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What Is Retinol? The Beginner’s Guide to Retinol Cream

A photo of Hello Results from IT Cosmetics

Retinol is arguably one of the beauty industry’s most buzzed about ingredients—it has some serious skincare benefits—but it’s also surrounded by a lot of questions. Like, how long do you have to wait in order to see retinol results, and can people with sensitive skin types use retinol? Are there certain times of day when you should apply retinol, and should you avoid mixing it with certain ingredients? 

With insight from a board-certified dermatologist and board-certified plastic surgeon, we’re answering all those burning questions and then some. Buckle up, because you’re about to become a retinol aficionado. 

What Is Retinol?

Long story short, retinol is a vitamin A derivative that helps renew skin by increasing skin surface cell turnover. With consistent use over time, this anti-aging ingredient can help improve the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, and even promote firmer-feeling skin. 

“As a dermatologist, the #1 ingredient I recommend to patients for anti-aging results is retinol,” says Kavita Mariwalla, MD, a board-certified dermatologist and IT Cosmetics Advisory Board Member.

Retinol falls under the greater retinoid umbrella, and is an ingredient you can find over-the-counter in a variety of skincare formulations.

What Are the Benefits of Retinol? 

So what does retinol do for your skin, exactly? This vitamin A derivative is truly an anti-aging powerhouse that, when used over time, visibly improves fine lines and wrinkles, discoloration and dark spots, and skin laxity.

In our 12-week clinical study,* participants noted a 35% increase in firmer-feeling skin along with a 22% reduction in the appearance of wrinkles. They also noted a 25% decrease in the look of dark spots. And here’s the kicker: In another 12-week consumer perception study,** 93% of people said the product didn’t cause discomfort. 

Don’t just take our word for it, though. Retinoids have a long history of being championed by the greater scientific community. There are many studies, spanning decades of research, that sing its praises. 

What Is a Retinol Cream? 

One of our favorite retinol formulations is retinol cream, which is exactly what it sounds like. These products are made with moisturizing and hydrating oils along with other skin-nourishing ingredients that help soothe and moisturize. Our Hello Results Wrinkle-Reducing Daily Retinol Serum-in-Cream is the perfect example.

Developed with our IT Cosmetics Advisory Board, this hydrating and soothing cream is formulated with a dual retinol (free and encapsulated retinol) along with niacinamide (vitamin B3) to support healthy skin barrier function and reduce environmental damage. With consistent use, it helps minimize the look of dark spots and discoloration. 

The inclusion of antioxidant-rich vitamin E and deeply moisturizing vitamin B5—and the fact that it’s a moisturizing cream base—helps balance the common effects of retinol usage.

What Are Potential Side Effects of Retinol?

If you furrowed your brows at “common effects of retinol usage,” let us explain. 

As we mentioned above, retinol helps renew the skin’s surface. It’s a pretty robust exfoliator, and as such can lead to what’s called “retinization,” which is the period of time it takes your skin to get used to using the product. If you’ve never used retinol before, you may experience some skin irritation, including peeling, flaking, and redness during the first few weeks. 

Some retinol products are formulated specifically to combat these common signs, including Hello Results.

“That’s why I love this product. It balances the anti-aging power of a retinol serum with the soothing care of a cream in one easy step,” says Dr. Mariwalla. She adds, “By including ingredients that soothe and hydrate, you can get the benefit of a retinol without the irritation.”

How Often Should You Apply Retinol? 

“When it comes to results, the key is consistency,” says Dara Liotta, MD, a board-certified plastic surgeon and IT Cosmetics Advisory Board Member. “[Hello Results] is expertly formulated to be suitable for daily use from day one.”

Hello Results is suitable for daily use on all skin types, including those with sensitive skin. However, like all things in skincare, it’s important to pay attention to what your skin needs. If you do notice dryness, flaking, redness, or irritation, we recommend starting with a twice-weekly application, then gradually increasing to every other day, then every day.

After applying your dime-size amount of retinol cream, we recommend layering an additional hydrating cream, such as Confidence in a Cream Hydrating Moisturizer, on top. This can help further balance out the effects of retinization, and can promote a supple and healthy appearance. 

When Can You Apply Retinol Cream?

People of all ages and skin types can reap the rewards of pure retinol goodness. We recommend applying your retinol cream in the evenings since it can make your skin extra sensitive to the sun. Don’t forget to wear your favorite sunscreen, too. 

What Should You Not Mix With Retinol?

Generally speaking, retinoids shouldn’t be mixed with other active ingredients in the same skincare session. This includes alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) like glycolic acid and lactic acid, as well as salicylic acid, which is a beta hydroxy acid (BHA). Also avoid using it with vitamin C, enzymes, and benzoyl peroxide. If you want to include multiple actives in your skincare regimen, it’s better to alternate them every other evening or morning and night. 

How Long Does It Take Retinol to Work? 

While individual results may vary, it’s important to keep in mind that, on average, your skin only turns over once every 30 days. Even though retinol formulations are designed to speed up this process, you should still plan to give your product at least three months of continuous use to see results. In other words, consistency is queen when it comes to retinol products, so do your best to make it a regular part of your weekly beauty process. 

Want to continue your research on retinol? Learn more about what retinol cream is used for and how it benefits the skin

*Results based on a 12-week clinical study.
**Results based on a 12-week consumer perception study on 47 subjects in the U.S.
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