To explain what retinol is and how it can help your skin, it is important to have an understanding of its history, and how its application has developed over the last few decades.
Retinoic acid, the predecessor of retinol, developed something of a bad name for itself during the 1990s, and for many the R word still conjures up images of red and flaking skin. While there were drawbacks – retinoic acid often produced dry, irritated skin - retinol is a much milder form of the compound, and if used correctly can be very beneficial.
Retinol and retinoic acid belong to a family of compounds known as retinoids, and their history can be traced back to ancient Egypt, where liver (which contains retinoids) was used to treat night blindness. Retinol was first isolated in the1930s, but in a very unstable form. It was broken down by sunlight and oxygen, and these problems led to the development of retinoic acid, which was more stable. The first study using retinoids to treat acne was published in 1943, and tretinoin, the retinoid most commonly used today, was first used topically for skin conditions in 1958. Its use in anti-aging treatments was pioneered in the 1980s.
More recent research has revisited retinol, and developed more stable forms which are stable in topical applications. This has meant milder retinol containing compounds are available over the counter, while tretinoin is only available on prescription. When used in combination with an SPF, retinol protects the skin from sun damage and diminishes the appearance of dark spots, while rejuvenating the skin surface.
While it is tempting to think that stronger prescription products such as tretinoin will achieve a better result, in fact lower strength retinol is easier to use, with fewer likely side effects, and just as effective. This is one instance where less is definitely more. In our products we like to use Retinyl Pamitate a milder form of vitamin A used as an antioxidant.