Retinol Is "Truly a Multipurpose Ingredient"—Here's How to Use It

Your FAQs answered.

Retinol Is "Truly a Multipurpose Ingredient"—Here's How to Use It

Every so often, a skincare ingredient will garner so much buzz that it leaves everyone scrambling to get in on the action, even before becoming properly educated about it. For quite some time now, retinol has definitely been that ingredient—and for good reason. Dermatologists and skin experts so consistently call out this highly effective active for its anti-aging, skin-rescuing benefits that immediately heading to Sephora to get your hands on a new bottle may feel like the only logical step.

Here at Who What Wear HQ, you'd be hard-pressed to find an editor not already on the retinol train. What is it, though? The widespread adoration is all well and good, but we thought it important to take a step back and truly break down exactly what this supposed miracle ingredient is, how it works, and how to determine if its a good addition to your skincare regimen.

With the help of top skin experts in the game, we've put together this go-to guide to retinol. Read to get informed and then shop the pro-approved product picks.

"Retinoids are the family of ingredients that include both retinol and Retin-A," says Ronald Moy, MD, FAAD, of Moy Fincher Chipps. It's worth noting that the brand name Retin-A is commonly used when referencing the prescription-strength topical medication called tretinoin. "Retinoids are all forms of vitamin A, where retinol is a gentler version of vitamin A and Retin-A is the strongest form of vitamin A," Moy says. "Think of retinoids as the umbrella in which retinol and Retin-A are under."

"The main function of retinol is cell turnover and growth, resulting in many benefits ranging from a more even and clear tone to the skin to diminished fine lines and wrinkles," says skin expert Joie Tavernise, esthetician and founder of JTAV Clinical Skin Care in New York City. "When retinol is applied topically, it breaks down into retinoic acid. This acid directly impacts the cell structure in the skin, which stimulates collagen production. In turn, increased collagen reduces the appearance of wrinkles, helps fade dark spots, and evens out tone and texture."

Moy also says that retinol is not only safe but beneficial for those with darker skin tones. "There are a few common skin concerns that darker skin tones experience like hyperpigmentation, skin texture, and uneven skin tone. Retinol is a great ingredient to combat these issues and works well for those with higher melanin levels. As always, if using retinol, it's important to wear a broad-spectrum SPF," he instructs.

According to Tavernise, "The most common effect we see from the use of retinol is dry skin. This can be managed by using a hydrating moisturizer to balance out any dehydration and restore a healthy equilibrium to the skin."

Moy adds that photosensitivity is also something to be cautious of. "Direct sunlight breaks retinol down and can irritate the skin if exposed for too long to strong sunlight, so it's best to protect the skin if you're a retinol user," he says. "Retinoids do cause the skin to become more sensitive to sunlight, so your skin may react if the proper protocol isn't ensured, like wearing a broad-spectrum SPF every day. For the best results, use at night and let your skin really absorb the effects while you sleep." 

"The early signs of aging tend to show up in our 20s, so this is a good time to incorporate a retinol product into your routine. If you didn’t start in your 20s, it’s never too late to find the right retinol product for your individual skin," explains Tavernise. Moy points out that in some cases, doctors may suggest starting a bit younger to treat conditions like severe acne in teenagers.

Of course, consulting your trusted board-certified dermatologist is always the safest way to determine whether it might be the right time to begin incorporating retinol into your skincare regimen.

"A few active ingredients that can complement retinol are DNA repair enzymes known for treating and reversing skin damage caused by the sun, environment, and blue screens," says Moy. Tavernise loves a cocktail of retinol, vitamin C, and SPF for glowing skin. "To round out your skincare regimen, a vitamin C serum with antioxidants and SPF should be applied in the morning to repair the skin while also helping correct past signs of aging," she advises.

