Tweakment Finder TWEAKMENT




Retinol and Retinoids

Written by: Becki Murray

Last Updated: 27 February 2024

Retinol is frequently touted as a wonder-ingredient for skin, but people are often scared to try it, because it has a reputation for making your skin dry and flaky. There’s also a lot of confusion around its use as a skincare ingredient. Firstly, for example, retinol is actually just one of a group of overarching skin-improving ingredients called retinoids derived from vitamin A. In good news though, retinoids can make your skin look fresher, less wrinkled, more even in tone, and smoother – and it’s widely considered a gold standard anti-ageing ingredient as result. Read on to find out everything you need to know.


What is retinol?

Retinol is a derivative of vitamin A and, as mentioned, is actually part of a wider group of vitamin A derivatives called retinoids. What makes them such an exciting ingredient within skincare is that retinoids have been widely studied and proven effective for various concerns, including reducing the appearance of fine lines, wrinkles, and hyperpigmentation, as well as improving skin texture and tone.

Retinoids are available in various forms and concentrations, ranging from those available over-the-counter to prescription-strength treatments. It’s a balancing act between getting the best results and managing the well-known side effects of retinoids, including dryness and peeling.

How can retinol rejuvenate the skin and improve skin health?

When applied topically, retinol and other retinoids can provide a wide range of health-boosting effects in your skin. Firstly, they work by promoting cell turnover, stimulating collagen production, and reducing the breakdown of collagen, which helps to keep the skin firm and smooth. They also have exfoliating properties that can help unclog pores and prevent acne breakouts.

That’s two key skin concerns ticked off, and retinoids aren’t finished. Retinol can also help fade dark marks by encouraging the turnover of skin cells, enhancing skin radiance in the process too.

What are the anti-ageing benefits of retinoids?

More specifically, the anti-ageing benefits of retinoids and retinol include:

  • Boosting your skin’s natural collagen production, usually by speeding it up
  • Encouraging cell turnover, so your body creates new skin more swiftly
  • Reducing lines, wrinkles, and pore size
  • Fading age spots and hyperpigmentation
  • Improving your skin texture, firmness, and hydration


Can retinol help in treating acne?

Yes, retinol can help with acne in three main ways. It:

  • Keeps your pores clear. Retinol speeds up cell turnover, which keeps your pores clear by preventing dead skin cells building up in them. The build-up of dead cells is a major cause of acne.
  • Reduces oil production. Retinol can help your body reduce its production of sebum (natural oil). Excess sebum tends to clog your pores, causing acne.
  • Reduces inflammation. Retinol’s anti-inflammatory effects can reduce the redness and swelling of acne.

Retinol can also improve your skin texture, making it smoother and less susceptible to acne.

What are the differences between prescription retinoids and over-the-counter retinoids?

The short answer is that prescription retinoids tend to be stronger than over-the-counter retinoids; have greater effects on your skin, and may work faster; and so need more careful usage.

In the UK, over-the-counter retinoids include the following:

  • Retinol. This is widely used in over-the-counter skincare. Once you apply it, retinol goes through a two-stage conversion, first to retinaldehyde, and then to retinoic acid. The retinoic acid is what acts on your skin. This conversion means that retinol works more slowly, and with fewer side effects, than retinoic acid.
  • Retinaldehyde. Also called retinal, this retinoid needs only a single conversion step to become retinoic acid and trigger regeneration in your skin cells. Retinaldehyde is stronger than retinol.
  • Retinyl palmitate, retinyl propionate, and retinyl acetate. These three retinoids are relatively weak and need a three-stage conversion before they act on your skin — first to retinol, second to retinaldehyde, and third to retinoic acid. They can be helpful for first-timers and those with sensitive skin.

Prescription retinoids include the following:

  • Retinoic acid (tretinoin). This is the strongest and most effective retinoid. Normally, you would use it under the supervision of a doctor or dermatologist.
  • Adapalene. This retinoid is used in prescription strength for treating acne.
  • Tazarotene. This retinoid is used for treating acne and psoriasis.
  • Isotretinoin. This is an oral retinoid used to treat severe acne. One brand name for isotretinoin is Roaccutane.

