This is the Esthetician Approved Way to Use Retinol

YouGlowGal You Glow Gal Esthetician Sarah Payne Spa Dallas Denver SkinBlog Beauty Blogger Sarah Nicole Skincare Glowing aesthetician tips trick retinol retinal retinoic acid vitamin a retinoid irritation how to use sensitivity

Vitamin A, also known as Retinol, is the anti-aging golden child of ingredients. Starting one in your 20’s, and definitely by your 30’s, can create an impressive impact on your complexion. One that might even prevent you from needing Botox earlier in life.

We love it because it increases cell turnover, helping with acne, wrinkles, and hyperpigmentation. As a cell-communicator 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 coveted glow.

Many of us, including myself, give up on Retinol products due to irritation, sensitivity, and excess peeling.

I have some tips and guidelines for you though! After reading this article you’ll be less likely to have a bad experience and reap the benefits of having Vitamin A in your routine.


Vitamin A goes by a few names including Retinol, Retinal, Retinoid, and Retinoic Acid


I use Retinol as a blanket term for both over the counter products and prescription, even though it’s not PC.

Technically a prescription from your dermatologist, like Retin-A, is a Retinoid or Retinoic Acid, a chemical compound related to Vitamin A.

Over the counter Retinol is a form of Vitamin A, however, your skin must convert it to Retinoic Acid, and it may take several weeks to do so.


0.5% Retinol is similar in efficacy to 0.025% Retinoid

1.0% Retinol is similar in efficacy to 0.05% Retinoid


What all of this means is that prescription Retin-A will gain results much more quickly than an over the counter product. The downside is the likelihood of increased sensitivity, irritation, peeling skin, etc. By comparison, an over the counter product will usually be more gentle with slower results. Either way, the end result is the same, just at different speeds of accomplishment.

That said, some over the counter products are still too strong for us. Every skin type is different and finding the right Vitamin A product for you may be a game of trial and error.


Which miracle working Retinoid is the best for your skin?




When I was in the treatment room I never start a client on 1% Retinol. Slow and steady is the name of the game! Starting at higher concentration means you’re more likely to experience sensitivity. While there are some who can start higher without any issues, it’s safe to say they aren’t the majority. I would start my clients on 0.5% Retinol and build from there.

Whether you’re using prescription Retin-A or over the counter, the schedule looks like this:


First 1-2 weeks apply Vitamin A 2x week
Weeks 3-4 increase to 3x week
Weeks 5-6 alternate every other night
Finally, weeks 7-8 increase to every night


Not everyone will make it to using Retinol every evening, and that is okay! If you experience irritation, sensitivity, or excessive peeling, back off. Your sweet spot may have been the frequency you were using prior to adding an additional night. The ideal situation is finding a product and schedule that causes the least irritation.

Keep seasons in mind, too. Humid, summer months will allow higher frequency than dry, cold winters. After 3 months of using 0.5% you can entertain the idea of moving up to 1%, but you shouldn’t consider it necessary.


The Routine

I suggest adding Retinol to your PM regimen instead of AM for two reasons:


1. It adds extra time to your routine and we may not be willing to do so in the morning

2. Depending on the products 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 additional sensitivity. As you build tolerance, you can entertain using AHA/BHA and Retinol in the same routine but I wouldn’t begin there.

Always apply to dry skin, applying to damp skin allows the product to absorb faster increasing the chance of irritation. It can be applied to your face, neck, décolleté, and hands… just remember to be diligent with SPF as photosensitivity increases!


1.) Cleanse, tone and wait for your skin to dry
2.) Apply pea-size to skin
3.) Wait at least 20 minutes for traditional Vitamin A products, like Retin-A or Skinceuticals 0.5%, 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 Vitamin A evening is Sarah Nicole Skincare Nourishing Cream or Skinceuticals Triple Lipid. Both are great for keeping the skin’s barrier healthy and balanced, locking in much-needed hydration.


Then there’s Retinal…

Retinal converts to Retinoic Acid much more quickly than Retinol, meaning it’s even more gentle. Having sensitive skin I can’t use many Vitamin A products without feeling incredibly dry. I could only use Skinceuticals 0.5% once a week, hardly frequently enough for me to feel like I was getting much benefit, although it was better than nothing.

Cue Sarah Nicole Skincare Preservation Serum!

It’s become my favorite Vitamin A product because I can use it nearly every day without any dryness, irritation, or sensitivity. I’m super excited that I can experience all the amazing benefits of the ingredient without compromising my skin!

I’ll write a follow-up article about the different types of Vitamin A soon!


What’s your go-to Vitamin A serum, cream, or lotion??? Or have you completely given up on finding a product that works for your skin? The struggle is real, I know! xo



References: here.



