• Fri. Jun 14th, 2024

What is retinol and How to Use it?


Jun 28, 2023

Understanding Retinol:

Retinol belongs to a group of compounds called retinoids, which are derived from vitamin A. It is a milder form of retinoic acid, a substance that directly affects the skin and is commonly used in prescription skincare products. Retinol, on the other hand, is available over-the-counter and is converted into retinoic acid by the skin cells themselves, making it a more gentle option for skincare enthusiasts.

Benefits of Retinol:

Retinol offers a multitude of benefits for the skin, making it a highly sought-after ingredient in skincare products. Here are some of the key advantages:

1.Anti-Aging Powerhouse: Retinol is renowned for its remarkable anti-aging properties. By stimulating collagen production, it helps improve skin elasticity and firmness, reducing the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. It also supports the skin’s natural exfoliation process, leading to a smoother, more youthful complexion.

2.Brightens and Evens Skin Tone: Retinol works wonders in addressing hyperpigmentation, dark spots, and an uneven skin tone. It helps accelerate cell turnover, aiding in the removal of dead skin cells and revealing a brighter, more radiant complexion. With regular use, retinol can help fade sunspots and other forms of discoloration, resulting in a more even skin tone.

3.Combats Acne and Breakouts: Retinol’s ability to regulate sebum production and prevent the formation of comedones (blackheads and whiteheads) makes it an effective ingredient for those dealing with acne-prone skin. It helps unclog pores, reduce inflammation, and promote a clearer complexion.

4.Improves Skin Texture: With its exfoliating properties, retinol helps refine the skin’s texture, making it smoother and more refined. It can minimize the appearance of large pores and reduce roughness, resulting in a softer and more supple skin surface.

Cautions & side effects 

While it’s a beloved ingredient, it’s not without its warnings or potential side effects. First and foremost, you should not use retinol if you are pregnant. While the primary concern is ingesting oral retinoids, doctors and derms recommend ceasing topical use as well out of an abundance of caution. 

While it’s a debated topic retinol may increase photosensitivity in some folks (meaning skin burns easier when exposed to light), however this usually subsides after a month of use. Most derms will still recommend you use it in the evening, however. Finally it is notoriously unstable and difficult to tolerate.

This is why it’s vital you use the ingredient correctly. 

How to start using retinol in your skin care routine: 8 tips

1.Select your retinol

Finding a quality retinol for your skin type is half the battle. Beginners who aren’t interested in prescription-strength should opt for low concentrations of retinol (0.5% or lower), encapsulated retinol, retinyl palmitate, or retinyl esters. If you’re looking to level-up your routine, higher concentration of retinol and retinaldehyde are more potent.

For those experiencing more severe cases of acne or who want to jump-start a healthy-aging routine, you may be considering prescription grade. A dermatologist will suggest one based on your specific skin type and sensitivity level. 

2. Start with a Low Concentration

One of the biggest mistakes folks make when starting a retinol is using it daily immediately. Retinol is an ingredient you work up to—with a heaping dose of patience. Here’s a basic schedule to follow, but adjust it accordingly to your own needs (some folks with oilier skin will be able to move faster, while those with dry skin may want to move slower).

  • Stage 1: Start the treatment. Most folks will be fine starting with using it every 3 nights. If you have sensitive skin, you should start with using it 1-2 times a week.
  • Stage 2: Slowly shorten your time between usage. If you experience no irritation for the first 1-2 weeks, you can feel comfortable moving it up to every-other-night. For sensitive skin folks, you can up your dosage to once every 3 nights, then to every other night, letting your skin become acclimated with each acceleration.
  • Stage 3: Let skin calm before leveling up. If you did experience a “retinol reaction” (more on that later), then wait until the irritation has fully subsided. Once your skin is calm for 1-2 weeks, then you can feel comfortable that your skin has fully adjusted and is ready for the next step.
  • Stage 4: Try every night: The last stage will be using the product every night. Some people may never be able to tolerate retinol every evening, and it’s perfectly fine to stick to less usage. 

3.Choose the Right Time

Retinol is best applied at night because it can make your skin more sensitive to sunlight. The absence of sun exposure after application allows the retinol to work effectively without the risk of increased sun sensitivity. Additionally, retinol is photosensitive and can degrade when exposed to light, so storing it in a cool, dark place is essential.

4.Cleanse and Tone

Before applying retinol, ensure your skin is clean and dry. Start by cleansing your face with a gentle cleanser suitable for your skin type. Follow it with a toner to balance the skin’s pH levels and prepare it for better absorption of retinol.