How effective are retinol serums compared to creams?

That’s a great question, but there’s no one-size-fits-all answer to it. Retinol serums and retinol creams are both effective, but exactly how effective a particular product is depends on its formulation, its concentration of retinol, and how you use it.

Generally, retinol serums have a higher concentration of retinol than creams, have a lighter consistency that facilitates absorption and lets them penetrate deeper into your skin, and can be layered under other products. As a result, a retinol serum may have a faster and stronger effect than a retinol cream.

By contrast, retinol creams typically not only have a lower concentration of retinol but also release the retinol more gradually, giving a gentler and slower effect. Creams also are thicker than serums and provide more hydration for your skin, helping avoid drying it out.

A serum may be a better bet if you have oily or acne-prone skin or if you have established that your skin has a high tolerance to retinoids. If your skin is dry or is sensitive to retinoids, a cream is likely to be the better choice.

What role does vitamin A play in skincare?

Vitamin A is an antioxidant that boosts collagen production and normalises cell turnover, speeding up cell turnover if it is slow or slowing it down if it is fast. Vitamin A can help repair the cellular structure of your epidermis, which may help prevent damage from exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light or repair such damage after it occurs.

Retinol and other retinoids are vitamin A derivatives so  that’s why they can help your skin in this way.

What guidelines should be followed for safe retinol usage?

When you’re starting to use either retinol or another retinoid, be aware that using too much of the product too fast is likely to irritate your skin. Classic side effects of using retinoids can include redness, dryness, itchiness, and skin peeling.

So go slowly with the retinol or retinoid. Use it twice a week for the first week and no more. A retinoid is active stuff: your skin needs a while to become accustomed to it, and you need to work out what sort of dose your skin can tolerate.

What precautions should be taken when using retinoids?

First, don’t use retinoids if you’re pregnant or breastfeeding. And, speak to your doctor first if you have any questions or concerns.

Otherwise, when using a retinoid, follow any specific guidelines on the product or provided by your doctor or dermatologist. If you have no specific guidance, follow these general recommendations:

  • Start slowly. You may be itching to see results, but too gung-ho an approach may have you itching literally — and perhaps peeling too. Apply a small amount of the product, just enough to cover your face (or other treatment area) thinly.
  • Apply the product to dry skin. If your skin is damp, the retinoid may be absorbed more quickly, which could irritate your skin. So give your skin 10–20 minutes to dry after cleansing it before applying the product.
  • Allow three full days for the product to take effect. If your skin is going to find your chosen retinoid irritating (and it may well do), it may take 72 hours for this irritation to show up in your skin. So if you just wait 48 hours, think all is fine, then apply another dose, you may get a strong reaction on the third day.
  • Use the retinoid consistently. Once you have worked out the frequency with which you can safely apply the retinoid, such as every other day or twice a week, use the retinoid consistently. Getting the results you want may take several weeks or months.
  • Moisturise your skin. Retinoids can dry out your skin, so use a good moisturiser.
  • Protect your skin against ultraviolet (UV) rays. Using retinoids freshens up the surface of the skin, making your skin more sensitive. So when you’re using retinoids, you must use sunscreen to protect your skin against UV rays.

Which retinol products are most effective?

Here are three effective retinol products:

  • Medik8 Retinol 3TR. Medik8 is big on retinols and retinoids. This is a great one to start with. The TR stands for time release, which means it is easier to tolerate as the retinol is drip-fed into your skin cells overnight, rather than all being dumped in at once. Then you can step up the strength, or progress to their R-Retinoate or Crystal Retinal products, which take your retinoid journey up towards prescription levels.
  • Skinbetter+ Intensive AlphaRet Overnight Cream. This is a skincare unicorn, in that you wouldn’t expect to find a bioengineered retinoid and glycolic acid combined in one product, but here they work beautifully together for powerful skin rejuvenation, supported by a bunch of peptides. This cream is also nice to use.
  • The Ordinary Granactive Retinoid 2% Emulsion. This budget product is gentle on the skin but gives decent results. A ‘granactive’ retinoid is an ester of retinoic acid, which means it’s hydroxypinacolone retinoate (HPR). In this formula, it is softened with hydrating glycerin and soothing bisabolol.




