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 • Skincare  • Skincare Guides  • Wait, is Retinol Face Wash the Next Big Beauty Gimmick?
Bottle of retinol face wash showing the benefits of retinol face wash

Wait, is Retinol Face Wash the Next Big Beauty Gimmick?

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Main Image – tatyanarow/Adobe

With *so* much information about moisturisers, masks, and all the other wondrous things we try in the pursuit of great skin, sometimes one small but very important product often gets overlooked… The humble, but potentially powerful, little old face wash. 

When we look at our beauty steps, we usually factor in a targeted serum or eye cream. But how often do we think about using a targeted facewash or, more specifically, one using the skin-perfecting hero that is retinol?

And just what is retinol, anyway, and can it have any impact when included in our face wash?

Live that Glow HQ asked seasoned skincare specialist and make-up artist Kat Quiel, aesthetician Rachel Lee Lozina, and antiageing expert Dr Rosmy Barrios, to help break it down for us.


Face cleansing mousse sample. White cleanser foam bubbles on nude background. Soap, shower gel, shampoo foam texture closeup face wash

Image – mizina/Adobe


So, what is retinol?

I’m sure most of us may be familiar with the word ‘retinol’, but what is it and what does it do? 

Quiel explains, “Retinol is a synthetic derivative of Vitamin A which is essential in cell generation, proliferation, and collagen production.”

This skincare hero “combats wrinkles by penetrating deep into the tissues” and “accelerates the renewal processes of skin cells, counteracting the natural slowdown associated with aging,” adds Barrios.

It also “regulates and normalises skin cell functions, reducing skin roughness, improving texture, and imparting a radiant glow,” she explains.

That means the results of introducing retinol typically include:

  • Reduced breakouts
  • Improved hyperpigmenation
  • Improved lines and wrinkles
  • Improved skin texture
  • A greater skin glow

But since it takes up to 12 weeks to see significant results, even with a retinol serum, will it *actually* have benefits when added to a face wash?


Close up Clear liquid cosmetic product. Gel texture with bubbles face wash gel retinol

Image – zatevakhin/Adobe


Are there any benefits to having retinol in your face wash?

While there’s debate over whether actives in cleansers can impact skin (since they’re in contact for such a short amount of time), that doesn’t mean there aren’t any benefits.

Lozina says, “Retinoids in a cleanser aren’t as important as when applied on clean dry skin. When retinoids are in cleanser, they don’t impact the skin as much because you truly only cleanse your skin for a maximum of 3 minutes and that’s not nearly enough to make an impact.”

However, even though using a face wash containing retinol “won’t have the same effect as, for example, using a retinol serum, a face wash with retinol can be a very good way to introduce retinol to your skin. As we know, it’s essential to incorporate retinol into your routine slowly, in small concentrations, gradually increasing as needed,” explains Barrios.

“Since a face wash with retinol is immediately washable, it provides a safe way to try retinol and observe the positive changes in your skin over time.”

Therefore, while the experts don’t think retinol face wash will have anything like the impact of a retinol cream, they do think it might be a good way to gently introduce the ingredient to your skin.

Since the side effects of using a retinol for the first time can include peeling, breakouts, redness and irritation (AKA, the ‘retinol uglies’), this may make investing in a separate retinol cleanser worth it for some people.  For anyone whose skin is already used to retinols though, the experts don’t seem to believe adding in a retinol face wash too is going to have much impact.


Young sensuality beautiful teen with clean skin with splash of water - blue background retinol face wash

Image – Cavan Images/Adobe


The best retinol face washes

If you’re still looking for a retinol face wash though, here are some of my personal favourites. 

My favourite budget buy has to be Sally Beauty’s Retinol Anti-Ageing Cream Cleanser that you mix with water and rinse off (£8.99 on Sally Beauty UK and $11.29 on Sally Beauty US). This can be used twice daily.

Available in the US only, a mid-range product would be Olay’s Retinol24 Skin Renewing Retinol Cleanser ($7.49 on the Olay website). Use this power-packed face wash morning and night and see smoother, clearer skin in just 1 week.

Everyone from Pixi to Roc seem to getting in on the action though, with retinol cleansers one of the most popular emerging skincare products.


How often should I use it?

We asked Lozina how often she would recommend using a retinol-based face wash. 

“If your skin is very oily, I would recommend using it daily at night only. If you have dry skin, think of your active cleanse like a skin treatment and use 2-3 times per week at night only,” she explains.

Lozina warns, “If your skin becomes very dry, reduce the frequency,” however.


Portrait of three women with skin problems together on brown background. Close up of women having skin conditions with eyes closed skin type

Image – Jacob Lund/Adobe


Are there any potential side effects to using retinol-based face washes?

Quiel says: “Side effects may vary but include: 

  • Peeling 
  • Skin dryness 
  • Redness 

These side effects are more prevalent when direct retinol is used on the skin. A face wash containing retinol doesn’t typically contain enough to cause the aforementioned side effects. Very sensitive skin should still use caution when introducing a new product.”

It’s important to watch how your skin reacts and to follow dermatologists’ advice and guidance on using retinol. 

Barrios tells us that “one of the crucial rules when using retinol is to always use SPF 30-50 the next day if you plan to go outdoors, as retinol promotes cell renewal and SPF is necessary to protect cells from sun damage. Also, it’s better to reserve retinol products for the fall or winter season and avoid them in the summer.


The takeaway

While retinol may not be an absolute necessity in your face wash, that doesn’t mean it can’t help sensitive skin types acclimatise to this sometimes tricky ingredient.

For anyone already used to actives in their skincare though, this may be one product trend that you really can afford to pass on.


Meet the experts

Kat Quiel is a celebrity make-up artist, skin expert and the founder of Beauty Factorie.  She has worked on the faces of megastars such as Steven Tyler, Mena Suvari, Daddy Yankee, Enrique Iglesias, Cyndi Lauper, Nick Jonas, and Joan Rivers and has assisted at New York and Miami Fashion Weeks, as well as at the MTV awards, and The Grammys.


Rachel Lee Lozina is a New York State Licensed Esthetician, Laser Technician and Oncology Aesthetician and Founder of Blue Water Spa in Oyster Bay, NY.


Dr Rosmy Barrios MD, is an antiageing expert and a medical advisor for the Health Reporter.  She is also a regenerative medicine specialist in several medical institutions with years of experience in aesthetic medicine and cosmetology.


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Freelance Beauty Writer

Emma Kate Marsden is a qualified journalist, makeup artist and beauty therapist who started her career working as a MAC makeup artist. After gaining her degrees in journalism and creative writing, Kate has gone on to write for multiple publications, including OK! Magazine. When not writing and researching, Emma is working on her first novel and going on adventures around the world.

Expertise: Makeup, skincare
Education: University of Huddersfield

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