Get Retinized: The Beginner's Guide to Using Retinol
In many instances, when our skin becomes used to a product—rendering it less effective—it’s considered a bad thing—that eye cream was expensive, after all! But in some cases, when our skin begins to build a tolerance to a product it is actually, in fact, great. This is especially true when we’re talking about retinol. Our skin needs to become “retinized,” working our way up from low concentrations to higher ones so our skin isn’t negatively affected by the potent ingredient. If you’ve been wanting to incorporate retinol into your skin care routine (and given its ability to reduce the look of wrinkles and fine lines, who wouldn’t?) keep reading! We’re sharing everything you need to know about retinol, including what it is and how to use it, ahead.
What Is Retinol?
Retinol: it’s one of those skin care ingredients that we hear dermatologists talk about constantly. With its ability to target a wide range of skin concerns, “retinol” can be a bit confusing. But rest assured there’s a practical science behind this trending skin care ingredient.
Retinol is a form of vitamin A or, more specifically, a type of retinoid which is derived from vitamin A. Vitamin A is already well-known in the skin care realm. Vitamin A is essential to cell division, meaning it helps move along new cell growth for regenerative purposes. Retinol is one of the most active forms of the vitamin A, basically meaning it’s vitamin A levelled up.
How Does Retinol Work?
Retinol has the inherent capability to increase epidermal thickness, or thickness of the topmost layer of your skin. It targets stress-induced oxidative damage which can cause the formation of wrinkles and sagging skin, reversing both on the surface level in order to help you maintain a youthful skin look.
The ingredient also helps speed up the production of collagen, one of the most abundant proteins in the body that gives tissues in the skin its vigor.
Retinol can deliver increased collagen production at prescription strength, improved tone, and even texture. says board-certified dermatologist, and Skincare.com consultant, Dr. Ted Lain (@DrTedLain). “Acne will also respond favorably to retinol use, as will acne scars.” According this study found on the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), retinol is also a great ingredient to incorporate into your anti-aging regimen. The study found that retinol has a significant anti-aging effect on the skin, making it one of the few skin care ingredients that can help combat a large variety of skin issues. This includes reducing the appearance of large pores, excess oil, and acne. You can even pair it with products infused with vitamins in order to get even more out of the formula. No wonder dermatologists can’t recommend it enough!
Who Should Use Retinol?
Many of us may feel a bit of trepidation before using retinol for the first time. Due to its strength and potency, it makes sense to be a little bit nervous to give it a try. But don’t be put off by whatever harsh perceptions you may have—retinol is a dermatologist-approved ingredient to incorporate into your skin care regimen as early as your 20s.
"At a very low dose, anyone can benefit from retinol, with the benefits appearing slowly over time [with continued use],” Dr. Lain says. However, as you use retinol your skin slowly begins to build an immunity, requiring an increase in the concentration of the ingredient. Keep in mind, however, that this increase can lead to irritation and dryness on sensitive skin types. “Accelerating the benefits requires higher concentrations, which could cause quite a bit of side effects that may be intolerable for those with very sensitive skin,” Dr. Lain warns. As such, sensitive skin types should approach retinol with caution.
Since you’re a beginner, and your skin has yet to be ‘retinized’, you’ll want to start off with a lower concentration and frequency and slowly work your way up to build your skin’s tolerance to the powerful ingredient. Dr. Lain suggests starting with a low dose, and slowly expose your skin to higher concentrations of retinol over the course of many weeks. Look for lower concentrations of the ingredient and use the product only twice a week, gradually increasing the frequency to every other night, and finally once a night, as tolerated. Keep in mind, retinol is photosensitive and breaks down in UV light, so it should ONLY be applied at nighttime. Retinol makes skin sensitive to sunlight. So it’s extremely important to layer on that broad-spectrum sunscreen each and every morning, rain or shine, and take other sun protection measures.
What Are the Side Effects of Retinol?
As much as we love this multi-tasking ingredient, it does have side effects. Many people experience these side effects within their first couple of weeks when beginning application of retinol or skin care products formulated with retinol, so don’t be alarmed if you notice any. Dr. Lain noted that a few common side effects include slight redness and dryness, which should decrease as your skin starts to get used to the ingredient. You can help curb some of the dryness by upping the amount of times you moisturize or switching to a rich cream that doubles down on hydration. If you do notice a good deal of dryness, irritation or skin peeling, stop using retinol and talk to your skin care provider.