"Definitely avoid benzoyl peroxide, as it is extremely irritating while using retinol," Tavernise cautions. "Other exfoliants, such as scrubs and acids should be avoided as well." Moy agrees, adding that both physical and chemical exfoliants could be a recipe for disaster while using retinol. "Exfoliating ingredients such as AHAs like salicylic acid and glycolic acid could lead to dryness and skin irritation. Also, avoid physical exfoliants—anything that has a bead-like texture."

"It's infused with hemp-derived cannabis oil to help calm skin while 1.2% clean retinol works to reverse aging. It's a great product for a retinol beginner but provides effective results," says Moy.

"Retinol infused skincare is an accessible option for all, with many different variations that work for different skin types and ages. Prescription formulas are very helpful to some, but I think that overall the market is filled with very effective products ranging from mass to luxury with something for everyone," explains Tavernise.

Moy points out that serums like this one by Shani Darden are perfect for resurfacing the skin. "This is a gentle treatment that feels soft on the skin and helps skin cell turnover over time," he explains.

Up next, 25 cheap beauty products to buy when you're bored. This piece was originally published at an earlier date and has been updated.

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Sorry, But Your Hair Hates Summer—These 17 Products Can Help

Your hair's ultimate summer shopping list.

Sorry, But Your Hair Hates Summer—These 17 Products Can Help

Dear summer, although we love you dearly, you annually present an ever-increasing onslaught of hair sins: sun, sweat, sand, salt, stainage, scorch, and countless other forms of strand sacrilege. So, when you (finally) roll around each year, our excitement is always met with catch-22 nervousness. What kind of carnage, dear summer, will you inflict on my hair this year? 

The thing is, it doesn't have to be like this. Quite honestly, it's more so about you (and your care habits), and not so much about summer. I mean, it is summer, but how you choose to maneuver the season with strategic hair products will make all the difference. Outfitted with a little extra care and guidance, you can totally customize your summer hair routine with all the best formulas to combat the seasonal side effects you don't want while welcoming all the ones that you do. Ahead, we're highlighting 17 of the best new hair products destined for summer and season-long good hair days. Still skeptical? Keep scrolling! 

FYI: This isn't your average leave-in conditioner. Function of Beauty is the holy grail destination for customizable haircare (you take a quiz, and the brand concocts personal hair elixirs to fit your needs!), and this dreamy nourishing spray follows the same design. 

This is perhaps the most targeted and innovative hair launch we've seen in a while. The four-part system contains a priming spray (pre-shower), a hair wash, a turban (post-shower), and a leave-in conditioner (post-turban) to act as the perfect antidote for summer hair woes. It's designed to defend hair against "hydral fatigue," aka the swelling of wet hair that makes your hair more fragile and susceptible to damage.

Playa is one of the most beloved haircare brands out there at the moment, and this three-in-one mist has made serious waves since its launch earlier this season. Equal parts hairspray, hydrator, and fragrance, it basically braces days-old hair with Groundhog Day resilience. Essentially, the super-fine mist smooths out kinks and trouble zone so hair looks day-one fresh without re-washing or re-reaching for damaging hot tools.

We've all heard of after-sun lotion, and this luxurious and deeply nourishing mask from Davines works the equivalent magic on your overly-exposed strands and scalp. Simply apply it post-shampoo, let it marinate in damp strands for five to 15 minutes, rinse, and enjoy the glossy, chlorine-, salt-, and damage-free aftermath. 

One of the worst things about summer is the number of unsavory things that accumulate in our hair: minerals, salt, and plenty of other hair nasties. This ingenious new launch from Color Wow uses molecular and polymeric chelating agents to absorb and remove said nasties from strands pre-shampoo so you're left with pristine color and texture and pristine color and texture only.

Hair supplements can be touch and go, and, for the most part, really depend on the individual and your particular hair concerns and goals. However, instead of just flooding your system with biotin (like, sorry, the majority of hair pills), Moon Juice's new launch targets ulterior sneaky things like stress and nutritional voids that might be working against you and your length. (If your summer diet features more alcohol and ice cream than vegetables and water, this will come in especially handy!)