Acne is one of the most common skin complaints out there, and one we’ve pretty much all had to deal with at one time or another. ...

Read More
Acne Scarring

It’s pretty tricky to get through life without picking up a scar or two along the way. Cuts, burns, and surgery can all leave a lasting...

Read More
Barcode Lip Lines

The ‘barcode’ lines are the little vertical lines above the upper lip that run vertically downward into the lip. These lip lines are...

Read More
Crepey Skin

When our faces and necks start looking old, it is a real heartsink. It’s that moment when you realise you aren’t imagining it; ageing...

Read More
Crepey Skin

Crepe paper might traditionally make you think of birthdays and presents, but when the material’s crinkled texture also reminds you of...

Read More
Dark Circles

None of us wants dark circles under our eyes. They can make us look tired and drawn, even if we're feeling bright and breezy. But what...

Read More
Dry Rough Skin

Many people suffer with dry skin on their face and/or body. There are a number of factors that cause dry skin and its severity will vary...

Read More
Frown Lines

Frown lines, also known as ‘eleven’ lines (or ‘glabellar lines’, as doctors call them) are those vertical creases that appear...

Read More
Large Pores

Ideally, we would all like to have skin that’s smooth, firm, pliable, and nicely hydrated, with small, nearly-invisible pores. But some...

Read More
Marionette Lines

Marionette lines are lines that run down vertically from the corners of the mouth towards (or to) your chin.

Read More
Neck Wrinkles

When our necks start looking old, it is a real heartsink. It’s that moment when you realise you aren’t imagining it; ageing really has...

Read More

Having even pigmentation means that your face looks fresh. This makes a good deal of sense when we think about how much money gets spent on...

Read More
Sagging Skin

Sagging skin is a common sign of ageing but it can also be caused by dramatic weight loss. Sagging skin can be present on the face and body...

Read More
Sun Damage

When I say ‘sun damage’, I don’t mean sunburn or the peeling skin you see when someone has spent too long on the beach. I mean the...

Read More

People spend billions of pounds every year trying to get rid of lines and wrinkles because they are one of the things we most associate...

Read More
Wrinkly and Fat Knees

Knees don't often steal the body-related headlines, but if you look at yours and they don't look their best, it can be both annoying and a...

Read More


Alice answers your question. Want to ask Alice a question? Pop it in here and check back in a few days for the answer.

What’s your perfect day and night beauty regimen for a mid-40s male?

Hiya, TTG editor Georgia here. Without knowing what your skin is like or any specific aesthetic concerns you have, the go-to, cosmetic-doctor-approved routine for just about anyone is: cleanse, antioxidant serum and SPF of at least 30 in the AM; cleanse, other treatment product if needed (maybe to hydrate, maybe for acne, maybe for pigmentation, etc.) and retinol in the PM....

Hi Alice, I am 55 and take good care of my skin: LED, NuFACE, fillers, toxin, RF. I use ferulic vit C and the peptide serum you recommend as well as prescription retinol 2/3 times a week. I am interested in the Calecim cream you list and also the...

Wow, that sounds like quite the regime! Yes, Calecim is great, you could use it on nights when you are not using the prescription retinoid. I like it for skin recovery after procedures. The Neostrata neck product is fab, I'd use this after the vitamin C and before moisturiser/ sunscreen in the morning, and use it at night, too. If you're using the retinol on your neck, you could use this either afterwards or before the retinol, and see how it works for you....

I’m 38 and still get acne on my cheeks but skin also dry and sensitive skin, and I can see the ageing… I use ZO end to end but not sure it’s the answer, plus it’s very £££. I looked at your Acne Fixers Bundle but how do I also tackle...

