Retinol - it’s the dermatologist-approved ingredient proven to reduce fine lines, wrinkles and pigmentation. It’s found a place in many people’s skincare routine ( face serums and eye creams are just two of the products that can benefit from it) but does it also deserve a place in our body care routines too? All indications point to yes.
Shown to stimulate the production of skin ‘building blocks’ such as collagen to make skin firmer and reduce melanin production to limit the development of pigmentation and age spots, it’s put to best use on areas of the body most vulnerable to environmental damage. The same products that are used from the neck up can be used from the neck down too. “Retinol can be particularly useful on sun-exposed sites such as the back of the hands and the décolletage,” says Dr Anjali Mahto , consultant dermatologist at Skin55 and author of The Skincare Bible: Your No-Nonsense Guide to Great Skin . Retinol, as well as other retinoids (the class of compounds derived from vitamin A, which includes retinol) can also be beneficial on other parts of the body, in fact, Dr Mahto highlights its efficacy in improving the appearance of stretch marks when used in combination with specialist treatments such as microneedling and radiofrequency.
What’s the best way to incorporate retinol into your body care regime? From what to look for in your products to how to use them and when, here’s a helpful guide.
What should I look for?
It’ll usually appear just as ‘retinol’ on your product labels - not to be confused with other types of retinoids. Each slightly differs from the other. As Dr Mahto notes, weaker types such as retinyl acetate, retinyl palmitate and retinyl propionate are likely to be less irritative, but results will be slower. By contrast though, high-strength prescription types such as tretinoin or isotretinoin are faster in their effects but can cause burning, stinging, redness and scaling.
Retinol provides a good balance in Dr Mahto’s opinion - visible results but in a less aggressive way. That being said though, don’t expect to see changes overnight and there can still be a risk of irritation. “It can take three to six months of regular use before any improvement can be seen in the skin.” She recommends looking for products that contain 0.1% retinol as a minimum.
Who’s it for?
It has pretty far-reaching appeal age-wise. “Though widely known as an anti-ageing ingredient, the benefits of using retinoids are broad, and we should be incorporating them into our routines earlier than we think,” says Dr Mahto. “The skin loses about one per cent of collagen (the protein which gives skin its structural support) per year from our mid-twenties. Therefore introducing retinoids into your regime from your late twenties onwards will be very beneficial for skin.”
What if I have sensitive skin?
Dr Mahto recommends proceeding with caution when it comes to retinol and opting for less irritative options from the retinoid family to begin with. “When you first use these treatments, it is very common for skin irritation and redness to occur,” explains Dr Mahto. “So I usually recommend that treatment needs to be built up gradually. Start with a couple of applications a week initially, before building up to daily usage.”
For sensitive skin types, she recommends trying The Ordinary Granactive Retinoid 2% in Squalane , £7.80 - a more preferable option for the redness-prone due to its use of a less irritative retinoid rather than retinol. Dr Mahto emphasises the importance of gradually building up use though, especially if the product causes excess drying or irritation. Remember to patch test too.