30 thoughts on “This is the Esthetician Approved Way to Use Retinol

  1. This article was so informative. I love your blog!

    I’ve been using Skinceuticals Retinol 0.5 (at night after cleansing, followed by Skinceuticals Renew Overnight Dry) for about 2 weeks. This is my first experience with both products so I guess I don’t know what to expect, but I started out using the retinol every other day and felt/saw no effect (no redness, no dryness, nor any visible improvements) so I started using it every day…and I still feel and see no effect! What do you think is more likely: That I got a bad batch from Bluemercury (or that it went bad in my mailbox in the Dallas heat between delivery and my bringing it inside hours later), or that my skin is really just THAT un-sensitive, in which case I’ll go for the 1.0 next time?

    Totally understand if you don’t have time to respond but thought I’d pitch the question just in case! Either way, thanks for your wonderful blog. It helps a lot of people!

    1. Hey Jess! I used to be super worried about the Texas heat damaging my products, too! Many brands have their products stability tested against extreme conditions, I’m sure any degradation in the formula (if any) was minimal. Sounds like your skin can tolerate traditional retinol well! Give it about 6-8 weeks to start seeing changes in your skin, it’s still a bit early. After about 3-6 months you can bump it up to 1.0, but you’ll want to build up tolerance–it’s definitely stronger than 0.5!

  2. Hi Sarah, I’m currently using a couple of serums at night (Biologique Recherche Amniotique and Placenta) before my moisturizer but looking to incorporate Shani Darden’s retinol (Resurface – Retinol Reform) into my PM routine – should I be applying the retinol or the serums first? I’ve read that retinol should go on first, but I think this retinol is slightly more viscous than the serums…

    1. Hey Christina! I would layer thinnest to thickest, personally–but play around with retinol first then your other serum next, see which works best for your skin 🙂

  3. Hello Sarah,

    Why do we have to wait for our skin to “dry”? (“Cleanse, tone and wait for your skin to dry, ideally 20 minutes”)



    1. Hi May! If your skin is damp it could pull in Vitamin A more quickly and cause adverse side effects like redness, dry skin, irritation, etc. Retinoids specifically work better when nothing is placed on top which is why we’re told to wait 20min to an hour, Retinol isn’t as strict. It’ll allow both forms to work better on your skin but you can still apply moisturizer shortly after if you need a buffer.

  4. I came back to re-read this one. I’ve been applying my Retinol after my hyaluronic acid serum- but heard that I should be applying after cleansing to a dry face? Just wanted to see what you thought. Thank you!

    1. There’s no right or wrong, just depends what’s best for your skin. Using it after your HA will allow the serum to act as a buffer for sensitive skin. I personally apply mine to dry skin.

  5. I just received Retin-A Rx from the Dermatologist but wasn’t given any instructions. I have no skin care regimine currently in place besides using face wash and tinted moisturizer. I turned 30 and feel like I’m looking old and tired especially on my forehead with uneven texture. It’s time for a change! I would love to implement a skin care routine but have NO idea where to start. Do you have any recommendations for products to use in conjunction with this Rx?

    1. Keep it simple while you introduce Retin-A. A nourishing cleanser for your skin type, a hydrating moisturizer, and a facial oil to apply a few nights a week will make the introduction easier on your skin.

  6. I just started a retinol and am trying to catch up- after reading this I now see I need to cut back! My skin was so dry- I already have dry skin and was confused!? Thank you for sharing all of your skin info. I’ve said it once, I’ll say it again- I Love you blog!! Found it via Instagram 🙂

  7. Why retinol should not be used on eyelids? I do it for 8 months..I use LRP redermic R for eye area. Hope I didn’t do something dangerous to my eyes? Had no problems till now, actually my eyelids are much better, as they were slightly saggy and dry..

  8. This was helpful! I need to get back on it bc even at 0.025%, I can’t. But beauty takes dedication, time, and oils. Ok next week, I will try it again!! Thank you!

      1. I just ordered a 2.5% retinol cream! Yikes I didn’t realize that was so strong, so if I mix it with moisturizer it will be diluted?

        1. You can try it, or try buffering with an hylauronic acid serum underneath by allowing it to dry first. Every formulation is different, so even though it says 2.5% it may perform differently. Just air on the side of caution if you decide to keep it.

  9. Hi Sarah, I’m using hydropeptide power serum and eye authority at night. Sounds like I could add a retinol to my regimen? Is that right?

  10. Hiya I’m in the UK I’ve tried paulas choice 1% retinol but it honestly did nothing for me and I found it greasy and it sat on my skin. Could you suggest another good one I’m 38 I need a good retinol now lol

    1. Skinceuticals makes a great retinol! My dermatologist and others I’ve met approve of their formula, too. In the UK they have a 0.3, 0.5, and 1%

  11. Perfect timing for your post. I have prescription strength Retin A, .25% I believe, and I haven’t started using it yet because I wasn’t sure how to adopt it into my current routine. I am using a Vitamin C serum during the day, Drunk Elephant, but I am also using their TLC Glycolic serum. Should I stop using that while I’m using the Retin A at night?

    1. Leave out the glycolic serum the first week or two of starting Retin A and gradually introduce it back into your routine once you know how your skin reacts. That should help reduce excess irritation!

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