What is Retinol | How & Why it is Used

retinol on face


If you’re as passionate about skincare as we are, you’ve probably heard of retinol or even used it in products. But what exactly is it, what does it do, is it safe and effective, and is it a superstar ingredient everyone should use? We’ll give a brief history of retinol, how it was discovered and applied in the skincare industry, what it does, and what it can do for you!


What is Retinol?

You might actually know retinol better by its other name - vitamin A! A member of the same family, called retinoids, retinol is essential for bone growth, a healthy immune system, and good vision. Like vitamin C, humans do not produce vitamin A naturally, so we need to get it from a variety of sources to make sure our bodies have enough. Because the skin is the last organ to get all of the nutrients you ingest, you can’t get enough vitamin A for the skin through food alone. Using high-quality skincare products featuring retinol is a much more effective way to deliver this vital compound to your skin.


What Does Retinol Do?



When it’s used in skincare, retinol encourages cell turnover, meaning old and damaged cells are replaced by fresh ones. It also boosts collagen production, making the skin more resilient, supple, and elastic. Retinoic acid is effective for acne, and it’s more recently been identified as a powerful tool to stop the signs of aging skin. When users with sensitive skin reported irritation from using retinoic acid, retinol was developed. Retinol is a gentle, more mild form of retinoic acid.


How was Retinol Discovered for Use in Skincare? 



Retinoids were first identified as a solution to blindness thousands of years ago, although the affliction wasn’t fully understood to be caused by a vitamin A deficiency at that time. Ancient Greeks and Egyptians noted that animal liver (rich in vitamin A) was an effective treatment for the loss of night vision. In the early 1900’s, Frederick Gowland Hopkins built on that research when he discovered that not everything in milk could be classified as fats, carbohydrates, or proteins, as previously believed. Those unidentified elements would later be identified as vitamin A, used for the first time in skincare in the 1940’s to treat acne in the form of retinoic acid.


Natural Retinoids for the Skin



Retinol can be found in a variety of oils, including rosehip, peach and apricot kernel, broccoli seed, baobab, and avocado oils. These are all packed with vitamin A and carotenoids that protect the skin, making it hydrated and supple. 


Stabilizing Retinol

Retinol has a number of qualities that make it challenging to add into skincare formulas, so it’s taken quite a bit of work to get to the point of having highly-effective retinol products.

Retinol is generally unstable; this means it interacts with other ingredients too quickly, and it oxidizes very rapidly; when it hits the air, the oxygen and sunlight affect the retinol in negative ways that require clever solutions to overcome. When exposed to oxygen and sunlight, retinol degrades, so clear containers and ones that allow air inside (which represent the vast majority of skincare product packaging!) are poor solutions.

Packaging that is airless and opaque (frosted) has helped to make retinol far more stable than it was before. Time-release and nanoparticle retinol also represent major advances in the use of retinol in the skincare industry. Blending retinol with ingredients like vitamin C, ferulic acid, and lecithin are other ways that retinol can be further stabilized. 

Because of the many obstacles in their path, scientists have only recently succeeded in truly stabilizing retinol, making it far less irritating for sensitive skin, and preventing it from breaking down. The main way this is accomplished is through a process called encapsulation, which we will explore below. 


Encapsulated Retinol



Encapsulated retinol has been engineered with a shield around the molecule, making it more stable and resulting in a slower release and thus less potential for irritation. The product is absorbed deeper and more slowly, making it a far superior product, especially for those with sensitive skin.

Retinol isn’t always labeled as encapsulated in products on the shelf; instead, look for it paired with other ingredients like lecithin and chitosan - this is an indication of stabilization. Though it costs more because it’s harder to manufacture, encapsulated retinol is a superior product to the standard retinol.

TIP: Use retinol at night, since it breaks down in sunlight


Retinol Today

Retinol can still be found in its original forms, both unencapsulated and as retinoic acid (primarily used to treat acne), but those are quickly becoming less attractive than the new, mild and gentle, encapsulated retinol. Retinol is now a mainstay for reducing fine lines and wrinkles, discolorations, uneven texture, and for revitalizing aging skin. Skin treated with retinol looks fuller, feels more firm, and appears smooth and unblemished.


BelleCôte Products with Encapsulated  Retinol

PM Perfect - Advanced Recovery Night Repair Retinol Serum


Perfect for all skin types, this retinol serum activates your skin to self-repair and helps reducing pigmentation. 

Recently published in the industry’s top skincare magazine, Skin inc, December 2022 issue.


Ultra Nourishing Night Cream



With the presence of Euglena Gracilis (a unicellular pseudo-microalgae cell energizer) this night cream repairs, as well as, energizes your skin cells as you sleep. This cream gives you the chance to wake up with a fully refreshed and hydrated face in addition to giving its users a nourished, firm, toned, and bright complexion. Works for all types of skin types.


Night Magic Combo (PM Perfect Serum and Ultra Nourishing Night Cream)



This intensive night combo with myorelaxing algae extracts and encapsulated pure Retinol smooths wrinkles as far as the eye can "Sea". Let the magic begin!



Retinol is a complex but amazingly effective treatment for almost any type of skin. Discovered thousands of years ago as a cure for blindness, it has evolved into one of the superstars of skincare, an ultra-effective tool to reduce fine lines and wrinkles, breakouts, and signs of aging. In its encapsulated form, it bypasses many of the older drawbacks it displayed; namely, it is now safe and effective for sensitive and aging skin.

Though it can be found naturally and unencapsulated, advanced skincare science has it situated well in nonpermeable packaging and in its encapsulated form, plus combined with ingredients that increase its stability and effectiveness. Look for retinol in your skincare products, especially in its encapsulated form and combined with other powerful ingredients like vitamin C and ferulic acid.

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