Cell-Communicating Ingredients , Antioxidants , Vitamins

Name for the entire vitamin A molecule. Retinol has value for skin on several fronts: It’s a cell-communicating ingredient and an antioxidant. Skin cells have a receptor site that’s very accepting of retinoic acid, which is a component of retinol. This relationship between retinoic acid and skin cells allows for a type of communication in which the cell is told to function normally (that is, not like a damaged or older cell), and it can, to some extent, conform to that request. That’s one of the reasons retinol is an exciting anti-aging ingredient. Retinol cannot communicate with a cell until the retinol is broken down into retinoic acid. [1,2,3]

Retinol helps skin cells create better, healthier skin cells, provides antioxidant support, and increases the amount of substances that enhance skin’s structural elements. Packaging is still a key issue, so any container that lets in air (like jar packaging) or sunlight (clear containers) just won’t cut it, which applies to most state-of-the-art skincare ingredients. Lots of retinol products come in unacceptable packaging; these should be avoided because the retinol will most likely be (or quickly become) ineffective. [1,2,3]

Many consumers are concerned about the percentage of retinol in anti-aging products such as serums or moisturizers. Although the percentage can make a difference (especially if it’s too low), it is not helpful in understanding how a retinol product will benefit your skin. Far more important is the delivery system, packaging, and the other ingredients present with the retinol. Using a product with a range of anti-aging ingredients plus retinol is far more valuable for skin than using a product with only a supposedly high percentage of retinol. Skin is the largest organ of the body and needs far more than any one ingredient can provide. It doesn’t make sense to fixate on the percentage of retinol when so many other elements are also important. [1,2,3]

Because retinol is one of the ingredients known to help improve skin structure, it has some value in anti-cellulite products. Of all the ingredients to look for in a cellulite product, this should be at the top of the list. However, most cellulite products contain only teeny amounts of retinol (at best) and they are often in packaging that won’t keep this air-sensitive ingredient stable.

References Cited:

  1. Rossetti D, Kielmanowicz M, Vigodman S, Hu Y, Chen N, Nkengne AOT, Fischer D, Seiberg M, Lin C. A novel anti-ageing mechanism for retinol: induction of dermal elastin synthesis and elastin fibre formation. Int J Cosmet Sci. 2011;33(1):62-9.
  2. Ganceviciene R, Liakou A, Theodoridis A, Makrantonaki E ZC. Skin anti-aging strategies. Dermatoendocrinol. 2012;4(3):308-319.
  3. Baumann L. Skin ageing and its treatment. J Pathol. 2007;211(2):241-51.
See retinoids

«Back to Ingredient Dictionary

Shop for products with this ingredient

About the Experts

Paula Begoun is the best-selling author of 20 books on skin care and makeup. She is known worldwide as the Cosmetics Cop and creator of Paula's Choice. Paula's expertise has led to hundreds of appearances on national and international television including:

View Media Highlights

The Paula's Choice Research Team is dedicated to helping you sort through the myths and half-truths of the cosmetic industry. With their expert advice, you’ll have the facts you need to take the best possible care of your skin.

PCWEB-WWW1 v1.0.0.431 10/5/2015 5:00:27 PM
Skip to Top of Page

Free Email Sign-Up

- (Less Frequent)
- Expert Advice Newsletter (twice a month)
- New reviews on Beautypedia (twice a month)

Birthday (Optional)



Paula’s Choice Auto Delivery is a quick and convenient way to make sure you never run out of your favorite products again. Just select the products you can’t live without, choose how often you’d like them delivered and we’ll take care of the rest.

20% Off One Item + Free Shipping on $50+