Last updated: 16/10/2022

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Many people think that retinol serum is a miracle cure that can simply solve all skin problems. Very often, claims about retinol serum are made without any scientific basis. If you are not convinced, this page is for you. With this retinol serum review 2023 I want to help you not only to find out whether the retinol serum is a good match for your skin, but also to learn more about the applications and the side effects of the serum. This should make your decision much easier.




Summary

  • Retinol is a fat-soluble form of vitamin A. Retinol serum consists not only of pure retinol, but also of additional ingredients and is often used to treat skin problems.
  • Basically, you can choose between two types of retinol serum, namely with a lower and with a higher concentration. The first type is recommended for beginners and for young skin.
  • You should be careful with the use of retinol serum because it brings some side effects. The unwanted effects mainly include irritation, burning, dry skin and increased sensitivity.

The Best Retinol Serum in the United Kingdom: Our Picks

Buying and evaluation criteria for Retinol Serums

Buying retinol serums is an important decision that could involve a loss of money and a health risk. Therefore, the next section will explain which aspects you can use to decide between the many retinol serums. The criteria you can use to compare the different retinol serums include:

We go into more detail about these criteria below.

Concentration

The concentration is how rich in content the serum is, i.e. how large the proportion of retinol in the serum is. Basically, there are three different concentrations of retinol serum available on the market, namely a low, a medium and a high dosage.

There is a negative correlation between skin age and serum concentration.

A low concentration of retinol serum is recommended especially for a younger skin. On the other hand, a high concentration of Retinol Serum is recommended for older skin.

Package size

Retinol serum comes in many different pack sizes. Usually, the serum very often comes in a bottle of either 30 or 50 ml. However, there are also packs that are 100 ml. If you haven’t tried a retinol serum before, it would be better to start with a small pack. As a rule, the larger the package, the more expensive the product.

However, there are many exceptions with retinol serum because the concentration also plays a very important role. This means that a highly concentrated bottle of 30 ml can be much more expensive than a larger pack with a lower concentration.

Other ingredients

As already mentioned, retinol serum does not only consist of pure retinol, but also of additional ingredients. These ingredients can be, for example, hyaluron, vitamin C, aloe vera and vitamin E. All the other ingredients have different properties and benefits that you should consider when buying. For example, aloe vera has very good moisturising properties. Therefore, depending on your needs, you can choose different additional ingredients.

Fragrances

The fragrance of cosmetic products like Retinol Serum is definitely a matter of taste. While some people like very strong fragrances, others prefer light or no fragrances in the products. Depending on which type you are, fragrances can be a deciding factor when buying retinol serum. It is also important to know whether the fragrances are natural or not, as some fragrances may even cause irritation.

Guide: Questions you should ask yourself before buying retinol serums

If you’re looking for a retinol serum, you’ll definitely have some questions you want to clear up. In this Retinol Serum Guide, I’ve summarised the answers to the most important questions that customers often ask. The guide should help you find the perfect retinol serum for you.

What is a retinol serum and how does it work?

Retinol serum is a serum whose main ingredient is retinol. Basically, retinol is a very pure, fat-soluble form of vitamin A. It’s a very powerful vitamin. However, a retinol serum usually consists not only of retinol, but also of other additional elements such as vitamin C and hyaluron. Retinol serum is very common on the market and has many different effects (1, 2, 3).

Effects against skin ageing

Retinol serum is very well known for its anti-ageing properties. Many women resort to this product precisely because they want to fight wrinkles. Fortunately, the scientific basis confirms this belief (5).

Retinol serum can be used against skin ageing depending on the concentration. (Image source: Noah Buscher/ Unsplash)

Skin ageing has been studied for a long time. Despite this, study results are often contradictory. When it comes to retinol, however, most scientific studies are unanimous (4, 5). Actually, retinol is not the only derivative that has an anti-ageing effect (4). Nevertheless, the other forms are not good for human skin. Basically, retinol has a positive histological and clinical effect against skin ageing (4).

Effect against acne

Many of us have suffered from acne or pimples and this is quite normal. And precisely because so many people have imperfect skin, they are constantly looking for a solution. In this situation, consumers often turn to retinol serum. Science says that retinol actually has a positive effect against acne (6). Retinol has a very good tolerability and a positive medical effect on the treatment of mild forms of acne (6).

