Beauty Clinic: What's the deal with retinol?


Q. I would like to use a retinol product but have heard that applying it in the morning/daytime can cause skin problems in the sun. Is this true and if so is there a nighttime product? A. Retinols (forms of vitamin A) target signs of ageing including uneven skin tone, roughness, age spots, lines and wrinkles. They can increase collagen production and may build elastin, the building blocks of supple skin. They are available as over the counter and prescription products.

But retinols remove the top layer of skin so, yes, they do increase sun sensitivity, aka photosensitivity. Basically, you run the risk of developing sunburn, possibly severe. It is always worth talking to your doctor and/or dermatologist before you embark on this significant step.

If you do want to use a cosmetic product containing retinol, we suggest choosing a product, which is designed to apply at night and then using a sun block in the daytime.

Two reputable brands come to mind: SkinCeuticals offer Retinol 0.3 (ie 0.3% retinol), a night-time concentrate to reduce the appearance of fine lines, wrinkles, dark spots and blemishes/£51.45 for 30ml. You apply a tiny amount to clean dry skin avoiding the eye area, wait at least 30 minutes before applying other skincare products. And they advise only using once or twice a week at first, increasing gradually.

NeoStrata offer Skin Active Retinol + NAG Complex, £55 for 30ml, which contains 0.5% retinol plus a glucosamine complex (that’s the NAG bit), which, they say, amplifies and intensifies the volumising and firming benefits. Again this is designed to put on at night.

Before you buy the retinol product, make sure you have a really good sunblock. Since your skin may be sensitive, we suggest choosing a product such as iS Clinical Extreme Protect SPF 30/£60 for 100g (, which not only protects against UVA/B but also has other anti-ageing properties and may help reverse and repair DNA damage, which is linked to a risk of skin cancer.

PS You might want to consider the same range’s Active Serum/£68 for 15ml, which has a devoted following among Hollywood ‘A’ listers. (It does tingle when you put it on, but that should go within a few minutes.)

A final point: these are all ‘active’ products and they are expensive, but the price reflects their quality and the amount of research that goes into them.