We want our hair regimen to be as low maintenance as possible come summer, without sacrificing how it actually looks. In other words, we don't want limp, wet dog-esque strands. Enter, R + Co's brand-new volume benefactor—a nutrient-rich spray that adds weightless body and oomph without affecting your color or unique hair texture. 

Think of this gentle clarifying shampoo as the ultimate hair detox. Designed by the brand to clarify, nourish, and restore hair to its most natural and beautiful state, it will help re-balance an irritated or off-kilter scalp while also removing build-up to reveal shiny, shimmering hair. 

We get the appeal of salt sprays. We do! The only problem is that they wreack absolute havoc on your hair. However, this mermaid-inspired spray potion from Kérastase captures the same wave- and texture-inducing effect sans dehydrating additions like sea salt, and with more sun-friendly fares like coconut water, UV filters, and vitamin E. 

We're not trying to get R-rated here, but this summer hair product is called Sexture, and it does make your look impossibly soft, sultry, and all around irresistible. We recommend skipping the sugar and extra cals this summer on the iconic cocktail and giving strands a sip from Amika's new launch instead. It works beautifully on all hair types and boasts a highly effective two-in-one formula that detoxifies and smooths hair while leaving behind the perfect dose of tousle and texture.  

Cool AF packaging aside, this is the summer hair product of all summer hair products: an overnight bond-repairing mask with vegan silk extracts to smooth, strengthen, and heal the worst of seasonal hair hangovers. Just shake, spray, and go! No re-style or wash necessary. 

Oribe put the entire hair industry on cloud nine when it debuted new curl-loving formulas into its A-list loved collection of product a few months back. This one is already an MVP and infuses summer-burnt hair with soothing and reparative ingredients like shea butter and avocado oil to protect against breakage and other telltale signs of damage while, of course, keeping your curls in tip-top shape. 

Think of this summer hair product from luxe French beauty brand Sisley Paris as an ultra-chic condom for your hair. (Stay with us here.) Essentially, this beautifying elixir forms a protective film around your susceptible hair strands—shielding them from the damaging impact of sun, sea, and pool. Oh, and as an added perk it smells delicious—like verbena, lemon, peach, and amber. 

Briogeo is well-known (and appreciated!) for its superfood-packed shampoo and conditioner formulas. This summer, its newest duo is equipped with tropical things like coconut, banana, and açaí, which do just as much good for your hair and scalp as they do for your morning smoothie recipe—a lot. 

As a rule, we kind of hate hairspray—especially during the summer when we want our hair to feel as smooth, silky, and product-free as possible. But there is a time and place for extra hold and definition, which is where Rahua's exotic and stiff- and stick-less formula comes to play. Perfect for all hair types, it's a non-aerosol and lends lasting medium hold thanks to plant-based ingredients like aloe vera, sugarcane, and green tea. 

Hair oils are to summer as chocolate chips are to mint chip ice cream—essential. And while it's relatively easy to find a great formula if you have fine or straight hair, finding a weightless oil that won't bog down curls is practically sport in difficulty. That's why this summer-perfect product from DevaCurl is different—it's specifically designed with wavy, curly, and coiled hair types in mind, offering both stellar shine and crucial UV protection. 

For anyone who used to spend their summers dousing their hair with gallons of lemon juice, this is for you! A very cool, very blonde collab with Kristin Cavallari, this at-home highlighting kit from dpHUE is a far more convenient and salon-less way to lighten your hair this summer. The precise applicator blush lets you appoint the lemon juice and hydrogen peroxide formula wherever you wish to go blonder while infusing hair with an extra boost of conditioners to help salvage the inevitable damage. Then, you let the sun—or a blow dryer—do the rest! (But to be clear, this product is only intended for natural or already-lightened blondes.) Next up: This Easy Braided Bun Is Officially Our New, Low-Maintenance Hair Uniform. This article was original published at an earlier date and has been updated.

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