Effect against skin pigmentation and redness

If you have had pigmentation or skin redness at some point, you are definitely not the only one. In fact, these are very common skin conditions, and the causes of pigmentation and redness can be numerous.

Skin pigmentation is common. Retinol serum can help treat pigmentation. (Image source: Erik Mckean / Unsplash)

In fact, many women and men use a retinol serum to treat the symptoms of redness and skin pigmentation. But does this have any effect? Yes, in fact, retinol serum has a positive effect on skin redness and pigmentation, which has been medically confirmed (7).

What are the side effects of retinol serum?

Retinol and retinol serums have been studied for a long time and their clinical benefits for the skin are confirmed by scientists (1, 3, 4, 5). The side effects of retinol serum are varied and include irritation, burning, dry skin, redness and increased sensitivity to the sun (7). Above all, you should be careful with retinol if you have very sensitive skin. However, this does not mean that everyone will experience these side effects.

When and for whom is it useful to use retinol serum?

Retinol serum has many applications in everyday life, but is mainly used in the following cases (8):

  • Skin ageing
  • Acne
  • Pimples
  • Pigmentation

Retinol Serum is predominantly used by the women. It is advisable to start using retinol serum only from the age of 25, because the skin is still too young before that. It is recommended to always start with a lower dosage at the beginning (9). As already mentioned, the skin becomes much more sensitive after the application of retinol serum, therefore a sunscreen should be applied afterwards. Pregnant women should also be especially careful with retinol serum. To avoid a retinol overdose, a consultation with a gynaecologist is necessary (13).

How much does a retinol serum cost?

The prices of retinol serums vary significantly and depend on many factors. Depending on the concentration, pack size and brand, the purchase price of retinol serum varies greatly. The table below shows the relationship between the price and the concentration of retinol serums.
Type Price
High concentration approx. 50 €
Low concentration approx. 27 €

Since retinol serum comes in different pack sizes, the above prices are given for 100 ml to allow for better comparability. On average, retinol serums with a higher concentration are more expensive than those with a lower dosage. However, this may not always be the case because there are many other ingredients in retinol serum that make up the price.

What types of retinol serum are there?

Retinol serums differ significantly according to their dosage, that is, how concentrated the product is. Based on the dosage, we distinguish two types of retinol serum:

  • Retinol serum with a low dosage
  • Retinol Serum with a higher dosage

Retinol Serum with a low dosage

Retinol serum with a low dosage is characterised by a concentration of 0.01% to 0.04%. The retinol serums with a lower concentration are very suitable for beginners and for younger skin.

Advantages
  • well tolerated
  • cheaper
Disadvantages
  • less effective
  • slow results

One of the advantages of retinol serum with a low dosage is that it is very well tolerated and leads to less irritation and redness. In addition, these serums are often less expensive. However, you should expect less efficacy and relatively slow results with these serums.

Retinol serum with a higher dosage

Retinol serums with a higher dosage are those with a concentration of 0.5% to over 1%. These retinol serums are very strong and are not suitable for all skin.

Advantages
  • fast results
  • high effect
Disadvantages
  • not suitable for sensitive skin
  • rather expensive

A high-dose retinol serum is very effective and therefore promises fast visible results. On the other hand, these products are usually more expensive and not very suitable for too sensitive skin.

What are the alternatives to Retinol Serum?

Retinol serum is very famous for its properties and many people do not know that there are alternatives to retinol. The section below explains two of these alternatives, Bakuchiol Serum and Vitamin C Serum.

Bakuchiol Serum

Bakuchiol is a chemical compound from the Bakuchi plants. Actually, the bakuchiol has very similar properties to the retinol. That is why it is also known as the natural alternative to retinol. The bakuchiol serums also have a very good effect against skin ageing and pigmentation (11). However, compared to the retinol serum, the bakuchiol serum is gentler and therefore much more suitable for sensitive skin types.

Vitamin C Serum

Vitamin C is very common on the market and is used by many women and men to combat skin ageing and pigmentation. Just like the retinol serum, the vitamin C serum often gets additional ingredients like vitamin E and hyaluron. Actually, vitamin C serum has very similar properties to retinol and can be used as an alternative to retinol serums. For example, vitamin C serum also has a positive effect on skin ageing and a brightening effect on the skin (12).

How should Retinol Serum be used?

