Retinol Guide: How to Use Retinol, Its Benefits, and the Perfect Retinol Skincare Routine

Person holding a skincare product and applying it to their face

If you’ve been passionate about skincare or even just starting to become interested in skincare, you have likely heard of retinol. Retinol is referred to as a “magic solution” to a variety of skin problems. In this guide, we answer all your burning questions around retinol, including how to use retinol, the benefits of retinol and how to include retinol in your skincare routine.

What is Retinol

The name ‘retinol’ is often an umbrella term for topical products containing a vitamin A derivative that’s technically a type of retinoid. Vitamin A is one of the body’s primary nutrients for boosting cell turnover. There are several types of retinoid products, ranging in different levels of concentration. Retinoids are considered to be effective for skincare as they increase collagen production, which helps to increase the rate of skin cell turnover.

You will usually find retinol in face cream, face masks and serum products. The two most common types of retinoids available over-the-counter are retinol and retinyl palmitate. You can determine which is in your product by reading the ingredient list.

There are also stronger, prescription versions of retinoids, such as tazarotene, adapalene and tretinoin. Prescription retinoids always come in creams or gels except for Accutane (isotretinoin), which is taken orally. Prescription retinoids are only necessary for individuals dealing with significant skin issues and need to be prescribed by a dermatologist.

Whatever your skincare situation is, most skin experts agree that you can benefit from adding retinol into your daily skincare routine.

When Should You Start Using Retinol?

It is often recommended to start using retinol products in your mid to late 20s. After you start using retinol, make sure to keep it up! And, ensure you use plenty of sunscreen, even on overcast days, when using products containing retinol. Retinol can make your skin particularly sensitive to sunlight.

What are the Benefits of Retinol

Retinol can treat various skin conditions and problems, including acne, acne scars, blackheads and clogged pores. By speeding up the skin’s natural rejuvenation process, retinol can improve the skin’s overall texture. Retinol also helps to minimize fine lines and wrinkles, even out skin tone, firm the skin and decrease pore size.

Additionally, retinol functions like an antioxidant to assist in reducing free radical damage, which is a leading cause of visible signs of aging.

Retinoids work for both the outer layer and the inner layer of the skin. First, retinoids increase the turnover rate of keratinocytes, the cells on the outermost layer of our skin. Over an extended time, regular use of retinoids can increase the body’s elastin and collagen production. This will help achieve healthier skin for the second, deeper layer of the skin.

How to Use Retinol

Despite its popularity, a lot of people don’t know how to use retinol properly. Retinol gets its reputation for being so effective because its such a strong product. As a result, it can sometimes have harsh side effects such as peeling skin, dryness and redness. It is not recommended to use retinol and then go out into direct sunlight. Your newly exposed skin is more susceptible to damage from the sun. Any skin specialist will tell you to use retinol as part of your nighttime skin routine. As you sleep, the retinol will work its repairing magic on your skin.

Additionally, consider balancing your retinol skincare routine with a Vitamin C serum. Vitamin C protects your skin from damage caused by pollution and the sun. You can apply this serum in the mornings, so you’re protected as you move around during the day. However, do avoid applying Vitamin C and retinol at the same time. In general, you want to avoid using retinol with other high acidity products such as vitamin C, benzoyl peroxide, AHA/BHA acids and strong cleansers. Your retinol product is harsh enough, so you should switch in a gentle cleanser into your routine. Retinol can also be drying, so make sure to apply moisturizer immediately after use.

Most dermatologists recommend easing your way into using retinol. Dr. Dennis Gross retinol products are particularly lovely as they aren’t too harsh but still produce excellent results.

When you first use a retinol product, apply a pea size amount to a test patch of skin to ensure you don’t have an allergic reaction. Next, introduce it into your skincare routine by using it just once a week. If you find your skin gets irritated after use, you can try a buffering technique. This is where you apply moisturizer before the retinol to reduce side effects. Or, use a retinol-moisturizer combination product. Eventually, you’ll want to work your way up to using it every night.

Conduct some research into the retinol product you are purchasing. As previously mentioned, there are various concentrations of retinol products on the market. When you first start, you will want to try a product with a low dosage. Most dermatologists recommend starting with a low percentage, ranging between 0.01% to 0.03% retinol.

The Perfect Retinol Skincare Routine

Always use your retinol during your nighttime skincare routine. Follow these steps for the perfect retinol skincare routine:

  1. Wash your face with a gentle cleanser to ensure all makeup, sunscreen, and oils are removed.
  2. Wait until your face is dry before applying retinol. If your face is damp, the retinol can absorb too deep into your skin and may cause irritation. A dry face will allow the retinol to work on your top layer of skin.
  3. Take a pea-sized amount of retinol. Starting at your chin, apply onto your face in upwards and outwards motions.
  4. Next, apply a moisturizer, evenly all over the face.
  5. Last, finish with a night eye cream.
  6. Remember to apply sunscreen the next day.

Pro Tip: If you have the time, apply your retinol a full 15-20 minutes after your cleanser. This will allow your face to be completely dry.

Watch Out for Side Effects

If you introduce the product slowly and at a low concentration, you should react perfectly fine to retinol. Retinol works with most skin types. However, some people with particularly sensitive skin may not be able to handle retinoid products. Watch out for the following side effects:

  • Intense flaking or skin peeling
  • Redness
  • Burning

Some mild side effects, such as sun sensitivity, dryness and mild irritation, are common and will subside with some time. If you experience harsh side effects such as retinol peeling skin but believe you could benefit from retinol, book a consultation with a dermatologist for an expert’s opinion. Keep in mind you could have reacted to the product and not the retinol itself.

Retinol can be an incredibly impactful addition to your skincare routine. If you understand the benefits of retinol and how to use retinol properly, it can make a long-term difference to your skin’s health. Start as early as you can, make it a part of your regular skincare routine and always remember our tips to avoid irritation.

Discover the Dr. Dennis Gross line of ferulic and retinol skincare products and our full line of bestselling skincare today!

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