There are also a few instances where you should try avoiding retinol products, especially if you have sensitive skin. One such instance is using retinol creams prior to at-home hair removal such as waxing. Combining retinol use with at-home hair removal may run the risk of unintentionally removing some skin along with unwanted body hair. Retinol is likely off limits prior to a laser treatment, including laser hair removal. When in doubt, talk to your skin care provider for clarification.
When Should I Start Using Retinol?
According to Dr. Lain, you can start using retinol if you notice acne, fine lines, or wrinkles. “Retinol should be started for adult acne,” he says. Dr. Lain also noted the importance of keeping up with your retinol usage, even if your skin is clear. “Retinol can help address all stages of the acne blemish, therefore its use should not be halted when the acne resolves,” he says. If acne is not a concern of yours but signs of aging are, you can begin retinol use to help reducing the appearance of wrinkles and fine lines.
If you’re looking for another product that can help complement the effects of retinol, try throwing a little vitamin C into the mix. Vitamin C is another favorite among skin care products. It helps to neutralize free radicals—smoke, UV rays, pollution—that can do some real damage to your skin. Its natural anti-aging abilities, paired with those of retinol, make these two ingredients a skin care match made in heaven.
Our Top Retinol Product Picks to Try Now
After hearing those benefits, we know that you don’t want to miss out on the benefits of retinol. So, we rounded up a handful of retinol products from SkinCeuticals. Whether you’re an avid user or just starting out, SkinCeuticals has three different pure retinol products—at different concentrations—you can use. Pick your favorite(s) and give it a whirl!
SkinCeuticals Retinol 0.3
SkinCeuticals Retinol 0.3 is the beginner’s entrance to the world of retinol. It has the lowest concentration of retinol out of the three products, making it the perfect introductory course for those experimenting with the ingredient for the first time. Apply the cream once daily in the evening, four to five drops at a time to a dry face, to help revitalize the skin and help diminish signs of aging. It’s recommended for skin with photodamage, imperfections, and congested pores. Follow with broad-spectrum sunscreen during daytime hours.
SkinCeuticals Retinol Retinol 0.3, $62 MSRP
SkinCeuticals Retinol 0.5
After ‘retinizing’ your skin with SkinCeuticals Retinol 0.3, you can transition to SkinCeuticals Retinol 0.5. Formulated with .5 percent pure retinol and bisabolol, this product can help calm the skin from the irritations that can be associated with using retinols. Apply just a pea-sized amount and follow the twice a week, every other night, every night plan until your skin has adjusted. Also, wait at least 30 minutes before layering on any other skin care products. Follow with broad-spectrum sunscreen during daytime hours. Once your skin has become ‘retinized’ even further, you can transition to a higher concentration like SkinCeuticals Retinol 1.0.
SkinCeuticals Retinol 0.5, $64 MSRP
SkinCeuticals Retinol 1.0
SkinCeuticals Retinol 1.0 boasts the highest concentration of pure retinol in the brand’s product range. It’s a product that’s perfect for skin that has already been pre-conditioned to retinol. As for what it can do, expect Retinol 1.0 to help to reduce the appearance of skin discoloration, blotchiness, and fine lines. Simply put a tiny, pea-sized amount on your finger, apply it to your face in the evening, and watch it get to work. You can perform these retinol duties at least once or twice a week, gradually increasing your frequency as your skin’s tolerance to the higher concentration builds. Follow with broad-spectrum sunscreen during daytime hours.
Warning: Although the product is formulated to minimize irritation commonly associated with the use of retinol creams, it’s important that you consult your dermatologist prior to using Retinol 1.0.
SkinCeuticals Retinol 1.0, $76 MSRP
RECAPPING THE RULES OF RETINOL:
1. Start slow and build your tolerance. Less is more when we're talking retinol.
2. Use at night, since it breaks down in sunlight.
3. Wait 30 minutes before your next skin care step. Give the retinol a chance to absorb.
4. Monitor your skin closely, slow things down if you notice any irritation. Talk to your skin care provider if you can’t curb the dryness or irritation.
5. Wear broad-spectrum sunscreen in the A.M., since retinol use can make the skin more sensitive to ultraviolet rays.