Retinol 101: What is it? And how do I use it for the first time?


Following the launch of our highly anticipated Retinol Facial Serum, we thought it would be the perfect time to give you a beginner guide to Retinol. This powerful ingredient has the potential to work wonders for your skin, but there's definitely some demystifying to be done first. So let's dive in...


What is Retinol? And what are the skin benefits?

Retinol, a form of Vitamin A, is a powerhouse ingredient that increases cell renewal by accelerating the turnover of skin cells. By speeding up this process, your skin will not only be less prone to signs of aging but to blemishes, too. But those aren't the only benefits; Retinol promotes an even skin tone, creates the appearance of smoother skin, enhances elasticity and firmness, and ultimately reduces fine lines and wrinkles. After SPF, Retinol is arguably the most powerful skincare ingredient for both preventing premature aging and minimizing the visible signs if they've already surfaced.


What is the difference between Retinol, Retinal, and Retinoic Acid?

Retinol, Retinal and Retinoic Acid are all Retinoids derived from Vitamin A. The main difference between them is their strength and the speed of results. 

Retinoic Acid is the purest form of Vitamin A, also known as Tretinoin (or Tret). It's incredibly potent and available only by prescription due to its high potential for irritation and aggressive effects. Initial prescribe inclusions are typically as low as 0.0015%. 

Retinal is the strongest non-prescription Retinoid and is around ten times stronger than Retinol. While it delivers quicker results, the potential for irritation is much higher, meaning you're more likely to experience peeling, redness and sensitivity when first introducing this ingredient. Retinal tends to be the next step up for experienced Retinol users.

Retinol is the most popular form of Retinoid and has much less potential for irritation than its counterparts! It's the best option if you are new to Retinoids or if your skin is dry or prone to sensitivity. It delivers the same benefits as Retinal and Retinoic Acid, with less potential for irritation. Our Retinol Facial Serum contains Hydroxypinacolone Retinoate, a Retinol derivative known to have a lower potential for irritation.


What inclusion (%) of Retinol should I look for?

When choosing a Retinol product, understanding the inclusion (AKA, the percentage of Retinol in the formula) can be confusing. Instead of stating the pure percentage of Retinol, some brands choose to use the tradename of the ingredient or 'complex' that includes Retinol. This can imply a higher inclusion than the product actually contains and lead you to believe your skin can handle a stronger ingredient, like Retinal, prematurely.



Hydroxypinacolone Retinoate (the Retinol we use) is associated with the tradename Granactive Retinoid™. You might recognize this ingredient from products like The Ordinary's Granactive Retinoid 2% in Squalane. However, Granactive Retinoid™ contains a 10% Retinol blend, so a product labeled with 2% Granactive Retinoid™ actually contains a 0.2% active Retinoid - the same as the Q+A Retinol Facial Serum. Brands also use phrases like 'Retinol Complex,' which can again imply a higher inclusion of active Retinol.


As with any ingredient, the Q+A mantra is that stronger isn't always better! According to the official guidelines from the SCCS (Scientific Committee on Consumer Safety), the recommend Retinol inclusions:

  • 0.05% in body lotions
  • 0.3% in other leave-on and rise-off products

This means the 0.2% inclusion we use in our serum is both effective and well-tolerated. As they say, the proof is in the pudding! An independent user trial of 50 individuals over an 8-week period found that:

  • 94% agreed this serum felt less drying to skin than other Retinol products
  • 94% agreed that skin looked brighter and more radiant
  • 86% agreed that hyperpigmentation appeared to be reduced
  • 92% agreed that fine lines and wrinkles appeared to be reduced


If you're new to Retinol, start low and slow - pick a product with a lower inclusion, ideally 0.1% - 0.2% of active Retinol. Start by introducing it into your evening regime once a week and slowly build up tolerance to more frequent use. You don't need to use Retinol every night, even after you've built up a tolerance, so we'd recommend using it every-other evening. It's essential to apply Retinol to dry skin, as wet skin can increase the potential for irritation. Apply one pump of product to a dry face (excluding the delicate area under the eyes) and allow approximately 30 minutes for full absorption before continuing with your regime.

To keep skin calm and balanced, barrier protecting and repairing ingredients like Ceramides, Hyaluronic Acid, and Niacinamide are the ideal accompaniment to Retinol. Our Ceramide Barrier Defence Face Cream is the perfect product to pair with our Retinol Facial Serum. You might also want to add a Facial Oil, like our Squalane Facial Oil, into your regime for extra nourishment.

When using Retinol, it's normal to experience mild skin peeling or shedding during initial use, so don't panic if this happens - this is known as the Retinol purge, and happens because the ingredient is working hard! However, if your skin feels uncomfortable and irritated, this is a sign to pause or reduce to avoid damaging your skin barrier.

Retinol isn't for everyone, so if your skin is particularly sensitive, opt for anti-aging Peptides or blemish-controlling Zinc PCA as an alternative, depending on the concern you're trying to tackle.


What ingredients should I avoid when using Retinol?

Retinol shouldn't be used with AHAs, Retinal, Retinoic Acid or Benzoyl Peroxide. Also, if you're a lover of Vitamin C, use these products in the morning and apply your Retinol at night rather than layering them.

It's also worth noting that when using a new Retinol product, always do a patch test and make sure to keep up with SPF application daily to protect your skin.

So there it is - your crash course introduction to Retinol. Pick up the Retinol Facial Serum today if you want to see the results for yourself! If you decide to embark on your own Retinol skin journey, then be sure to snap some before and after images to share with us, as we'd love to see your results!


Until next time, 

Charlee @ Team Q+A


Charlee Grimson

E-commerce & Digital Marketing Coordinator