The application of Retinol Serum is done in a few simple steps:

  1. Facial cleansing – cleanse your face with water and cleanser according to your skin type.
  2. Dry your face – you can either dry your skin with a towel or wait a few minutes until your face is completely dry. It is not recommended to use retinol on damp skin.
  3. Apply Retinol Serum – you should take a small drop of Retinol Serum and gently apply it to your face.

If you want to achieve good results, you should apply Retinol Serum as described in the 3 steps.

How often should you use Retinol Serum?

If you have not used a retinol serum before, you should start with a low concentration serum. Also, use a small amount of serum in the beginning so that your skin can get used to the retinol serum slowly. Over time, you can gradually increase the dosage of serum. You can actually use the Retinol Serum every day. You can decide for yourself whether to use it in the morning or in the evening (10). However, if you use the product in the morning, it is recommended to apply a sunscreen to the skin afterwards, as the skin may become sensitive to the sun (10).

Image source: Yastremska / 123rf

References (13)

1. Biswas R, Chakraborti G, Mukherjee K, Bhattacharjee D, Mallick S, Biswas T. Retinol Levels in Serum and Chronic Skin Lesions of Atopic Dermatitis. Indian J Dermatol. 2018;63(3):251-254. doi:10.4103/ijd.IJD_763_16
Source

2. Ghaedi E, Rahrovani F, Javanbakht MH, et al. Retinol and α-Tocopherol Levels in the Serum and Subcutaneous Adipose Tissue of Newly Diagnosed Basal Cell Carcinoma Patients. Iran J Public Health. 2019;48(10):1838-1846.
Source

3. Das BC, Thapa P, Karki R, et al. Retinoic acid signaling pathways in development and diseases. Bioorg Med Chem. 2014;22(2):673-683. doi:10.1016/j.bmc.2013.11.025
Source

4. Mukherjee S, Date A, Patravale V, Korting HC, Roeder A, Weindl G. Retinoids in the treatment of skin aging: an overview of clinical efficacy and safety. Clin Interv Aging. 2006;1(4):327-348. doi:10.2147/ciia.2006.1.4.327
Source

5. Bataillon M, Lelièvre D, Chapuis A, et al. Characterization of a New Reconstructed Full Thickness Skin Model, T-Skin™, and its Application for Investigations of Anti-Aging Compounds. Int J Mol Sci. 2019;20(9):2240. Published 2019 May 7. doi:10.3390/ijms20092240
Source

6. Garofalo V, Cannizzaro MV, Mazzilli S, Bianchi L, Campione E. Clinical evidence on the efficacy and tolerability of a topical medical device containing benzoylperoxide 4%, retinol 0.5%, mandelic acid 1% and lactobionic acid 1% in the treatment of mild facial acne: an open label pilot study. Clin Cosmet Investig Dermatol. 2019;12:363-369. Published 2019 May 15. doi:10.2147/CCID.S182317
Source

7. Dhaliwal S, Rybak I, Ellis SR, et al. Prospective, randomized, double-blind assessment of topical bakuchiol and retinol for facial photoageing. Br J Dermatol. 2019;180(2):289-296. doi:10.1111/bjd.16918
Source

8. Imoesi PI, Bowman EE, Stoney PN, Matz S, McCaffery P. Rapid Action of Retinoic Acid on the Hypothalamic Pituitary Adrenal Axis. Front Mol Neurosci. 2019;12:259. Published 2019 Oct 30. doi:10.3389/fnmol.2019.00259
Source

9. Vahlquist A, Lee JB, Michaëlsson G, Rollman O. Vitamin A in human skin: II Concentrations of carotene, retinol and dehydroretinol in various components of normal skin. J Invest Dermatol. 1982;79(2):94-97. doi:10.1111/1523-1747.ep12500033
Source

10. JESSICA GOMES, How to Use Retinol: 6 Myths & Facts to Help You Understand (2017)
Source

11. Dhaliwal S, Rybak I, Ellis SR, et al. Prospective, randomized, double-blind assessment of topical bakuchiol and retinol for facial photoageing. Br J Dermatol. 2019;180(2):289-296. doi:10.1111/bjd.16918
Source

12. Rattanawiwatpong P, Wanitphakdeedecha R, Bumrungpert A, Maiprasert M. Anti-aging and brightening effects of a topical treatment containing vitamin C, vitamin E, and raspberry leaf cell culture extract: A split-face, randomized controlled trial. J Cosmet Dermatol. 2020;19(3):671-676. doi:10.1111/jocd.13305
Source

