At WiseGEEK, we're committed to delivering accurate, trustworthy information. Our expert-authored content is rigorously fact-checked and sourced from credible authorities. Discover how we uphold the highest standards in providing you with reliable knowledge.
When choosing a retinol complex, it’s most important to understand skin types and how that will affect which product to choose. Retinol products come in varying concentrations, from over-the-counter products with less active ingredients to prescription-strength products available through a dermatologist. Understanding the ingredient list and active ingredients contained in a retinol complex can make the decision easier. Even the best retinol complex will not work for long if it is not packaged in a way that minimizes product breakdown due to oxidation.
Retinol is an active form of vitamin A that may be applied topically to improve skin tone and minimize signs of aging. Before it can be used by the skin, it must transform into retinaldehyde or retinal, then into retinoic acid. Retinoic acid is only available by prescription. Since retinol must undergo two steps before it becomes active retinoic acid, it is less effective than retinoic acid, but still can noticeably minimize wrinkles by stimulating collagen production and increasing skin cell turnover. A retinol complex can be a cost-effective alternative to prescription retinoic acid, especially if the consumer does not wish to visit a dermatologist or cannot tolerate the skin irritation retinoic acid can cause.
When choosing a retinol complex, it’s important to know how much retinol the product contains. Many products choose not to list the exact percentage of active ingredient, but a quick look at the ingredients list can give a clue. If retinol appears within the first several ingredients, it probably has enough retinol to make a difference in skin appearance. It’s best to start with a lower percentage of active ingredient, since retinol can cause skin irritation. If that product works well and does not irritate the skin, then a stronger product may be tried.
Some retinol complex ingredients are comedogenic and may not be suitable for acne-prone skin. Some cosmetics will claim to be non-comedogenic or oil-free, yet still contain some of these pore-clogging ingredients. An Internet search on lists of comedogenic ingredients to avoid can be helpful to consider when choosing a retinol complex.
Retinol is an unstable ingredient that can break down quickly if exposed to oxygen. It’s best to avoid retinol product in jars since exposure to air and contamination from hands can inactivate the product well before it’s completely used. Pumps are usually a better choice because they dispense the product without exposing it to air or other contaminants.
As with many skin care products, there is a risk of skin irritation, redness, and dryness when using retinol products. If any adverse reactions are experienced, switching to a product with less retinol may help. If the reaction continues, product use should be discontinued and the skin evaluated by a dermatologist.