How Often Should You Use Retinol?
Written by Nicola Moulton
17 Jan 2023
Retinol is the gold standard of over-the-counter anti-aging 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.
Retinol is no ordinary skincare ingredient. Proven to be the most effective over-the-counter anti-aging ingredient, it also works on acne and acne-prone skin, improving hyperpigmentation, breakouts, unclogging pores and leaving skin looking smoother and clearer. It even boosts elasticity.
Yet there's a fear factor around Retinol - especially when it comes to knowing what else you can combine it with in your skincare routine, with both current fans and the Retinol-curious asking:
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:
How to use Retinol - FAQs:
How often should I use Retinol?
Unless a brand specifically says differently – if your skin is tolerating Retinol well after three weeks of use every three days, move up to every other day, then every day. After 12 weeks you should be starting to see resultsand able to move onto something stronger.
If your skin is tolerating Retinol well after three weeks of use every three days, move up to every other day, then every day.
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.
How much Retinol should I use?
Use a pea-sized amount over your entire face. If it’s an oil, just a few drops. If you have sensitive skin or are prone to irritation, use a slow-release encapsulate Retinol to minimize irritation.
What percentage Retinol should I start with?
If you’re new to Retinol, it’s sensible to start with a low percentage. Side effects of Retinol usagecan 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."
People who use retinoids will commonly experience dry and irritated skin, especially after using a new product,Dr Andrew Markey, Consultant Dermatologist
"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 optimize your Retinol routine first, then add in further ingredients, if recommended."
Retinol products (like our Super Retinol) are 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.
What Strength of Retinol Do I Need For My Skin Type?
Which Retinol product will give you the most success depends on the type of your skin. Regardless of your skin type and which product you use, remember to always use SPF when using a Retinol product.
Best Retinol for Sensitive Skin
Sensitive skin needs to acclimate slowly with limited risk of irritation. A low percentage Retinol, as low as 0.025%, such as our Super Retinol (+ Vitamin C) Night Renewal Moisturizer minimizes the risk of irritation. Look for products which contain encapsulated Retinol which will allow your skin to absorb the complex before release.
Best Retinol best for normal and combination skin
A mid percentage Retinol product, 0.25%. Monitor your skin's reaction to the product over 12 weeks and, depending on your skin’s reaction, you can then work your way up to something stronger.
Best Retinol for tougher skin
More tolerant skin types can start with a mid-level percentage, but you should still watch out for side effects. You can start with a mid/high percentage Retinol product of 0.4% before working your way up to 1.0%.
The highest concentration of Retinol you can get without a prescription is 2.0%. If you have tougher skin not prone to irritation, you can supercharge their routine with Youthbomb™ Double-Retinol™ Action Skin Overhaul™ Serum which features two kinds of retinoids: microencapsulated Retinol (3%) to help reduce the visibility of wrinkles, even skin tone and enhance firmness, and Granactive Retinoid (2%), a low-irritation, bioavailable form of Vitamin A. Also in the mix: Lactic Acid to gently polish the skin’s surface, and Niacinamide soothe, strengthen, brighten and boost collagen.
Can I use Retinol under my eyes?
The skin under your eyes is thinner and more delicate than the skin on the rest of your face so can respond differently to Retinol use. To use Retinol under your eyes, use a Retinol eye cream specifically designed for under eye use such as our Super Retinol Anti-Wrinkle Eye Cream.
What can I use Retinol with?
As most people have their own regular skincare routine containing a multitude of different products and ingredients, it's important to know which ingredients are safe to use with Retinol.
Can I use Retinol with Niacinamide?
"Yes – in fact, many dermatologists recommend buffering sensitive skin with (anti-inflammatory) Niacinamide before applying Retinol,” says Dr. Andrew Markey.
Can I use Retinol with Hyaluronic Acid?
"Absolutely. Hyaluronic acid is a moisturizing must-have – and the perfect 'plus one' for any active skincare ingredient, including Retinol. In fact, it’s one of skincare’s most effective power couples (see also: Vitamin C)."
Can I use Retinol with Vitamin C?
"Yes!" says Dr. Andrew Markey. Alternate their use (Vitamin C in the morning and then Retinol in the evening) or up the efficiency and opt for a combination product like our Super Retinol (+ Vitamin C) Night Renewal Moisturizer which contains a powerful Vitamin C ester.
Studies show that combining Vitamin C with Vitamin A (Retinol) may help stabilize RetinolDr Andrew Markey, Consultant Dermatologist
And - absolutely crucial - always add SPF, daily!
Can I use Retinol with Glycolic Acid or Salicylic Acid?
Dermatologists remain divided as to what extent Acids and Retinols can be combined in the same skincare routine. While both AHA (Alpha-Hydroxy Acids i.e. Glycolic Acid) & BHA (Beta-Hydroxy Acids i.e. Salicylic Acid) are safe to combine with over-the-counter strength Retinol, general consensus is to err on the side of caution and avoid mixing – particularly if you have reactive, sensitive skin.
"As ingredients – both Retinoids and Acids are irritants, and as such overuse can make irritation more problematic," says Dr. Andrew Markey. “However, Retinoids used in the right way, with the right strength and the right routine can safely be used with Acids. There is even good evidence that combining them works well.”
"Prioritize your Retinoids – think of them as the ‘master active’ – and get that routine right first. Then – if necessary – think about adding in Acids. Most dermatologists would recommend Retinol usage for PM, and AHAs, BHAs or antioxidants for AM. And always use sunscreen."
How to combine products with Retinol
Experts recommend you only combine Retinol and Acids in the same routine if advised to do so by a dermatologist, otherwise:
Pick ONE for your regular skincare routine, and ONE for a weekly (or even monthly) skincare treatment.
Swap out any acid-containing products to avoid reactions on Retinol days.
Avoid Retinol if you’re on prescription Keratolytics (prescription skin resurfacers) or Benzoyl Peroxides.
Opt for a slow-release encapsulated Retinol to minimize irritation.
When should I not use Retinol?
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 from your dermatologist. (In which case, get her advice first, before you start.)
Reviewed by Consultant Dermatologist Dr Andrew C Markey MD FRCP.
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