The fountain of youth? Retinol is arguably one of the most recommended skin care ingredients. But what is retinol? It’s the gold standard for more youthful looking skin. This ingredient is a must-have if you want to combat the look of fine lines and wrinkles. But did you know it’s also great for uneven tone and texture? Read more to learn why you need retinol in your skincare routine.

Retinol (vitamin A) is part of the retinoid family, also consisting of retinoic acid, retinyl esters, and retinaldehyde. Due to their oil solubility, retinoids penetrate the stratum corneum easily and then diffuse into cellular membranes where they attach to nuclear retinoid receptors, following their conversion to retinoic acid. Retinoids are mainstream for the treatment and management of acne normalizing desquamation (shedding of top layers of skin), decreasing the look of pore size, and potentially decreasing sebum production. Retinol is a fat soluble molecule, most well known for its anti-aging benefits, including boosting collagen production, increasing epidermal and dermal thickness, improving skin elasticity, and speeding up cell renewal.

Vitamin A and its Derivatives
Retinol must be metabolized to the biologically active retinoic acid to provide a biological effect. For this reason, retinol is considered a “pro-drug.” In the body, retinol is converted to retinaldehyde or retinal and then converted to retinoic acid or tretinoin. Retinyl esters, such as retinyl palmitate, are one step behind retinol and require an additional conversion step. The greater the number of conversion steps needed to become retinoic acid, the less potent or bioavailable the derivative is; however, the further removed the retinoid is from the form retinoic acid, the more skin tolerable and less irritating. Retinol induces significantly less peeling, erythema, and skin dryness than tretinoin, making it a more skin inclusive molecule to address numerous skin concerns. Studies show that, although retinol is less potent than retinoic acid, it shows similar changes in skin histology and protein and gene expression, increasing epidermal and dermal thickness, increasing gene expression for collagen synthesis, and reducing facial wrinkles.1,2

Many mistake retinol as an exfoliant, but it works very differently from topical skincare acids to smooth and even skin texture. Retinol works on a cellular level, rather than a physical level. It diffuses into cellular membranes and attaches to nuclear receptors, increasing gene expression for keratinocyte differentiation and proliferation and normalizing desquamation (shedding of the top layers of skin). This results in a smoother, more even complexion.

Chronological and Photoaging
As we age, our cells age and our skin experiences reduced cell turnover, degradation of collagen, thinning of the epidermal and dermal junction, and increased transepidermal water loss. These changes lead to decreased skin structure and function and therefore less youthful looking skin. UV exposure can expedite these changes and lead to premature aging, with different changes in skin histology than chronological aging. Retinoids help to both treat and prevent signs of chronological and photoaging.

Due to vitamin A’s conjugation or alternating double bonds, it is able to absorb and reflect UVB radiation, providing a degree of SPF, thus reducing sunburn.3 One study shows that retinyl palmitate has a photoprotective action comparable to the UV filter octylmethoxycinamate, suggesting that epidermal vitamin A acts as a biological UV filter. While retinol can act as a UV filter to an extent, it also inhibits induction of MMPs, which break down collagen. Not only does retinol help prevent collagen breakdown, but also it stimulates collagen, procollagen, and elastin synthesis, which also increases the thickness of the dermis.4,5 The skin is further plumped as retinol increases glycosaminoglycan (GAG) synthesis, including hyaluronic acid synthesis, which has a tremendous ability to bind water. This increases the skin’s water holding capacity, essentially plumping the skin from within. By increasing keratinocyte differentiation and proliferation, the epidermis also thickens and the skin barrier is improved, thus reducing transepidermal water loss. Retinol addresses age spots and hyperpigmentation by reducing the transfer of melanosomes (organelles that hold the melanin or pigment) to the skin cells while increasing cell renewal. It also helps to evenly distribute melanin in the skin to reduce excess pigmentation. Retinol provides a multifaceted approach to youthful skin.

Retinol provides a multifaceted approach to youthful skin.

Retinoids are considered to be a staple for acne treatment and management, reducing and preventing blemishes.6 For the treatment of acne, the prescription retinoids such as tretinoin, Adapalene, and Tazarotene have been heavily researched with few studies relating to retinol. However, with retinol’s conversion to retinoic acid, retinol may provide relief for blemish prone skin, although to a lesser extent. Retinoids have an anticomedogenic effect and normalize desquamation or improve cell turnover while reducing proinflammatory cytokines, often activated with acne breakouts. Retinoids also help reduce the look of acne scarring and pigmentation, by decreasing melanosome transfer and increasing cell turnover.7 There are retinoid receptors in sebocytes, the cells that secrete sebum and make up the sebaceous gland. In vitro, retinoids have been shown to bind to these receptors and reduce sebum production and decrease sebocyte proliferation.8 In vivo, tretinoin reduces pore size, which provides evidence to sebum reduction, as there is a relationship between sebum production and pore size. Retinol, through its conversion to retinoic acid, may help reduce skin congestion and blemishes.

There are a number of myths about retinol incompatibilities with other potent skincare actives, most in regards to conflicting pH. Retinol will not degrade or become deactivated when coming in contact with a low pH product, since your skin is naturally acidic from the acid mantle and retinol remains active when it is applied topically. Two studies show evidence of the use of vitamin C and retinol together, to reduce the signs of both chronological and photoaging.9 This may be due to the fact both retinol and vitamin C increase collagen production to reduce fine lines and wrinkles and improve skin elasticity. Another study investigated a combination of retinol and glycolic acid and showed synergistic results in regards to improvement of photoaged skin.10 Layering retinol and glycolic acid can even skin tone and texture on both a cellular and physical level.

The Naturium Difference
Retinol is a great skincare active to address a number of skin concerns; however, there are a number of considerations when formulating with it. Retinol degrades in the presence of light and air, so the vehicle delivery of retinol is crucial for efficacy. Naturium uses encapsulated retinol to aid in stability, efficacy, and skin tolerability. This also allows our retinol to be stable and compatible with vitamin C, niacinamide, and salicylic acid in our Vitamin C Super Serum Plus.

Both our Retinol Complex Serum and Retinol Complex Cream pair retinol with bakuchiol, often referred to as “Nature’s Retinol,” as it helps reduce retinol degradation in a formula.11 They both also contain a supercritical CO2 extract of a native South American plant containing phytol. Phytol can modulate the retinoid receptors in skin and produce retinoid-like effects including reduction of fine lines and wrinkles, increased skin firmness, and reduction of age spots.12

Our Retinoid Face Oil contains Hydroxyp­inacolone Retinoate, a potent ester of all-trans retinoic acid that binds directly to retinoid receptors without needing metabolic conversion.

Whether you are trying to turn back the clock or slow the aging process retinol is the gold standard for youthful skin.


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Vitamin C Super Serum Plus


30 ML / 1.0 Fl OZ Our supercharged, multi-benefit serum is formulated with vitamin c, retinol, hyaluronic acid, niacinamide and salicylic acid to h...

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Retinol Complex Serum


30 ML / 1.0 Fl OZ Our advanced retinol serum is formulated with a photostable, synergistic blend of encapsulated retinol, a natural bio-retinol and...

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Retinol Complex Cream


50 ML / 1.7 FL OZ Our all-in-one skin perfecting retinol cream is formulated with a photostable blend of encapsulated retinol, a natural bio-retino...

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