Dry and sensitive skin suggests that your skin barrier isn't in great shape. Work on this by focussing on gentle, hydrating products – a hyaluronic acid serum, sealed in with a moisturiser and, in the morning, topped with sunscreen. Once your skin is feeling stronger and more comfortable, start using a product with retinol or another retinoid (start slowly, with tiny amounts and twice a week at first) to help with acne management. Taking lots of omega-3 supplements can really help with skin hydration and skin quality, too. These are my current favourites....

Could you recommended a good retinol to help with quite deep smokers lines, please?

Hi there, this is a great one – lots of info on that link as to why I like it so much (I put some of my favourite products in the shop on The Tweakments Guide). It’s a step-up system, so if your skin is fine with this, you can move onto this one. It will help with all of your skin including smoker’s lines, though tweakments, if you were up for them/ had the budget for them, would help more – here’s a link to the info on the site on smoker's/ 'barcode' lip lines....

Can you recommend the best home device for wrinkles and texture for smoothing the skin on the face, please?

Hiya, TTG editor Georgia here. There aren't really any devices as such for treating texture at home. Aside from DIY microneedling with a roller – which Alice and I rarely advise – your best bet will be a home peel and active skincare, something with smoothing AHAs (alpha-hydroxy acids) to regulate textural issues. This will also help address wrinkles at the same time, as will a retinol product – which you should absolutely be using in your daily routine. If you did want to invest in a device for your wrinkles alone, you could try the NuFace Line Fix Smoothing Device, which is particularly good around the eyes and mouth, but it's not...

What is the best treatment for the décolletage area, please? Creases are starting to appear.

Laser or radiofrequency microneedling would both be great choices, to refresh and remodel the skin – possibly followed by hydrating, skin-conditioning injectable moisturiser treatments. While you're deciding, and going forward, use the same skincare on your chest as you do on your face, perhaps a vitamin C serum plus a hydrating serum or moisturiser in the mornings, with a retinoid at night, and make sure you're using SPF50 every day, from your hairline down your neck to your chest....

Is it ok to use a face oil or other cream on top of retinol? Thank you.

Hi, yes, it absolutely is. Just let the retinol (or any other retinoid that you're using) sink in, then apply the cream or oil on top. The retinol will go about its work in your skin and the cream/ oil will keep your skin feeling comfortable, which is helpful if the retinol is making your skin feel a tad dry.

Hi Alice, Do you know anything about the Facial-Flex facial exerciser that Rosemary Conley uses? I have one and cannot find any recent reviews but want to firm up the area around my mouth and cheeks! I also take collagen supplements plus retinol.

Not much, sorry. I was interested in trying it but my doctor friends said forgodsake no, because it would only make already over-tight muscles in my jaw and neck tighter still. Collagen supplements and retinol are both a really good idea, so keep up with those.

After toxin and filler, my forehead is still a bit textured and rough. Would a laser treatment be the solution for smooth skin? If yes, which one?

Yes, possibly. Does your practitioner offer laser? If not, take a look at our practitioner finder to find someone in your area (for me, it's all about the person using the device, even more so than the device they're using). Or it might be that a couple of rounds of an injectable moisturiser treatment like Belotero Revive or Volite might do the job as these hydrate the skin, encourage the skin to remodel itself and make it smoother/ stronger/ tighter. Also, make sure you're using good quality skincare. I'd suggest vitamin C serum, moisturiser and sunscreen in the mornings and some sort of retinoid in the evenings  – see the shop on the...

I'm 51 with very dry skin/sun damage (Queensland, Australia) with no skincare routine or tweakments. I don't know where to start! Skin treatment? With menopause I just look so tired!

Ah, sympathies. I'd start with your doctor, to consider hormone replacement, as this has such a huge and fundamental effect on everything from brain and heart health, to our skin (more oestrogen means more collagen in the skin, which means stronger, firmer, better hydrated skin that doesn't look so old and tired). Then skincare! Take a look at the skincare advice on our downloadable factsheet about dry, rough skin, which you can grab on this page.  If you want more detail, I've written a whole book called Start with Skincare which you can find on Amazon. In terms of products, start with a gentle cleanser, a vitamin C serum, a moisturiser...

