Ever wondered why so many creams and lotions contain retinol? Essentially the purest form of vitamin A to put on your skin, retinol is one of the best ingredients for reducing fine lines, plumping your skin, and decreasing pore size. We spoke with New York City-based dermatologist Macrene Alexiades-Armenakas, M.D., Ph.D., to find out what exactly this ingredient does for your skin, and why it deserves a spot in your bathroom cabinet.
In the most basic terms, retinol is the whole vitamin A molecule, which is one of the best vitamins for your skin. Vitamin A is a potent antioxidant, and works to protect your skin from free radicals, generates cell growth, and repairs damaged cells. In technical terms, it belongs to a family called retinoids, and is one of the only substances that is small enough to penetrate the outer layers of your skin and work its way down to the lower layers where collagen and elastin reside. "Retinoids have very crucial functions during cell development," explains Dr. Alexiades. "In the skin, it works to reset cell turnover and reduces the ‘stickiness’ of the cells in the pores. This makes it harder for pores to get clogged. It also reduces sebum activity, which results in less acne!" Retinol is also suited to Beauties with sensitive skin, even though it’s an exfoliant. “Retinol is the least irritating of the retinoids,” says Dr. Alexiades.
Because of its potent nature, retinol is often found in serums and anti-aging creams. While you can absorb vitamin A through foods such as carrots, kale, and sweet potato, applying retinol straight onto your skin instantly speeds up the process. If you’re looking to minimize fine lines and wrinkles, improve your skin’s texture, and protect against dryness and redness, then look for a cream or serum that contains this special ingredient.