It's not just a celebrity secret; retinol is hailed as the beauty world's best (needle-free) answer to smoother skin, visibly lessening scars, lines, and wrinkles when applied topically.
Jessica Alba–of skin idol status–describes the ingredient, which is a Vitamin A derivative, as "the greatest thing in the whole world!" Why? "It takes away fine lines, it takes away spots, and makes the texture of my skin better." As leading Hollywood dermatologist Dr. Lancer, who works with famous faces like Victoria Beckham and Beyonce, explains—it's one that truly works.
"Retinol is lauded for its medically and scientifically-proven ability to speed up the skin's cell cycle," he says. "It is one of the few ingredients on the market that comes with this absolute guarantee—it has no gimmicks." The zero BS approach makes it even more appealing.
But before you rush off and Google "retinol creams," remember it's not suitable for everyone—you'll find the same amount of scary reviews as product raves. Here's the skinny:
You've seen the pros, but Dr. Lancer took us through the cons of retinol, and who should keep it out of their skincare arsenal.
Sensitive types should avoid it:
"Retinol is a very powerful ingredient by nature, and many people with sensitive and reactive skin find that it can be too harsh for them. Luckily, there are many new, more innovative forms of retinol currently available to consumers that help mitigate the sensitivity it can cause."
So should pregnant people:
"Retinol's efficacy is due to the fact that it is absorbed into the body and creates activity in our cells. Vitamin A is highly detrimental to a developing fetus; it's been known to cause significant birth defects, and for this reason should be avoided by pregnant women."
It can increase your risk of pigmentation:
"Retinol does cause significantly increased photosensitivity. Wearing a high-grade SPF and a hat is highly recommended if you want to truly reap the benefits of retinol."
Your skin can get worse before it gets better:
"Some people may experience dryness, redness, or flaking skin when they first begin using retinol, but with proper care and adequate internal and external hydration, these effects should subside within two weeks."
Do alternatives exist?
Unfortunately, as Dr. Lancer confirmed to us, there are no true "retinol alternatives" that have a similar effect on the skin, but luckily there's been a bit of a retinol revolution with more sensitive skin-friendly formulas surfacing on the market of late. You need to look for retinol derivatives.
"When I worked to develop my Youth Serum, I formulated a type of retinol derivative that mitigates the dryness and redness of traditional retinol. Pairing it with complementary soothing and healing ingredients also helped soften the effects of the serum so it could be used even by those with sensitive skin." This version of the skin savior is also suitable for use in pregnancy and, remarkably, designed to be used by anyone and everyone from ages 18-80.
This article originally appeared on Cosmopolitan.co.uk. Minor edits have been made by the Cosmo.ph editors.