How to Use Retinol—Your Derm-Approved Guide


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Hot take: A new year’s calendar can feel arbitrary. The same is true for Setting Resolutions. Can you really be a different person when the clock strikes the new year at midnight? Maybe not instantly, but I’ve found that Set small daily goalsActually works. So instead of trying to overhaul everything at once, I use the “new year, new me” fervor to get back into the Routines and habitsI know that makes me feel the best. What’s on my list for 2024? How about cooking more at home? Get my steps in, and committing myself to my skincare regime. And as far as that final intention is concerned, number one on my list is *actually* learning how to use retinol.

I need to start the day right with skincare. It reminds to take care of myself and reinforces that daily actions yield long-lasting effects.

Retinol is the ingredient that I have found to be the most effective in changing my life. Beauty experts and dermatologists love the vitamin A derivative for its ability to produce real results. If this is the year you finally start using retinol in your skincare routine, then you’ve found the perfect expert-approved guide.

Image by Teal Thomsen

How to Use the Retinol: Ins and Outs

Retinol is one of the most potent products in your medicine cabinets. But only if used correctly. There’s the possibility of an initial purge (when your skin releases all of the built-up toxins at the beginning of your retinol journey, causing breakouts). Consistent use will yield extraordinary results.

It is not enough to apply any retinol product. Many people use the ingredient incorrectly and experience irritation before they can see its true benefits.

Retinol Red Flags

  • Jumping into the action too quicklyWhile it’s a magical step, rushing through the process will only irritate skin.
  • Neglecting moisturiser Your skin will be going through a lot—moisturizer keeps it nourished and prevents irritation.
  • Ignoring SPFRetinol makes skin more sensitive to sunlight. Protect it.
  • Inconsistent use. Retinol only gets results if you’re consistent with your routine.
  • Quitting too early is a mistake. Don’t be afraid of the purge! Retinol will reward you for your patience if you take it slowly.
Inge Theron headshot.
Image by Teal Thomsen

Meet the Expert Dr. Nancy Samolitis

To help you avoid these application mistakes and maximize your retinol regimen, I spoke with Dr. Nancy Samolitis, a board-certified dermatologist. Dr. Samolitis, a retinol enthusiast, encourages those who are interested in retinol to start slowly, choose high-potency products and even try skin-cycling.

Dr. Nancy Samolitis

Dr. Nancy Samolitis MD, FAAD

Dr. Nancy Samolitis, a Board Certified Dermatologist with specialized training and experience in cosmetic dermatology, is a Board Certified Dermatologist. She is not only a dermatologist, but also the co-founder and owner of Facile Dermatology + Boutique, where she specializes on cutting-edge treatments to treat sun-damaged, anti-aging skin.

Skin cycling became popular on TikTok several years ago. But unlike some ephemeral trends, this one is dermatologist-approved. Skin cycling is a great way to build retinol’s tolerance. You can also get supercharged results by switching between retinol at night, chemical exfoliants and hydration.

An example of a skin-cycling routine could look like:

  • Night 1: exfoliation Prep skin with your favorite chemical exfoliant by sweeping away dead skin cells. This allows the retinol product to penetrate deeper into the skin.
  • Night 2: Retinol.Apply retinol with gentle moisturizing ingredients on the second evening.
  • Nights 3 and 4. Recovery.For two nights, give your skin a rest from the actives. Instead, load up on ceramides antioxidants and hydrating factors. barrier-building ingredients.
Applying skincare.
Image by Belathée Photography

Retinol: The Basics

Dr. Samolitis will explain the benefits and risks of using retinol. Get ready to have the best skin you’ve ever had with her tips.

Who should use retinol?

Retinol is recommended for anyone who suffers from acne or wants the anti-aging effects. Even those with sensitive skin can build up a tolerance if they use it carefully.

Who should avoid using retinol?

People with active eczema and rosacea as well as skin disruptions from a surgical procedure should avoid retinol, until their skin has been treated or healed. Retinol is also not recommended for pregnant and nursing women because of its unknown safety. 

How to use Retinol to get the best results

I personally use retinol (actually the Rx-version, tretinoin), almost every single day for the last 25 years. The benefits of more frequent use are well-known, as most studies are based on daily use. When you first start using retinol or if your face is dry or irritated, it is important to use it less frequently (2-3 days/week). 

Image by Teal Thomsen

How can skin-cycling support your retinol quest?

Skin cycling is a great way to ease into the use of potentially irritating skin care products such as retinol or exfoliating acid. In this regimen, each ingredient is used for a day. Then you give your skin a few days off by using only moisturizer. If you tolerate retinol every day, there is no need to switch to skin-cycling, as your benefits and effectiveness will be reduced. 

What is the best method to incorporate retinol in your routine?

I recommend applying a small amount to clean, dry skin at night. If needed, follow with a moisturizing lotion. The product itself is sensitive to UV light, so that’s why the nighttime application was originally recommended. 

What skincare products pair well with retinol?

Niacinamide, my favorite ingredient with retinol, is my go-to. NiacinamideIt has anti-inflammatory and calming effects, which helps to reduce any irritation. Both have amazing anti-aging benefits, which have been proven by medical studies over the years. 

How do you choose the right retinol for you?

Ask your dermatologist if he or she can help you choose the retinol product that is best for your skin. If you’re looking to start out with OTC retinols, opt for a medical-grade formula. OTC retinol often contains a low concentration of retinol, in an attempt to make it more palatable. However, this may result in a loss of the benefits. 

Washing face in mirror.

The Best Retinol products for Glowy, Ageless skin

Every product is curated with care by our editors and we’ll always give an honest opinion, whether gifted or purchased ourselves. You may not pay a penny extra if you choose to buy a product through our links.

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