Are You Being Hoodwinked By Retinol?


When it comes to unlocking radiant, youthful-looking skin, few ingredients are as renowned and celebrated as Retinol.

It’s no secret why. Retinol, a form of Vitamin A, is acclaimed for its ability to target a range of skin concerns by promoting skin cell turnover and stimulating collagen production. A staple of anti-ageing regimens, it can also improve skin tone, texture, and overall appearance.

You can bet that anyone who is serious about skincare will have a retinol product in their arsenal.

However, it can be easy to make the mistake in thinking that any product that contains retinol will do the job. They all use the same ingredient, right? Surely one retinol product is as good as another?

The truth is that not all products are created equal. The precise formulation of the skincare and the type of retinol used can make a big difference to your skin.

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll show you how to avoid being hoodwinked and tell you how to choose the retinol product that’s best for you.

Prescription vs over-the-counter retinoids

As a group, retinoids are the most proven and effective topical products for addressing the signs of ageing. Retinol and tretinoin are two of the most well-known retinoid compounds. Both are derivatives of Vitamin A that are used in skincare to address a variety of skin concerns, particularly the signs of ageing.

Retinol is usually considered to be a ‘milder’ retinoid. Upon application, it undergoes a multi-step conversion to its active form of retinoic acid. This conversion makes it less likely to irritate or react with the skin, hence why it is available over-the-counter in many skincare products.

By contrast, tretinoin is a more potent ingredient that delivers retinoic acid directly to the skin, which can cause higher levels of reactivity and irritation. It is only available by prescription from a doctor.

This difference leads many to assume that tretinoin must be more effective. However, recent research has demonstrated that modern retinol formulas perform better over months of use. In their study, Dr Zoe Diana Draelos and Dr R. Scott Peterson compared retinol to tretinoin and concluded that retinol serums were safer and more effective with equivalent or better performance and tolerability than tretinoin creams.[1]

Retinol also has the advantage that you can use it for life. No need to refill a prescription or reassess every few months.

Don’t believe anyone who says prescription-strength tretinoin is the only retinoid you should consider. Modern, over-the-counter retinol serums obviously have a lot of advantages!


Why encapsulated retinol is the gold standard

When considering which retinol is right for you, check whether the product uses encapsulated retinol.

Encapsulated retinol refers to retinol that has been encased within liposomes. Essentially, this functions as a slow-release mechanism. When applied, the lipids break down slowly so that the dose of Retinol is delivered to the skin over the course of hours rather than all at once.

This delivery mechanism is far gentler and easier to tolerate than traditional retinol products, helping to minimise the chances of irritation. It is considered to be the gold standard for retinol products.

Our Dream Team serums and Eye Dream are proudly made with encapsulated retinol for this very reason.


Shelf-life and packaging

Retinol is sensitive to light and air, meaning that oxidation and UV damage cause it to lose its effectiveness more quickly than some other active ingredients. When buying a retinol product, look for packaging that is opaque and airtight – that means no clear glass jars, no pipettes, no screw tops and no dipstick pumps!

Liberty Belle Rx products are packaged using airless pump technology to help keep precious actives safe from oxidation, while double-walled lining protects against UV degradation.

If your retinol product isn’t packaged in this way, there’s a good chance you’re not getting your money’s worth, as the ingredient won’t stay stable and active for the duration that you’re using it.


Additional ingredients

It’s not just about the retinol; the effectiveness of a cream or serum also depends on the other ingredients present in the formulation.

Complementary ingredients such as hyaluronic acid, niacinamide, and antioxidants can provide additional benefits to your skin while minimising the risk of potential side effects, such as dryness.

Our retinol serums Dream Team Regular 0.625 and Dream Team Advanced 1.25 contain a range of hero ingredients such as willowherb and a unique Anti-Redness Complex to help soothe and calm the skin and minimise redness. Niacinamide also helps to brighten the skin, while liquorice and chamomile extracts provide additional skin benefits.

For the delicate skin around the eyes, our retinol eye cream Eye Dream contains Red Algae Complex for antioxidant protection, while nourishing muru muru and shorea Butters, along with Vitamin E and sacha inchi oil, provide luxurious hydration and protection.



Consider your skin type

Just as not all retinol products are created equal, it’s important to keep in mind that what may work for one person will not work for another.

Consider your skin type. Are you oily, dry, normal, combination or sensitive?

