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How To Use Retinol: A Beginner's Guide

How To Use Retinol: A Beginner's Guide


Retinol is a widely celebrated skincare ingredient known for reducing fine lines and wrinkles, clearing up acne, and promoting a radiant complexion. However, despite so many different retinol products in varying strengths available – from the drugstore to the dermatologist’s office – many people are still unsure how to use retinol properly.

Retinol's reputation as a skincare miracle worker is also complicated by many stories of adverse reactions, leading some people to avoid using it altogether. However, skincare experts emphasize the importance of understanding retinol's potential benefits and risks. By following expert guidance, you can safely integrate retinol into your regimen, minimize the risk of potential side effects, and achieve youthful and rejuvenated skin over time!

What Is Retinol?

Retinol, along with other retinoids like retinoic acid and retinyl palmitate, is a form of Vitamin A that’s suitable for the skin. It plays a crucial role in enhancing cell turnover in the body. Lower-strength retinol can be bought over the counter (OTC) without a doctor’s prescription, and is found in many major skincare brands. This type of retinol is less irritating to the skin, and less likely for users to report adverse effects. Higher-strength retinols, such as tretinoin, are more powerful and can only be prescribed by a doctor. Prescription retinol is more effective for those with serious skin conditions, such as highly visible wrinkles or serious acne.


What Are The Benefits of Retinol?

Retinol is known for multiple benefits in skincare, addressing a whole spectrum of concerns effectively. According to dermatologists, retinol is incorporated into skincare products to stimulate skin cell renewal, brighten the complexion, combat acne, unclog pores, and enhance collagen production. It also acts as an antioxidant, countering free radical damage that contributes to visible signs of aging. Many dermatologists and estheticians consider retinol as the ultimate skincare ingredient, because of its ability to eliminate dead skin cells, unclog pores, and rejuvenate dull skin. Retinol also regulates skin cell turnover, improving skin tone, texture, and reducing skin discoloration by promoting the emergence of new skin cells.


How Do You Begin Using Retinol?

Many people wonder how to use retinol correctly when starting out. The key is to always start slowly and gently. Balance is crucial when using retinol to avoid potential irritation. Dermatologists advise starting with a pea-sized amount of a low percentage over-the-counter formula, such as Retinol 0.3. Begin using it twice a week initially, gradually increasing usage to allow the skin to adjust. Derms also recommend skipping applying retinol on the day before exfoliation to avoid irritation, especially if you’re undergoing treatments like lasers or microdermabrasion.

For sensitive skin types, time-release retinols are ideal as they gradually release the active ingredient, reducing the risk of irritation. After using a low-percentage retinol for at least 3-4 months, if you skin is tolerating it well, you can slowly increase the percentage of Retinol, such moving up to a product containing Retinol 0.5 or Retinol 1.0 for a more powerful effect.


What Happens If I Experience Side Effects From Retinol Use?

Learning how to use retinol may involve experiencing typical initial side effects as your skin adjusts to the active ingredient, such as mild irritation, dryness, and increased sun sensitivity. according to dermatologists. However, if you are experiencing severe symptoms like intense flaking, redness, or burning sensations, you should discontinue use immediately. While retinol is effective for various skincare concerns, individuals with conditions like eczema or rosacea may find it too harsh for their reactive skin.

For those with sensitive skin or seeking a natural alternative, the plant-based ingredient bakuchiol serves as a gentler substitute for retinol, restoring firmness, reducing fine lines, and evening out skin texture. It’s very important to select the retinol product that is tailored to your skin type, for the best results.


What’s The Best Time To Apply Retinol?

Most experts agree that the best time to use retinol is at night, and never during the day. This is because retinol can make your skin more sensitive to the sun. When incorporating a retinol into your daily routine, it’s super important to always use an SPF of 30 or higher in your morning routine every day. Also, dermatologists advise not to use retinol during periods of extended sunlight exposure, such as a beach vacation in a hot climate.


Should I Apply Retinol Before Or After Moisturizer?

To counteract the potential drying effects of retinol, it’s better to put on moisturizer before applying retinol. If your skin is on the very dry or mature side, it’s a good idea to look for retinol formulations that include moisturizing ingredients, such as squalene or ceramides. Combining a moisturizing retinol with your daily moisturizer will help counteract the drying effects retinol can have on the skin.


What’s The Best Age To Start Using Retinol?

There’s no right or wrong answer, your decision when to begin retinol use is up to you! For many, the age of thirty is usually when people begin to integrate retinol into their skincare regimen. However, the ideal timing for starting retinol varies based on individual skincare needs. For example, those struggling with acne during their teens may find retinol can help keep their skin clear, while those who notice premature signs of aging like early fine lines or sun spots in their twenties might want begin retinol use then. Some people prefer to wait until they actually see signs of aging to use retinol, so they may choose to begin retinol use in their forties or even fifties. A general rule of thumb is: if you want to use retinol as a preventative measure against aging, beginning in your mid-twenties is a good idea.


Best Retinol For Sensitive Skin - SkinCeuticals Retinol 0.3

Retinol 0.3 is recommended for first-time retinol users, or those with sensitive skin. This potent nighttime treatment features 0.3% pure retinol stabilized and enhanced for extended release. It helps improve the appearance of fine lines, wrinkles, discoloration, blemishes, and pores by accelerating cellular turnover.


Best Retinol For Dry Skin - Alastin Renewal Retinol

Alastin Renewal Retinol (available in 0.25 and 0.5 strengths) is designed to help smooth skin texture, improve skin tone and reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. Oat Extract and Silver Mushroom that help hydrate, calm, soothe skin with anti-irritants and antioxidants. 


Best Retinol For Oily or Acne-Prone Skin: Augustinus Bader The Retinol Serum

Augustinus Bader The Retinol Serum is powered by potent botanicals including cell-renewing Pure Retinol, age combatting Marine Ectoine and purifying ZInc Complex. Helps reduce the appearance of blemishes, acne scarring, fine lines, and wrinkles while regulating oily skin and improving tone and texture. 


Best Retinol Alternative - Cosmedix Bakuchiol Complete Retinol Alternative Serum

Lightweight and nourishing, this Plant Based Retinol Alternative Serum is formulated with skin-loving ingredients like deeply hydrating Squalane and Bakuchiol, a vegan botanical retinol alternative that helps brighten the skin’s appearance for a more radiant-looking complexion.


Best Retinol For Mature Skin - Obagi Retinol 1.0

Obagi's extremely efficient retinol cream is made with an entrapped retinol delivery system that distributes ingredients evenly to reduce the visibility of fine lines and wrinkles and to promote skin turnover, which helps to lessen the obvious signs of skin aging with little irritability.