What is Retinol?

As we celebrate the launches of our two latest Retinol products, I reflect back upon many of the questions I have received over the years. One of the subjects I hear inquiries about a great deal of the time is retinol: a skincare ingredient that is incredibly beneficial and often misunderstood.

A Brief History

Retinol is a form of vitamin A.

As a commercial skincare ingredient, retinol was initially used to help treat acne, blackheads and dead cell buildup in pores, but early on we discovered that it also had some useful properties in terms of helping reduce fine lines and wrinkles.

The Difference Between Retinol and ReTin-A

Retinol and Retin-A are both part of a group of compounds in the vitamin A family known as retinoids. Retin-A is a prescription form of vitamin A that has been shown to reduce fine lines, smooth skin texture and help normalize pigmentation. You can get a prescription from your dermatologist for Retin-A and may quickly see results. It’s “cousin,” Retinol, is available in over-the-counter skincare formulations. Retinol may take longer to achieve results compared to Retin-A, but some find it less irritating.

When to Use Retinol

Retinol causes some photosensitivity in skin.  That’s why it should be used at night, followed by sun protection the next day. Recommended frequency of use varies by skin type and the amount of retinol in the product being used. It’s a good idea to ask your dermatologist if retinol based products are right for you and if so, how often to use them.  Basic guidance for starting a product with prescription Retin-A or over-the-counter retinol is to begin using the product every other night and, if it is well tolerated, work up to a nightly routine.


While retinol works wonders for many, it is certainly not for everyone.  For example, people with rosacea or eczema are not good candidates for retinoids because retinoids exfoliate your skin and may cause it to become sensitive. Your skin may peel, flake, turn red and become dry during initial use. It is key to use small amounts as you introduce it into your night routine. If your skin builds up a tolerance to retinoids and is not showing any signs of sensitivity, add a gentle face scrub a few times a week to your routine in order to clear the top layer of old skin.

What is Retinol by Murad Skincare

Natural Sources of “Edible Retinol”

Some dietary sources of vitamin A can provide you with an internal path to many of the benefits you can receive from topical retinoids. Each of the following contains at least 0.15 mg of retinoids per 1.75–7 oz (50–198 g):

  • Cod liver oil
  • Butter, Margarine
  • Eggs
  • Cheese
  • Milk

Article by Howard Murad, M.D., FAAD, a world renowned skincare expert and founder of the Inclusive Health movement.

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