What is Retinol?

Amir Karam MD Board Certified Facial Plastic Surgeon Founder / Creator of KaramMD Skin

Considered one of the most important ingredients in the skincare world today, Retinol is an incredibly popular tool for achieving beautiful, fresh skin. I specialize in facial rejuvenation, and a huge part of that is skincare. Even with the best facial plastic surgery procedures available today, if your skin doesn’t look young, you’re only going to get 50% of the results you should.

After decades of helping patients achieve the youthful facial shape they wanted, I decided to figure out a way to effectively address the skincare aspect of rejuvenation and help people achieve the luminous, youthful skin that makes them look as young as they feel. I spent years researching and then formulated a skincare line called the Trifecta. One of its vital ingredients is Retinol. I’m going to explain why that is and what makes this ingredient so important when it comes to achieving youthful, beautiful skin.

How does Retinol work?

Retinol is derived from vitamin A. The way it works at the cellular level is by stimulating the fibroblast–the cells inside the skin–to build more collagen. Collagen is a protein that is the basic building block the body uses to build stronger, healthier skin.

Over time the skin begins to get thinner and thinner. Retinol helps to combat this thinning effect by boosting the production of collagen and thickening the skin.

Retinol also increases cell turnover, achieving a fresher, more youthful, and glowing appearance. Retinol reduces pigmentation concerns because it has a “micro peel” effect that refreshes the skin at the cellular level. I explain more about how Retinol works in this video, and below. 

How often should Retinol be used?

At a minimum, you should be applying a product with Retinol three times a week, but ideally, every single day. Apply it every day, beginning at some point in your 30s and continuing throughout the rest of your life.

Myths about Retinol

Retinol can be a confusing topic in the skincare world. There are misconceptions and myths about this product. Here are the straight facts on some of these:


Retinol thins the skin.


Retinol actually thickens the skin because it triggers the production of collagen.


I won’t be able to go out in the sun anymore


You can still go out in the sun if you’re using Retinol. Put Retinol on at night and use a good, broad-spectrum sunscreen when you’re out in the sun during the day. Once you’re past the initial reaction stage stronger doses of Retinol can cause, your skin will be a little more sensitive to the sun, but if you’re using the right sunscreen, this should be no problem.


Retinol makes your wrinkles worse.


At first, Retinol can make your wrinkles worse when you first start using it. The initial drying effect can cause this effect, but once your skin gets used to it after the initial couple of weeks, the skin looks firmer and more youthful.

What to expect when you use Retinol

When you first start using Retinol, the skin starts to get red, inflamed, and flaky or peeling. Seeing this, many people stop using it or rarely use it. The way Retinol should be used begins with three times a week. There will be a period of change as your skin reacts to it. If you can push through it, the results are well worth it. Then, build up to using it every day by the time a couple of weeks pass.

However, most people are not willing to go through this period of time and don’t want to deal with the red, inflamed, flaking skin. The best thing to do in this case is to use products that have microdoses of Retinol. Combining Vitamin C, an anti-inflammatory, and an enriching moisturizer, are also key to using Retinol properly. Together, they work with synergy to achieve beautiful effects.

Finding the right skincare routine products that include a microdose of Retinol

Almost any skincare product that includes Retinol is helpful and generally effective. However, products that include Retinol in microdoses can be important if you’re wanting something lighter you can use without experiencing significant flaking and redness as you get used to it.

To help patients who want to see beautiful, fresh skin and walk back the signs of age, I created a skincare line called the Trifecta. The Trifecta is three simple products you can easily use every day, including the following vital ingredients for youthful, healthy, glowing skin: 


Vitamin C 


Hyaluronic acid serum and lipids 

Non-hydroquinone lighteners 


Growth factors

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