Retinol 101



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There are some skincare ingredients that have major street cred in the beauty world.  I would have to say Retinol is definitely head-of-the-class.  Be it in a serum, cream, mask, or even an eye cream, skincare enthusiasts swear by it.  BUT like why is retinol such a widely held must have ingredient in your skincare wardrobe?  Ahem babes, because it is a cell rejuvenating, multi-tasking, powerhouse. 

RetinolNow, I am not a dermatologist, or a scientist, or even an esthetician.  I’m just your humble middle-aged skincare junkie out here trying to learn what works to keep my oily, aging, acne prone skin happy.  Admittedly I’m late to the party, I mean I only JUST introduced retinol into my night time routine this year.  Yep, the one product that everyone turns to for warding off the signs of aging is relatively new to me.  I have tried both “classic” retinol and plant based alternatives.  So the purpose of this blog is to share the info I’ve gleaned in the last 6 months on this ride or die fountain of youth ingredient. 

What is Retinol?

Retinol is a derivative of vitamin A. Applied at night, it is used to increase collagen production as well as increasing skin cells turnover.  Because retinol regenerates the skin it is used to even skin tone and improve the overall texture of skin.  Centering around common skin concerns such as:

  • Fine lines
  • Wrinkles
  • Acne
  • Clogged pores
  • Sun Damage

Luckily for us retinol widely known as cosmeceuticals is available over-the-counter although more powerful & potent versions called retinoids are available via prescription. 

plant based retinolWhy use it? 

As we age we naturally produce less collagen, that stuff that gives skin its elasticity…you know that bounce and plump factor.  Basically skin becomes thinner the older we get making it more susceptible to visible signs of aging, like wrinkles and sun damage or sun spots.  Retinol regenerates the skin on a cellular level thickening the epidermis thus improving the skin texture.  And babes one of the most amazing benefits is that retinol increases the production of natural chemicals in your skin, such as hyaluronic acid…which is literally what keeps skin plump & hydrated!!

Plump, smooth, and even skin tone…who doesn’t want that right??!! Like I said babes, retinol is a multi-tasking powerhouse. So in addition to keeping skin plump it is also used to help treat inflammation aka acne or breakouts.  By now I’m sure, just like me, you are beginning to comprehend why literally every skincare brand out there is including retinol or a plant based retinol in products. 

Like what ARE plant based Retinols? AND are they as effective??

So babes let me see if I can make this short and sweet.  

  • Traditional retinol is synthetic, meaning it is synthesized in a lab to mimic Vitamin A (which is the breakdown of beta carotene).  Vitamin A is one of the body’s main nutrients for cell regeneration. Retinol most commonly originates from animal sources like beef, fish, and eggs BUT can also be found in nature aka plants and veggies like kale, sweet potatoes, and cantaloupe.  
  • Bakuchiol is the standout plant derived natural retinol that I am seeing a lot of “clean beauty” brands use.  Bakuchiol stimulates cell rejuvenation, boosts collagen production, is non-irritating, and does not cause UV sensitivity making it ideal to use daily AM & PM.  The efficacy of retinol has been studied extensively meaning it is proven to be highly effective.  While natural retinol is relatively new to the beauty space, it has been found to be effective at treating fine lines, improving hyperpigmentation, nourishing & hydrating skin on a cellular level all without the traditional retinol side effects. 

When should retinol be added to a skincare routine? (as in age)

Now we come to the part when I give my spiel on skincare in general.  Lovies in my opinion skincare begins on the inside.  Skin is tied to your lifestyle.  You know what I’m talking about…how you live each day over time: 

  • What you eat, 
  • Sleeping habits, 
  • Physical activity and so forth… 

That lifestyle paired with genetics is the most determinant factor of your overall physical health and that’s right your skin is included. Skin is the largest organ on your body and should be treated with the care you give every other organ.  A cream, serum, or even a powerful ingredient like retinol is what I call the cherry on top of a balanced lifestyle. OKAYEE, so now that I’ve pitched in my 2 cents worth of philosophy let’s chat about:

  1. who should use retinol and 
  2. when should an ingredient like retinol be added to a skincare regimen.


It is recommended to begin using retinol in your mid to late 20’s. At this age bracket, the most common skin concerns are treating acne inflammation and hyperpigmentation as a result of acne.  So far I have learned is retinol can be introduced even as early as 20yrs old. Retinol is especially effective to treat inflammation caused by acne.  

For example: My eldest daughter May (24) uses Shani Darden Retinol 2-3 times a week for that exact reason.  Because retinol can cause skin to be dry & hyper sensitive to UV light, she introduced it to her skincare regimen very slowly building up using it 3 times a week.  Naturally she uses sunscreen daily, as should anyone using retinol/retinoids. The key at this age is to begin using it slowly and to be consistent. 

30’s +

The best way to treat fine lines, wrinkles, and hyperpigmentation is by preventing them from happening in the first place.  Meaning incorporating healing regenerative ingredients in your routine before the hallmark signs of aging take hold. Having ingredients on board like hyaluronic acid, vitamin C, and retinol are going to give your skin the best chance over time.  NOW hang on a sec, obviously SKIN WILL AGE.  Aging is a beautiful thing, a gift even.  BUT, it is also okay, in my opinion, to do what you can daily to help that process happen with grace. 

What is retinolWhat are the side effects of retinol?

Nothing in life comes without cause and effect.  My findings have shown that retinol can cause UV sensitivity, dry skin, peeling or even mild to severe irritation.  It should always be introduced very slowly to your skin. Like once a week for 2-3 weeks. Then increase accordingly, until to reach your desired usage. For myself, I use Shani Darden’s Retinol Reform Serum which is a more “classic,” mild yet highly effective version 2 times a week (Wednesday & Saturday Night’s).  I then use my rotation of plant based retinol the other days. 

Be sure to balance your skincare routine by using a hydrating moisturizer and even add a serum with ingredients such as hyaluronic acid or vitamin c (use in the AM).  These are gonna be very effective ways to help counter any dryness and will help protect against environmental stress.  And as always lovies, apply sunscreen in the AM as the final step in your routine for that UV sensitivity AND to protect your skin from sun damage.  

How to Use Retinol:

  1. Cleanse face.  Be sure to remove all traces of makeup.
  2. On dry clean skin apply about a pea sized amount, in upward/outward direction
  3. Apply Eye Cream
  4. Apply moisturizer
  5. ***In the AM remember to apply sunscreen

Should I use a classic or plant-based retinol?

In my opinion this boils down to personal preference.  Maybe you want the most potent retinol out there or maybe you prefer a gentler vegan cleaner alternative. No matter if you go with a traditional retinol or plant based, the most important factor is to be on it babes, like be consistent.  Nothing is going to be effective if you don’t give it time to work it’s magic. 

Do you have any other questions about retinol? Leave them in the comments below.???????? 


  1. Bridgette says:

    Thank you for this information. I’m in my early 50s and I just started using traditional retinol. I’m a little late to the party but, so far I’m loving it

  2. […] Retinol, a derivative of vitamin A, increases collagen production and skin cell turnover. Because retinol regenerates the skin it is used to even skin tone, improve the overall texture of skin, and reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles.  […]

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I’m a clean beauty expert, a plant-based recipe guru, a fashion maven, and a mature black woman embracing my natural hair, silver streaks and all.

Welcome, I'm Tennille Murphy