Retinol is the anti-aging star of ingredients. If you haven’t started using one by your 30’s, you should change that immediately. Retinol increases cell turnover helping with acne, wrinkles, and hyperpigmentation. It stimulates collagen and elastin production, thickening the skin and slowing down the aging process and filling in fine lines. It even helps your skin stay hydrated and increases that glow. A lot of people give up on Retinol products due to irritation and excess peeling. If you follow these tips and guidelines you’ll be less likely to have a bad experience and reap the benefits of having one in your routine!
I use Retinol as a blanket term for both over the counter products and prescription, even though it’s not PC. Technically prescriptions from your dermatologist are Retinoid aka Retinoic Acid, a chemical compound related to Vitamin A. Over the counter Retinol is a form of Vitamin A naturally occurring in the skin, and it may take several weeks for your skin to convert Retinol into Retinoic Acid.
0.5% Retinol is similar in efficacy to 0.025% Retinoid
1.0% Retinol is similar in efficacy to 0.05% Retinoid
Over the counter, Vitamin A isn’t the same strength as prescription but you can achieve the same results, it just takes a little longer. Although prescription works faster, irritation is more likely to occur. If you tend to be sensitive, you may find Retinol works better for you than a Retinoid. These products are usually blended with ingredients to soothe and prevent irritation but most of us need to apply a nourishing product afterward.
My #1 Tip: BUILD UP YOUR TOLERANCE
I never start a client on 1% Retinol. Starting at higher concentration means you’re likely to experience irritation. While there are some who can start higher without any issues, they aren’t the majority. Anyone who sees me starts on 0.5% Retinol and we build from there. The schedule looks like this:
First 2 weeks apply 0.5% Retinol 2x week.
Weeks 3-4 increase to 3x week.
Weeks 5-6 alternate every other night.
Weeks 7-8 increase to every night.
If you experience irritation, sensitivity, or excessive peeling… back off. You don’t have to increase your usage, most users are totally fine in using Retinol 2-3x week and leaving it at that. The ideal situation is finding a product and schedule that causes the least irritation. After 3 months of using 0.5% you can entertain the idea of moving up to 1%, but you shouldn’t consider it necessary.
I suggest adding Retinol to your PM regimen instead of AM for two reasons: 1) it adds extra time to your routine and most of us aren’t willing to do so in the morning, 2) depending on what ingredients you’re using throughout the week the evening is the easiest way to remember where to fit in your Retinol. If you’re using AHA/BHA treatments avoid using them the same evening to avoid more sensitivity. As you build tolerance using AHA/BHA and Retinol in the same routine but I wouldn’t start there.
Apply a pea size to dry skin. Applying to damp skin allows the product to absorb faster increasing the chance of irritation, as does overusing Retinol. It can be applied to your face, neck, décolleté, and hands… just be diligent with SPF as photosensitivity increases! It can be applied around the eyes but not everyone can handle it, I personally don’t apply within the orbital bone. It should never be applied below the brow bone or eyelid.
1.) Cleanse, tone and wait for your skin to dry, ideally 20 minutes
2.) Apply pea-size to skin
3.) Wait 20 minutes to an hour for Retinol to absorb
4.) Apply serums, oils, and/or moisturizer
I highly, highly suggest applying a nourishing moisturizer or oil over your Retinol. Adding moisture back into the skin will decrease sensitivity. My absolute favorite moisturizer for my these nights is Skinceuticals Triple Lipid Restore, it’s great for combo, normal and dry skin types. I’m kind of obsessed with it…
Cream/Gel vs. Oil
Most Retinol products will come in gel or cream form, however oils are becoming popular since they have become the new flavor of the month in America. While I can’t find specific instructions on how to apply a Retinol oil, like Sunday Riley’s Luna, I would follow the same routine. The only exception is leaving out your water-based serums since they won’t be able to penetrate past the oil.