Retinol: Your Skincare Partner In Fixing Acne

Retinol: Your Skincare Partner In Fixing Acne

Retinol is a familiar term to each person who has acne-prone skin and the best cure for it. This highly effective skincare element has a strong capacity to remove not only acne but also acne scars. For the same reason, retinol is considered the absolute solution to all acne-related skin problems. Just like we are familiar with the name retinol, we should also be familiar with the effects and working of retinol deeply. Let's see how retinol can become your best ally if you have acne-prone skin.


Let's start with what retinol is. Retinol is a form of vitamin A that is added to moisturizers, lotions, and serums. The anti-aging properties have a great effect on the user’s skin which helps in clearing the acne.

As a topical treatment, retinol is applied directly to the skin. Retinol comes in many forms, including:

  • Creams
  • Gels
  • Lotions
  • Ointments
  • Serums

Retinol is also sometimes used as an ingredient in cosmetic products.


Vitamin A is an essential element for the growth of cells and is also needed for the smooth functioning of the body. It is also an antioxidant that protects us from external harms that attack cells and its excellent anti-aging properties help in keeping the skin young by slowing down the aging process.  Acne and pore blockage can also be lessened using retinol, which may also slow down the rate at which skin cells shed. 

However, vitamin A also has its negative effects. If not given routine checkups, retinol can also cause liver issues. It can also bind to fat cells, accumulate there, and become poisonous within the body.

When using retinoids on the face, it's crucial to stay out of the sun as much as possible. To limit their exposure to sunlight, wearing protective gear and staying in the shade is necessary.

A doctor's advice is a mandate when taking an oral retinoid for acne. Usually, severe or hard-to-treat acne cases are treated with oral retinoids. In these situations, physicians will give detailed directions on how to take the drug. Regular testing will also be done as a follow-up to assist monitor side effects and prevent complications.

Vitamin A V/S Retinol

Vitamin A is a fat-soluble vitamin that is present in a wide range of foods and supplements and is essential to numerous bodily functions. It supports your organs and plays a crucial role in immunity, eyesight, and reproduction. One type of vitamin A that can be applied topically to the skin to improve tone and texture is retinol.


Renowned for its numerous advantages, retinol is a potent element in skincare products. Retinol facilitates the creation of new skin cells, which helps to clear clogged pores and smooth out the complexion. Additionally, it exfoliates the skin and increases the creation of collagen, which can reduce the visibility of wrinkles and fine lines and give your skin a younger, plumper appearance.

Although retinol begins working in your cells immediately, visible improvements in your skin’s appearance and texture may take several weeks. It's common for your skin to look worse initially as it adjusts to the new regimen.

Many over-the-counter retinol products are available to enhance your skin’s appearance. If these options don’t yield the desired results, consulting a dermatologist about prescription-strength products could be beneficial. Studies have shown that topical retinoids are effective in treating acne, acne scars, and stretch marks. Retinol also possesses significant anti-aging properties, making it particularly useful for addressing the following conditions:

  • Fine lines and wrinkles
  • Acne and acne scars
  • Stretch marks

By integrating retinol into your skincare routine, you can achieve a healthier, more youthful complexion over time.

Product Recommendation: FCL Bio retinol body lotion is a topical “natural retinoids-based” formulation that is scientifically designed to nourish the skin.

Retinol for Acne: Acne occurs when pores get blocked with dead skin cells and oils. This in turn leads to blackheads, whiteheads, and pimples. Retinol helps by preventing pore clogging. Initially, your skin may look worse (a phase known as the "retinol purge"), but eventually, you’ll achieve clearer and glowing skin.

Retinol for Acne Scars: The reasons for acne scars can be several, from skin injury to inflammation. Picking pimples can also worsen these scars. Topical retinol can reduce swelling and inflammation, helping prevent new breakouts. 

Retinol is effective against aging and acne but may not suit everyone, especially those with allergies or sensitive skin. It increases sun sensitivity, and thus, the use of retinol, in any case, has to be done under the advice of a dermatologist.

Acne-Fighting Retinol Serums: Board-certified dermatologists provided us with their recommendations for the best retinol creams for 2024 and they included the following points that have to be kept in mind while selecting the serum that suits your skin.

  • Formulation: Retinol creams and serums, particularly those containing hyaluronic acid, a moisturizing element to relieve initial discomfort, are great places to start.
  • Proposed Benefits: Although the majority of retinoid treatments target acne and wrinkles.
  • Additional Retinoids: Retinoid gels, serums, and creams can also be used for the same purpose while adapalene gels, which come in 0.1% and 0.3% levels, are more potent and ideal for cystic acne, retinol is mild and ideal for beginners.