5.Only use a thin layer

More isn’t always better, and no place is that more true than retinol. For gel formulas, use a pea-sized amount, and for serums, use a glob about the size of your fingertip. Tap the product along the four quadrants of the face (forehead, chin, and both cheeks) before spreading it out in a thin, even layer.

Anything more can trigger irritation. And perhaps even more devastatingly, you’re simply wasting your product. And given that these come with a hefty price tag, that’d be a real shame, no?

6.Moisturize and Protect

After applying retinol, follow it with a moisturizer to help lock in hydration and soothe the skin. Look for a moisturizer that complements the effects of retinol, such as one with hyaluronic acid or ceramides. In the daytime, always apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher to protect your skin from sun damage.

7.Be Patient and Consistent

Results from retinol may take time to become noticeable. It can take several weeks to months for your skin to show significant improvements in texture, fine lines, and overall appearance. Be patient and consistent with your retinol use, as long-term use yields the best results.

8.Adjust your skin care routine as needed

Skin care is not stagnant. Your routine should change and evolve with you. Meaning: If you find that something is no longer working for your skin or lifestyle, it’s OK to make changes. 

For example, there are many hormonal changes that folks will experience throughout their lifetime. These changes in the body will be reflected in the skin. For example, many people find that their skin becomes more sensitive during menopause; so you may find that you need to use retinol less frequently or switch to a lower concentration. 

Stressful life events can also impact the skin, as many people experience inflammation flare ups as a result. Again, you may want to lessen retinol use while skin is inflamed until you’re better able to tolerate it. 

Even small changes can impact your routine, like traveling. “Your skin may take days to adjust to the new climate conditions, and I don’t believe it’s worth the downtime that may come with the climate adjustment,” explains Ciraldo, adding, “and if you are planning a winter beach getaway, I’d leave the retinol home since you can develop sun sensitivity from it.”

But even lifestyle changes can impact your skin care routine. Retinol is an expensive product, so if you need to cut back on spending for whatever reason—it may be the product that gets the ax. And that’s OK! You can take breaks from retinol. 

Essentially: Just because you’ve started a retinol routine does not mean you’ll use it in the same way forever. You can—and should—adjust your retinol usage to fit your skin and lifestyle. 

Types of retinol 

One of the most important steps on your retinol journey is deciding which retinol is right for you. A professional can help guide you, but as an overview here are the various types and who they might be suited for

  • Retinoid: This is the umbrella term that includes all vitamin-A derivatives, including prescription strength and OTC.
  • Tretinoin: This is a very common prescription-grade product that has been used for decades and is available in many strengths and formulations. It’s best for those with acne or aging concerns (like fine lines and dark spots). Sometimes it’s referred to by its most famous brand-name option, Retin-A. 
  • Tazarotene: This is the strongest of the retinoids, and only available with a prescription. This is not the first one to give a try—it’s reserved for acne and skin conditions that haven’t been successfully treated with gentler versions. 
  • Adapalene: Adapalene is an easier retinoid than tretinoin and tazarotene, and it comes in a few strengths. In fact, a gentle 0.1% adapalene gel is actually available OTC (i.e. Differin Gel), while higher strengths are reserved for prescriptions.
  • Retinaldehyde: This is considered to be the strongest available without a prescription. Generally don’t recommend starting with products formulated with this, but can be a very effective option for those with mature skin looking to level up their skin care routine. 
  • Retinol: Retinol is available without a prescription, and what you’ll commonly find in the beauty aisle. It can come in many concentrations and forms, too—from gels and serums to night creams and more. OTC retinol cannot exceed 1%, so that’s your upper threshold. Below that, there’s a full range of concentrations: the lower, the gentler. You can also look for encapsulated retinol, which has a slower release making it easier on the skin. 
  • Retinyl palmitate: This is another vitamin A derivative that has similar effects to retinol—this is much gentler on the skin. It’s a great beginner option, or for folks who have sensitive skin. 
  • Retinyl esters: This is the gentlest and most stable form available. It’s also the least potent. 
  • Bakuchiol: While not a retinol, it is the most famous retinol alternative that has similar effects.


Retinol can be a game-changer in your skincare routine, but it requires proper usage to reap its benefits effectively. By starting with a low concentration, applying it at night, gradually increasing frequency, moisturizing and protecting your skin, and being patient and consistent, you can optimize the results of retinol. Remember to listen to your skin’s needs and adjust accordingly for a personalized retinol regimen that suits your skin type and concerns. With proper usage, retinol can help you achieve smoother, more youthful-looking skin.

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