Retinol is the gold standard of over-the-counter anti-ageing skincare. Loved by experts, proven to work and suitable for all skin types – it's arguably the hardest-working ingredient in your skincare routine.
You probably know how Retinol works and you likely know what Retinol does to skin - but the rulebook for how often you should use Retinol can confuse even the most knowledgeable beauty expert. Until now.
We put your most frequently-asked questions to Consultant Dermatologist Dr Andrew Markey MD FRCP. If smart (but simple) skincare solutions are your thing, you’re in the right place:
Retinol is suitable for all skin types and lifestyles – whether you’re adding it into your ten-step evening skincare ritual, or looking for a fairly quick ad hoc anti-ageing fix.
No. You should NOT use Retinol if:
You are pregnant or breastfeeding
You want to regularly wax an area of skin (discontinue use for at least a week before waxing)
You’re already using a prescription Keratolytic (medical skin resurfacer) from your dermatologist
(Speak to a dermatologist if you have an inflammatory skin condition – such as eczema, psoriasis or rosacea – and are worried about any side effects of using Retinol).
In case you missed this nugget: our skin loses approximately 1% of collagen (the protein which gives skin its structure, firmness, 'bounce') every year from our mid-twenties onwards. So many dermatologists will recommend Retinoid use from our late twenties onwards.
Don't make the mistake of just reading the percentage of Retinol on the tube, as not all Retinoids are created equally and the formulation can have a significant impact on a creams performance. Retinol creams, as with all skincare steps, play only one role in the routine so it is important that you figure out what combination works for you. Just because it works for some people, does not mean this effect is universal!
Dermatologist Dr Andrew Markey
If you’re new to Retinol, it’s sensible to start with a low percentage. Side effects of Retinol usage can include redness, dryness, itchiness and overall sensitivity, although everyone’s skin is different.
"People who use retinoids will commonly experience dry and irritated skin, especially after using a new product," says Dr Markey. "It’s not always a sign that you’re allergic, but almost a signal from your skin that the active ingredients are working."
"Try to see it as a signal to either up your usage – or scale it back (i.e. applying retinol on alternate nights, or opting for a lower strength product.)
The same can be said for combining ingredients with retinoids – always optimise your Retinol routine first, then add in further ingredients, if recommended."
BEAUTY PIE's Super Retinol is formulated with Retinol that’s encapsulated within its complex, which allows it to be absorbed by the skin BEFORE releasing. So you get maximum efficacy, without the irritation.
Find the best Retinol cream for your skin type:
Retinol best for sensitive skin: Low percentage Retinol 0.025% Super Retinol (+ Vitamin C) Night Renewal Moisturiser includes a 1% encapsulated Retinol complex, with 0.03% pure Retinol. (The encapsulated percentage is always higher than the percentage of pure Retinol). Sensitive skin needs to acclimate slowly with limited risk of irritation.
Retinol best for normal and combination skin: Mid percentage Retinol 0.25%. Depending on your skin’s reaction, work your way up to something stronger in 12 weeks.
Retinol best for tougher skin: Mid/High percentage Retinol 0.4%. More tolerant skin types can start with a mid-level percentage but should still watch out for side effects. Once skin has adapted, you can up closer to 1.0%. Super Retinol Ceramide-Boost Anti-Ageing Face Serum has a 3% encapsulated Retinol complex, which works on the skin at 0.09% pure Retinol. Use it AM and PM.
The highest concentration of Retinol you can get without a prescription is 2.0%. The diehard Retinol fans amongst you may want to supercharge your routine with Super Retinol High Dose Booster Treatment which features a 3% encapsulated Retinol complex and 1% Pinaretinol. Apply at night as a high-potency skin renewing intensive treatment. Repeat for 1 month, stop using for 1-2 months and then repeat as a 4-week treatment.
Retinol eye creams designed specifically for under eyes are the sensible option – Super Retinol Anti-Wrinkle Eye Cream includes a 1% encapsulated Retinol complex and 0.03% pure Retinol and is sensitive to the delicate skin around the eyes.
Did you know? The environment you live in, along with many other factors, will impact what Retinol cream you should use. For example, if you live in a cold, dry climate, opt for a Retinol cream to avoid excessive drying. Likewise it’s important to switch up your skincare routine by seasons.
Unless a brand specifically says differently – if your skin is tolerating Retinol well after 3 weeks of use every 3 days, move up to every other day, then every day. After 12 weeks you should be starting to see results and able to move onto something stronger.
As a rule the more irritated your skin is, the less frequently you should apply it. If your skin responds well, you can start applying retinol every night. A degree of trial and error is expected until you find your optimum Retinol routine.
Use a pea-sized amount over your entire face. If it’s an oil, just a few drops.
**Do not use Retinol if you are pregnant, breastfeeding or are already using a prescription Keratolytic from your dermatologist. Speak to a dermatologist if you are worried about any side effects of using Retinol.**
Reviewed by Consultant Dermatologist Dr Andrew C Markey MD FRCP.
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