What are the best skin products for sebaceous hyperplasia? I am 48 years old. I have taken care of my skin since early 20’s with cleansing, acids, moisturising and then Vitamin C, nicinamide and Retinol 1%. But hyperplasia is difficult to treat.

You're right, sebaceous hyperplasia, where you get lots of little bumps under the skin where oil has become trapped, is an absolute pain. I have lots of them on my face and when I went to see a dermatologist about this recently, he told me that they become more common with age, and to get rid of existing ones you need to tackle them directly with lasers. To reduce the rate at which they're forming, he suggested sticking to skincare that would clean, hydrate and regenerate the skin without adding any extra oil, so that's a glycolic or vitamin-C based wash-off cleanser, an L-ascorbic acid vitamin C serum in the mornings, plus a hyaluronic acid...

Buying from your website post-Brexit – I live in France... will I be charged import taxes?

There's always a chance you'll be charged import taxes but we can't say for certain either way. Please email us at [email protected] with details of what you'd like to order and your address, and we will give you a shipping quote which will include any extra costs/ taxes we are informed about.

I'm 57 with thin, dull skin, dark circles/ hollow under eyes, lack volume. What do you suggest please? 🙏

Hi, I'd suggest starting with some great skincare to address the quality of your skin and get it looking a bit fresher and livelier. Take a look at some of the products in the TTG shop eg this radiance-boosting bundle - there are videos explaining what the products do and why I rate them. It's worth considering hormone replacement treatment (start with your GP). Losing oestrogen as we go through the menopause wreaks havoc on the skin (as well as on our moods, joints, sleep etc) and replacing it helps the skin to function so much better and to regain a good deal of its strength, bounce and hydration. Re dark hollows under your eyes and...

I am 57, have regular Caci & RF treatments. I also use my Nuface Mini. Been reading up about Coolsculpting and considering it for jowl area. My skin is in pretty good shape overall and would love your advice. Also, I live in Brighton area, so...

Hi, it sounds like you are taking great care of your skin. I'd always suggest a consistent skincare regime with active ingredients like vitamin C serum in the morning to brighten and strengthen the skin, plus a hydrating sunscreen, and retinol or another kind of retinoid at night to stimulate collagen boosting and improve skin texture. CoolSculpting aka fat freezing or crylipolysis can be really helpful for shrinking fat below the jaw - you need an expert practitioner to assess your face and jawline and see if you would be a good candidate for this. They also need to explain the potential complications of the procedure, which is something...

MORE POSTS ON Retinol and Retinoids

How To Avoid ‘Festive Face’: Your Skin Survival Plan For Party Season

Festive food indulgences, lots of late nights, and a glass (or two) of champagne – the winter party season can be lots of fun, but it isn’t always a friend to our skin. Factor in the cold weather and the general stresses that come with

Read more
Pre-Tweakment Skincare: The Expert Guide

So, you’ve booked in for your tweakment and are getting excited to see the results, but you may be forgetting a crucial step already – your pre-tweakment skincare regime. From reducing downtime to preemptively maximising overall skin

Read more
Skincare 101: How to choose a retinol

Do you need an eye cream, and how should you choose one?

Read more
Skincare 101: How to choose an eye cream

Do you need an eye cream, and how should you choose one?

Read more


Pop it in here and check back in a few days for the answer.


Hello, how can we help?

Hi, I’m The Tweakments Chatbot.

I have been designed to help you get information and advice on your concerns. I am currently in training. In case I am unable to answer your question, I would like to ask for some details, so that Alice or one of our team can contact you and ensure you get all the advice you need.

Thank you for using The Tweakments Chatbot. We would like to know how was your experience with us today. Can you spare a minute to share your feedback?

Was the chatbot helpful in finding what you were looking for today?

Yes No

In few words could you please tell us why, so we can improve your experience in the future.

Would you use the chatbot next time you visit the website?

Yes No

In few words could you please tell us why, so we can improve your experience in the future.

Overall, how would you rate your experience using The Tweakments chatbot.