Retinol is a member of the retinoid family, which is derived from vitamin A. This molecule boosts collagen production and is therefore an interesting option if you’re looking for an anti-ageing active ingredient. But be careful when using it in formulations. The maximum percentage authorised in Europe is 0.3% for cosmetic products and 1% for pharmaceutical products.

What is retinol?

First of all, retinol is naturally present in the skin.

The name ‘retinol’ comes from the fact that vitamin A plays a role in vision, in the retina of the eye. It was not until 1931 that retinol was isolated for the first time from mackerel liver oil by a Swiss chemist. Later, retinol became the star of cosmetic active ingredients for combating the signs of ageing. It compensates for the degradation of the skin’s support fibres. It can stimulate the production of collagen, hyaluronic acid and elastin, as well as the activity of fibroblasts, for smoother, firmer, more elastic skin. Retinol is also renowned for its antioxidant properties, which prevent premature ageing of skin cells. It also acts on the skin’s melanin production, helping to reduce the appearance of brown spots that can appear with age.

Retinol can be obtained by biosynthesis

This method involves a precursor called β-carotene or provitamin A. This is a carotenoid (plant pigment). It can absorb blue-indigo light and therefore appear orange, as in carrots. Retinal, also known as retinaldehyde, is one of the three forms of vitamin A.



Is retinol dangerous for the skin?

Because it is a powerful, photosensitising active ingredient, retinol can cause irritation, flaking, dry skin and redness. Retinol is therefore not recommended in formulations for sensitive skin.

Like many molecules, retinol can present a risk above a certain dose. There is a potentially harmful risk of vitamin A overdose, most often linked to taking too much vitamin A as a dietary supplement. This is why, in Europe, the concentration of Retinol in skincare products is controlled to respect the precautionary principle. Cosmetic products are not the only source of vitamin A in our daily lives, our main source being food.

In cosmetics, it has often been at the heart of controversy for its irritant potential. It can be poorly tolerated by some skin types if it is used incorrectly or if the formulas are too irritating. In most cases, the skin needs to get used to retinoids. It is therefore essential to start using a cosmetic product containing retinol gradually.

What does retinol do for the skin?

By stimulating faster, more effective cell renewal, retinoids restore radiance by eliminating dead cells from the skin’s surface. This is the peeling effect of this active ingredient.

Retinoids also stimulate the synthesis of the building blocks of the dermis (collagen, elastic fibres, etc.), the skin’s deepest layer, ensuring its firmness and elasticity. The skin regains its firmness, the oval of the face is redefined, and wrinkles and fine lines are reduced.

As well as eliminating dead cells, which are often laden with melanin, the skin’s pigment, retinol regulates melanogenesis (melanin synthesis), which is often dysregulated with age and exposure to the sun and/or pollution. It therefore reduces existing brown spots and limits the appearance of new ones.


Retinol is an ingredient of choice, which must be formulated and used with care.

In order to tolerate retinol, the skin must often accumulate what are known as "retinoid receptors". These receptors are proteins found naturally in the skin that help retinol to work. The skin can build up retinoid receptors through controlled use, which is why it is often recommended to start applying retinol-based products at a low concentration and gradually increase it.

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