Those with oily, combination or normal skin usually tolerate retinol better and may particularly need higher concentrations or more frequent applications to see results, while those with dry or sensitive skin typically require mild formulations and less frequent applications.

Listen to your skin. Do a patch test before using any new retinol product and be sure to increase the concentration or frequency of application slowly, allowing time to build tolerance. If flaking or irritation occurs, scale back your use or consider swapping to a lower concentration.

Our Dream Team retinol serums come in two strengths, Dream Team Regular 0.625 and Dream Team Advanced 1.25, allowing us to cater to all skin types. Consult one of our dermal clinicians to discover which one is best for you.


Retinol and sensitive skin

Retinol is a powerful active ingredient that can yield multiple skin benefits, but it can also potentially cause skin irritation, with sensitive skin types being the most at risk.

However, that doesn’t mean that sensitive skin types can’t use retinol at all.

Encapsulated retinol is designed to be gentle and slow-releasing to help minimise the chances of irritation. For sensitive skin types, using encapsulated retinol at lower concentrations is the best option.

Our retinol serums Dream Team Regular 0.625 and Dream Team Advanced 1.25 both contain this gold standard encapsulated retinol. Not only that, but both have been independently verified as suitable for sensitive skin after testing at a world-leading skincare evaluation laboratory in Europe.

If you identify as having sensitive skin, our encapsulated retinol serum Dream Team Regular 0.625 would be a great place to start.


Use it at any age

Some people have the impression that retinol should only be used by those who have anti-ageing skincare goals, but the truth is that retinol is suitable for a range of skin types and conditions.

As well as addressing fine lines and wrinkles, retinol’s ability to stimulate skin cell turnover can also help with improving overall skin tone and texture. In addition, retinol has exfoliating properties, making it a popular choice for those with pigmentation and sun damage.

This exfoliating effect means that regular use of retinol can also help to minimise the appearance of pores by preventing a buildup of debris on the epidermis.

Even those with congested skin can benefit from topical retinol. Simply put, this product is suitable for a wide range of skin types and concerns, whether your skin is dry and mature or youthful and oily. It’s all a matter of finding the formulation and concentration that’s right for you.


Application matters!

Once you have found the right formulation for you, you have to take care to use retinol products correctly if you want to see results. See below for the cardinal rules of using retinol:

  1. Cleanse and moisturise: Always cleanse your face and wait until it is completely dry before applying your retinol product. Seal with a moisturiser to keep your skin hydrated and help prevent any irritation
  2. Apply in the evening: Retinol can increase the skin’s sensitivity to sunlight, so it is important that you only use it as part of your PM routine
  3. Use SPF: Because retinol can make you more sensitive to UV damage, it is critical to apply sunscreen in the AM
  4. Begin slowly: If this is your first time using retinol, or the first time in a long time, be sure to use a lower concentration and apply only a few times a week, gradually increasing usage as your tolerance improves
  5. Listen to your skin! If irritation or dryness occurs, swap to a lower concentration or use the product less frequently. Your skin will build up tolerance over time, but you must be patient
  6. Consistency is key: Seeing results from active skincare requires consistent and careful application. You’re not going to see big results overnight, so be sure to commit to your regimen
  7. Avoid if pregnant or breastfeeding: As a form of Vitamin A, remember that you should avoid using any retinoids if you are pregnant, breastfeeding, or actively trying to conceive


Retinol’s reputation as an unparalleled skincare powerhouse is well deserved, but getting the full benefits depends on the precise formulation of your retinol product, how it is packaged, and how you use it.

Whether you want to improve skin tone and texture, address the signs of ageing, or improve congestion, retinol can help. Invest in encapsulated retinol that works in conjunction with other beneficial actives and be sure to consider your skin type and skincare goals when considering which concentration to buy.

Incorporate the product into your routine slowly, building up usage over a number of weeks. Careful and consistent application of the right product is the only way to achieve results.

We hope these insider tips help amplify your understanding on Retinol. If you need help creating a skincare regimen, or advice on which retinol product is right for you, please visit our Skin Quiz at Or, for one-on-one advice, and the opportunity to speak to one of the Liberty Belle Skin Centre Dermal Clinicians, please visit here


Draelos, Z. D., & Peterson, R. S. (2020). A Double-Blind, Comparative Clinical Study of Newly Formulated Retinol Serums vs Tretinoin Cream in Escalating Doses: A Method for Rapid Retinization With Minimized Irritation. Journal of drugs in dermatology : JDD, 19(6), 625–631.

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