Retinol Creams for Clear Skin: Experts say that creams tend to be more hydrating and nourishing on the skin as compared to serums, making them especially good for beginners or those with sensitive skin. 

Beginner’s Guide to Retinol

Achieving clear skin with retinol takes time, and your skin might initially react with flaking, dryness, irritation, and breakouts due to accelerated cell turnover. Fortunately, you can take steps to minimize these effects.

Start with a mild retinol product, especially if you’re a beginner. Lightweight serums that absorb easily are great for oily skin. On nights you don't use retinol, apply acne-fighting ingredients like benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid, but avoid using them simultaneously with retinol to prevent irritation. Additionally, always wear sunscreen with at least SPF 30 during the day, as retinol can make your skin more sensitive to the sun.

How to Use Retinol Correctly

To reduce redness and dryness and maximize the benefits of retinol, adhere to the following guidelines:

  • Begin with Dry, Clean Skin: Use a very tiny quantity of retinol. (For gels, use a pea-sized amount; for creams, serums, and lotions, use a fingertip-sized amount)
  • Partition and Apply: Apply retinol sparingly to the cheeks, chin, and forehead. Gently dab till it's all absorbed, and rub it in.
  • Apply a small bit of moisturizer to finish off.
  • Use a broad-spectrum sunscreen during the day time after applying the above.
  • During the night, put on some retinol followed by a soothing moisturiser instead of exfoliants.
  • For body Application, use body-specific retinol products with lower doses and moisturizing ingredients for areas such as the arms and legs.

Pro tip 1: Applying retinol 30 minutes after washing your face can also help reduce irritation.

Pro tip 2: The ‘Sandwich technique’, also called the retinol-sandwich method, can be followed for improved effects. For this, a layer of moisturizer is applied on damp skin after cleaning. Once the layer is dried, retinol is applied over it. Once the retinol is completely absorbed, a second layer of moisturizer can be applied on top to finish it off.

Topical Retinoids for Acne

Topical retinoids are highly effective in treating acne and improving skin health by promoting the exfoliation of dead skin cells and boosting the production of new ones. This process helps minimize clogged pores by pushing out dead cells and excess oil. Two commonly prescribed retinoids for acne treatment are Retin-A (tretinoin topical) and Tazorac (tazarotene topical).

Differin (adapalene) is another retinoid-like treatment available over the counter in a 0.1% formulation and by prescription in a 0.3% version.

It's important to note that retinol and topical retinoids are not the same. Retinoids are more potent and typically available only by prescription, although some can be found in over-the-counter anti-aging products.

Retinoids can be prescribed alone or alongside other acne treatments, such as Methicillin combined with benzoyl peroxide. The FDA approves topical retinoids for treating acne lesions, including blackheads and whiteheads, and can be used by both adults and children 12 years and older. They are also prescribed to reduce signs of aging, such as dark patches, hyperpigmentation, wrinkles, and fine lines. Additionally, topical retinoids should not be used if you are breastfeeding or planning to become pregnant, as isotretinoin (an oral retinoid) has been linked to serious birth defects.

Retinol Side Effects

Even though retinol is FDA-approved, it’s not entirely free from side effects. Many people experience dry, irritated skin, especially when starting with a new product. Common side effects include Redness, Itchiness, and Peeling skin.

If your skin continues to be irritated after the use of retinol, it’s a good idea to consult a dermatologist. 

Less than 10% of retinol users might experience more severe side effects, such as acne flare-ups, Eczema flare-ups, Skin discoloration, etc.

You can avoid the adverse effects of retinol by keeping a close eye on the tips below : 

  • Read Labels: Carefully check labels, especially if you’re using multiple “anti-aging” or acne products, as they often contain retinol.
  • Night Use: Retinol is best applied at night as the sun sensitivity can be crossed from the list during that time.
  • Sunscreen: Always protect your skin with a mineral-based sunscreen (SPF 15 or higher) when spending time outdoors during the daytime.
  • Pregnancy: It’s generally advised that pregnant individuals avoid retinol.

Retinol can be a powerful tool in your skincare routine, but it’s essential to use it correctly and cautiously. By taking these steps, you can enjoy the benefits of retinol while keeping your skin happy and healthy.

Retinol for Adult Acne

Retinol works for acne by preventing clogged pores. You may still see pimples for the first couple of months of treatment along with dry skin. But your hard work and dedication will surely pay off if you stick with it, you'll see clearer skin.

Retinyl Palmitate: The Trend Among Influencers and Doctors!

