Beauty Clinic: The rules on retinol

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Q. I want to start using retinol in my skincare routine but as a 41-year-old with sensitive skin I need advice. I’m not sure how to use it and in what form and strength, also at what point in my regime?

A. Many people have the same concerns as you have, according to dermatologist Dr. Anita Sturnham of Nuriss Skincare and Wellness, who we asked for advice.

She explains, ‘the retinoid family comprises vitamin A, known as retinol, and its natural derivatives such as retinaldehyde, retinoic acid and retinyl esters as well as a large number of synthetic derivatives. 

‘Vitamin A is the ultimate multi tasking skin nutrient,’ Dr. Sturnham continues.  ‘Retinoids work at a deep cellular level to help boost collagen and elastin production, which keeps skin supple and bouncy, reduce cellular ageing and pore congestion and regulate the production of sebum (the skin’s natural oils). They are also anti-inflammatory (reducing redness and blemishes), as well as helping to keep skin tone even and less prone to brown patches.’

Because vitamin A cannot be made by the body you need to get it from your diet – brightly coloured fruit and vegetables are rich sources - and from topical skincare. In skincare, you need cosmeceutical grade skincare to deliver the nutrients into the top epidermal layers of the skin and deeper into the dermis. This can present formulators with problems. According to Dr. Sturnham, some brands use basically inert quantities that have no skin benefits while other brands have such ‘punchy’ formulations that the risks of side effects such as red, dry, sensitive and inflamed skin outweigh the benefits and people stop using them.

Dr. Sturnham advises choosing a retinol product in the form of a serum or a cream, which she finds are the best ways to deliver it in the deeper dermal layers. Use small quantities regularly at night, to produce consistent healthy cell turnover and radiant skin.

‘Look for products containing one of the modern superstars of the retinol world, such as hydroxypinacolone retinoate in a 0.5-1% dose, preferably combined with hyaluronic acid, such as Murad Retinol Youth Renewal Serum (£70 for 30 ml),’ she continues. ‘Apply a retinol serum/cream at night-time only, after your cleanser and toner and before your night cream. With a good quality product, absorption will be rapid so there is no need to delay application of your moisturiser as is sometimes advised.’ 

Dr. Sturnham’s own Nuriss Retinol Micronutrient Rejuvenation Cream contains 2% encapsulated retinol with hyaluronic acid and antioxidants, £100 for 50ml, which is both effective and gentle on the skin.  Another option is Paula’s Choice Clinical 1% Retinol Treatment, currently £42.40 for 30 ml at

Dr Sturnham adds that ‘Retinol can be destabilised by UV (which is one of the reasons we advise night-time usage) and it may make your skin more photosensitive [reactive to UV] so you should wear an SPF 30-50 daily.’