 'retinoid' are often used interchangeably, they are in fact different. 'Retinoids' is the over-arching term for vitamin A derivatives, of which retinol is one—alongside others including retinyl esters, retinaldhehyde, and retinoid acid. "Retinol is the most widely used and researched retinoid in skin care," explains Evans. "It is clinically proven to reverse the signs of skin ageing.”

2. Does retinol have any side effects?

Dermatologists, estheticians, and skincare experts alike swear by the ingredient, but for all the hype surrounding retinol, it’s not without its side effects. "Retinisation—sensitivity, dryness and flaking—often happens when too much is used too quickly, and the skin can’t cope with the acceleration in skin renewal,” explains Evans. "The barrier can become compromised, negatively effecting the health of the skin.”

3. How should you use retinol?

Introducing retinol into your routine slowly but steadily is the best way to help skin acclimate to the ingredient. "Your skin cells have receptors for retinoic acid, but they need time to build them up to avoid a negative response,” says Evans. "Use just twice a week (a few days apart) for the first two weeks, then increase to alternate nights for another two weeks before using nightly.” In addition, SPF in the morning is critical with retinoid use. "If your skin is sensitive or very dry, you can also try buffering the serum with moisturiser or sandwich between layers of moisture by moisturising before as well as after the serum,” she adds. "Although it’s worth noting that diluting the serum will mean slightly longer to see results compared to neat use.”


(Image credit: @THATGRACEGIRL)

With that said, the best new retinol products are formulated with additional ingredients to help alleviate any irritation and sensitivity in the first place—and without diluting the efficacy of the retinol. Thanks to ingredients which support the skin barrier (like ceramides and squalane) or calm irritation (like tiger grass or aloe vera), the latest wave of retinoid serums allow you to experience all of the benefits with none of the side effects. Sound too good to be true? Scroll down to discover our tried-and-tested pick of the best retinol products.

Shop the best retinol products:

Next Up: The 12 Best Moisturisers for Over-40 Skin, According to Experts

Freelance Beauty Editor

Grace Day is a beauty editor and content creator. She has over 10 years of beauty-industry experience, spanning editorial, retail, and e-commerce, which gives her a unique understanding into how people shop for their beauty routines. While studying for a history degree (specialising in the history of beauty) and working as a beauty adviser in department stores, Grace started writing her own beauty blog in order to share the products she discovered while dealing with acne. After graduating, she moved to Beauty Bay as beauty editor and content manager. Grace is currently a beauty contributor to Who What Wear. She has also written for Hypebae and PopSugar and works as a brand consultant and copywriter.