For many people in the skin-care world, retinol is considered liquid gold. The ingredient is touted by dermatologists and skin experts alike for its unmatched ability to boost cell turnover, which works like magic to fade hyperpigmentation and dark spots, clear up acne, and smooth out fine lines with continued use. But that's not all retinol can do: it can also improve skin's elasticity, exfoliate, prevent and fade sun damage, and even out one's skin tone.
So, first thing's first: what is retinol? Simply put, retinol is the purest form of vitamin A. A little less simply put, it falls within a category of over 2,500 different chemicals called retinoids. The reason these forms of vitamin A are so effective is because when they're applied to skin, retinoids are converted into retinoic acid. Our skin loves retinoic acid because it communicates well with our cells, improving the way they form and mature.
The key to finding a powerful retinol boils down to how well it converts to retinoic acid once it hits your skin, and there are two routes you can take when it comes to incorporating this ingredient into your regimen. It can be purchased over the counter or prescribed by a doctor. We spoke to a few skin-care experts to break down everything you need to know about this quasi-miracle ingredient so you can figure out which route and products might be the best for you.