It used to scare me… so why am I finally using retinol?

Hannah Betts’ Better… Not Younger: It used to scare me… so why am I finally using retinol?

  • Used carefully, retinoids can help you achieve a glowing complexion 
  • READ MORE: Parched holiday skin? Here’s how I fix mine

For almost a quarter of a century I’ve been writing about beauty, so one might assume that I deploy all the high-tech, age-defying lotions and potions at my manicured fingertips.

Not so. Until now, there’s been one fiendishly popular powerhouse that I’ve stalwartly resisted — retinoids.

These are vitamin A compounds that work by speeding up cell turnover, regulating the rate at which new collagen and elastin are generated, and more besides — with famously complexion-enhancing results. Using them has become a nightly ritual for legions of youth-seekers.

However, there are others who, like me, have been just too wary.

My own aversion to retinol was based on the products that came out in the late 1990s: abrasive formulas provoking rawness and redness. 

Retinoids are vitamin A compounds that work by speeding up cell turnover, regulating the rate at which new collagen and elastin are generated, and more besides — with famously complexion-enhancing results

Did I want to traumatise my complexion into spring chicken-ishness? I did not.

Three things have conspired to change my mind. The first is that, aged 52, sun protection and good genes no longer seem quite enough.

Second, I consulted a group of NHS dermatologists. Not only did they recommend retinol, all of them use it, whatever their gender, age, or the state of their skin.

Thirdly, I met Professor Matthias Aust, 47, a plastic surgeon specialising in skin regeneration, publisher of learned articles and winner of multiple awards. 

He has just been announced as the skincare company Environ’s medical consultant. Environ was one of the vitamin A pioneers, with retinoids its cornerstone for three decades.

‘Everything you say is right,’ Professor Aust observes when I tell him about my reluctance. 

‘Vitamin A comes in different forms. The acid and retinol modes can be aggressive in terms of complications such as hyperpigmentation and photosensitivity.’

He recommends that everyone opts for ester forms, meaning fat-soluble. These are super‑safe and represent more than 90 per cent of the vitamin A in our skin.

Professor Matthias Aust, a plastic surgeon specialising in skin regeneration, says retinoids protect and regenerate the complexion 

It’s not an antagonist to your complexion, but a bonus; a protector and regenerator. And it’s the basis of all Environ’s retinoids.

As with all retinols, you must also build up your tolerance. Environ doesn’t talk about percentages of vitamin A, as — given the different forms with different molecular weights — you may not be comparing like with like.

Instead, it has what it calls a ‘step-up’ system from 1 to 5 — you start with a low concentration and the skin gets used to it (just as, when you work out at the gym, your body gets used to the weights). 

After two bottles of your initial treatment, you step up to a higher concentration. 

The professor himself is a ‘5’ man, following his decades of devoted use (but this is not a one-size-fits all approach).

As infants, our skin naturally has strong supplies of Vitamin A, but that diminishes as we age. 

Hormones also reduce it, making our need for Vitamin A all the more acute around the menopause.

A novice such as myself should start with the brand’s basic Environ Skin EssentiA AVST-1 (£55) or its more luxurious Environ Youth EssentiA C-Quence Serum 1 (£100), mixed with Environ Antioxidant Defence Creme (£74, all available at

When she started using Environ retinoid products, Hannah experienced no negative reaction at all. Rather, she achieved a glowing complexion

Use this entry-level step morning and night, sparingly at first, and play it by ear, or rather by eye/feel: don’t use after exfoliating, and lavish on moisture before or after, or before and after (the ‘sandwich’ method). 

Personally, I experienced no negative reaction, merely a pleasingly blooming complexion.

Budget options include The Inkey List Retinol Serum (from £12.99, Use at night, initially once a week, followed by moisturiser and/or oil to combat age spots and fine lines.

Spotty-skinned friends speak lovingly about CeraVe Resurfacing Retinol Serum For Blemish-prone Skin (£20.99, combatting acne and acne scars and making faces gleam. 

While my NHS dermatologist allies use The Ordinary Retinols — increasing from 0.2 per cent via 0.5 per cent to 1 per cent — a total bargain from £6.90 to £7.90 at 

Just go easy, watch out for any reaction and lavish on SPF50 the following day.

With care, you should start to see a plumper, younger-looking complexion in about six weeks and that legendary retinol glow.


New and selling up a storm, Michael Van Clarke Eureka Blowdry Balm (£19.50, is the perfect post-summer de-puffer for parched hair. 

Used on wet or dry locks, a couple of squirts negates frizz, enhances shine, replenishes moisture, repairs bonds and protects from heat while lending body and swing. 


Angela Rippon

Angela Rippon, 78, loves Vaseline as a ‘moisturiser, hand cream and foot softener’

The Strictly contestant, 78, is a beauty buff who wears SPF40 and a hat to protect her face. 

She loves Liz Earle Cleanse & Polish Hot Cloth Cleanser (now £15.72), Clarins Soothing After Sun Balm (£22.10), and Vaseline (from £1.80, all as a ‘moisturiser, hand cream and foot softener’.


(£44 for 150ml,

This botanical classic smells so sublime — I slather it all over.

(from £15,

Gently exfoliates via salicylic and lactic acids to slough off summer debris. It is also fragrance-free.

(£5.99 for 400ml,

Non-sticky, budget brilliance — defeats dryness in five days.


(£29 for 240ml,

A lavender and bergamot dream, exfoliating as it softens for skin with a radiant gleam.

(£9.29 for 200ml,

Even the laziest groomers can spritz on this fast-absorbing cure-all for very dry skin.


Baby, they’re back — and I need to get my hands on them. 

Lancome Juicy Tubes Ultra Shiny Lip Gloss (£25, is generating hysterical demand as mothers elbow their daughters out of the way to indulge a 1990s nostalgia hit.

Back by popular demand, Lancome is inviting us to revel in the ‘yummy scented flavours in three shiny finishes: sparkle, creamy and jelly’ of these ultra-glossy, cult cosmetics.

Pick your hit. Will it be Dreamsicle (a pinky neutral), Spring Fling (pale pink), Miracle (petal pink), Magic Spell (coral), or Hallucination (beigey neutral)? 

Try or, if Lancome’s all out.

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