13. Chen H, Qian N, Yan L, Jiang H. Role of serum vitamin A and E in pregnancy. Exp Ther Med. 2018;16(6):5185-5189. doi:10.3892/etm.2018.6830
Source

Scientific study
Biswas R, Chakraborti G, Mukherjee K, Bhattacharjee D, Mallick S, Biswas T. Retinol Levels in Serum and Chronic Skin Lesions of Atopic Dermatitis. Indian J Dermatol. 2018;63(3):251-254. doi:10.4103/ijd.IJD_763_16
Go to source
Scientific study
Ghaedi E, Rahrovani F, Javanbakht MH, et al. Retinol and α-Tocopherol Levels in the Serum and Subcutaneous Adipose Tissue of Newly Diagnosed Basal Cell Carcinoma Patients. Iran J Public Health. 2019;48(10):1838-1846.
Go to source
Scientific study
Das BC, Thapa P, Karki R, et al. Retinoic acid signaling pathways in development and diseases. Bioorg Med Chem. 2014;22(2):673-683. doi:10.1016/j.bmc.2013.11.025
Go to source
Scientific study
Mukherjee S, Date A, Patravale V, Korting HC, Roeder A, Weindl G. Retinoids in the treatment of skin aging: an overview of clinical efficacy and safety. Clin Interv Aging. 2006;1(4):327-348. doi:10.2147/ciia.2006.1.4.327
Go to source
Scientific study
Bataillon M, Lelièvre D, Chapuis A, et al. Characterization of a New Reconstructed Full Thickness Skin Model, T-Skin™, and its Application for Investigations of Anti-Aging Compounds. Int J Mol Sci. 2019;20(9):2240. Published 2019 May 7. doi:10.3390/ijms20092240
Go to source
Scientific study
Garofalo V, Cannizzaro MV, Mazzilli S, Bianchi L, Campione E. Clinical evidence on the efficacy and tolerability of a topical medical device containing benzoylperoxide 4%, retinol 0.5%, mandelic acid 1% and lactobionic acid 1% in the treatment of mild facial acne: an open label pilot study. Clin Cosmet Investig Dermatol. 2019;12:363-369. Published 2019 May 15. doi:10.2147/CCID.S182317
Go to source
Scientific study
Dhaliwal S, Rybak I, Ellis SR, et al. Prospective, randomized, double-blind assessment of topical bakuchiol and retinol for facial photoageing. Br J Dermatol. 2019;180(2):289-296. doi:10.1111/bjd.16918
Go to source
Scientific study
Imoesi PI, Bowman EE, Stoney PN, Matz S, McCaffery P. Rapid Action of Retinoic Acid on the Hypothalamic Pituitary Adrenal Axis. Front Mol Neurosci. 2019;12:259. Published 2019 Oct 30. doi:10.3389/fnmol.2019.00259
Go to source
Scientific study
Vahlquist A, Lee JB, Michaëlsson G, Rollman O. Vitamin A in human skin: II Concentrations of carotene, retinol and dehydroretinol in various components of normal skin. J Invest Dermatol. 1982;79(2):94-97. doi:10.1111/1523-1747.ep12500033
Go to source
Article
JESSICA GOMES, How to Use Retinol: 6 Myths & Facts to Help You Understand (2017)
Go to source
Scientific study
Dhaliwal S, Rybak I, Ellis SR, et al. Prospective, randomized, double-blind assessment of topical bakuchiol and retinol for facial photoageing. Br J Dermatol. 2019;180(2):289-296. doi:10.1111/bjd.16918
Go to source
Scientific study
Rattanawiwatpong P, Wanitphakdeedecha R, Bumrungpert A, Maiprasert M. Anti-aging and brightening effects of a topical treatment containing vitamin C, vitamin E, and raspberry leaf cell culture extract: A split-face, randomized controlled trial. J Cosmet Dermatol. 2020;19(3):671-676. doi:10.1111/jocd.13305
Go to source
Scientific study
Chen H, Qian N, Yan L, Jiang H. Role of serum vitamin A and E in pregnancy. Exp Ther Med. 2018;16(6):5185-5189. doi:10.3892/etm.2018.6830
Go to source
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