Retinyl Palmitate, the absolute trendsetter among skincare, which every influencer and doctor is raving about, is a derivative of Vitamin A. Synthesized through chemical processes involving the esterification of retinol (vitamin A) with palmitic acid, this compound is an effective antioxidant against free radicals that add to skin ageing. With this treatment, the wrinkles and fine lines will even go away.

However, Retinyl palmitate also has side effects that are no different than retinol if not taken proper care. Sensitivity, irritation, and photosensitivity are frequent problems experienced by the users. Using sunscreen after the application of the compound can minimize the risk of the above.

Retinol Healing Properties

Retinol has numerous benefits for the skin and its appearance. These are the 4 main benefits of retinol as a cosmetic active ingredient:  

  1. Reduces wrinkles: Older skin produces less collagen, which results in the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. Retinol is absorbed through the layers of the skin, stimulating the production of collagen and elastin, which makes the skin texture better.
  2. Makes the skin smoother and more luminous: By favoring the renewal of the outermost layer of the skin, retinol helps to smooth the skin giving it the perfect glow.
  3. Fades blemishes: Its exfoliating action means that the visible action of melanocytes, responsible for the production of melanin and its visible effect on possible blemishes, decreases.
  4. Antioxidant properties: Preventing oxidative stress makes it a powerful anti-ageing agent.

Retinol Concentration for Acne

OTC retinol creams, gels, and serums typically contain between 0.25 and 1.5 percent retinol. The overall strength that you’ll need depends largely on your skin type.

If you have sensitive skin, consider starting with a lower dose first. If you don’t experience side effects, you can always increase the dose. Avoid ingredients that might aggravate acne, like certain oils and fragrances that are additionally added.

Retinol and Skin Exfoliation

The answer to ‘Does retinol help with skin exfoliation?’ is, ‘No, it is not a conventional exfoliator’. Retinol is often misunderstood to have exfoliating properties. The act of skin exfoliation involves eliminating dead skin cells from its surface. There are two ways to go about this; Physically: By scrubbing or using rough cloths (which can be really uncomfortable at times) and Chemically: By using substances that dissolve the bonds separating dead skin cells, such as AHAs.

Retinol Usage Tips

  1. Pick Your Vitamin Retinol: It's important to get the best retinol product for your skin type. New users should begin with retinol at modest concentrations (0.5 percent or less), retinol encapsulated, retinyl palmitate, or retinyl esters. Consider using more retinaldehyde or at higher concentrations if you want more potent results. In cases of severe acne or advanced ageing, a dermatologist may prescribe prescription-grade retinoids that are specific to the sensitivity of your skin.
  2. Proceed Gradually: To prevent irritation, start by introducing retinol gradually:
    • Stage 1: If you have sensitive skin, use it once every three nights or once or twice a week.
    • Stage 2: Increase to every other night if irritation doesn't happen after a week or two.
    • Stage 3: Stop and allow your skin to settle if irritation arises before continuing.
    • Stage 4: If your skin allows it, try using it every night, but if not, feel free to use it less frequently.
  3. Use a Very Thin Layer Only: Apply a pea-sized amount of gel with your fingertip. Overusing the product and causing irritation are two possible outcomes.
  4. Use on Clean, Dry Skin: Applying retinol requires full drying and cleaning of your face. Applying it to wet skin may make it irritate more. Apply retinol at least ten minutes after cleansing if you have dry or sensitive skin.
  5. Make Use of Nighttime: Retinol can occasionally be used during the day, but for certain individuals, it can make them more photosensitive.
  6. On Retinol Nights, Ignore Other Treatments: The evenings you apply retinol are the best times to avoid using other potent elements like vitamin C, AHAs, and BHAs. During the day, you can apply vitamin C or alternate their use.
  7. Combine with a Moisturizer Rich in Emollients: Retinol can be drying, so use a moisturizing night cream afterward.
  8. Steer clear of sensitive areas: Your lips and eye area have more delicate, easily irritated skin. Apply a buffering product, such as a thick eye cream or lip balm, before retinol to protect these areas.
  9. During the day, wear sunscreen: Your skin may be more vulnerable to UV damage if you use retinol. Throughout the day, always use SPF to prevent sunburn and more skin aging.
  10. Modify Your Schedule as Required: Your skincare regimen should adapt to your changing lifestyle and skin type. The frequency and type of retinol products you use can be affected by several factors, including hormone fluctuations, stress, the environment, and budgetary restraints.
  11. Be Patient: Your skin may start to show signs of improvement in two to three months, and complete benefits should show after six months. Be patient and give the retinol enough time to start working; consistency is essential.

Incorporate these tips to optimize your retinol use and achieve healthy, glowing skin.

Medically Reviewed by:
Dr Samridhi Sharma
(Skin Expert & Clinical Research Associate at FCL)