If you're looking to minimize the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, reduce acne, and improve your skin tone, you might have come across suggestions about using retinol. It's a derivative of vitamin A and lauded as a wonder ingredient, one that seems to work like magic when applied to the skin.
You can even see it in various topical skincare products, but to make the most out of its benefits, most dermatologists would suggest using retinol on its own. As popular as this ingredient is, there is still an air of mystery on how to use it — leading to underutilization or misusage.
This article will guide you on the proper retinol usage, so you can safely and effectively achieve your skin goals.
Make Sure It’s Compatible With Your Skin Type
Different skin types vary in how they absorb skincare products, including retinol. That’s why the first thing you need to consider when using retinol is its compatibility with your skin. The potency of this ingredient also affects how your dermal layers will react to it.
Since retinol has different formulations, it leads to various reactions depending on your skin type. For instance, you are likely to see a positive result on acne-prone and oilier skin when using retinol gels and serums compared to creams and lotions.
Meanwhile, time-release formulations are ideal for sensitive skin that are prone to redness and breakouts. That’s because this type slowly releases active ingredients and offers less irritation. These varying formulations also deliver retinol in different ways, even if all of them contain the same potency level.
Start Low and Slow
Once you’ve determined your skin type and the compatible formulation for it, you should always start with a gentle formula at a slow pace. Retinol is a potent ingredient that can irritate your skin if it’s too strong or used too often.
That’s why beginners should start with a small amount of a low percentage over-the-counter formula, with a frequency of two times a week. Doing so helps the skin safely acclimate itself with the ingredient while still delivering noticeable results.
Note that even if you use low-percentage retinol intermittently, your skin may still peel and become irritated. This is a normal reaction called retinization and will settle down after a few weeks of proper usage. After which, you can gradually increase the potency and frequency of using this active ingredient.
Don’t Forget to Moisturize and Hydrate
One of the effects of using retinol is promoting cell turnover, or shedding dead skin cells and replacing them with younger cells. This process allows the skin to reduce fine lines and wrinkles more quickly and makes it firmer. However, it also causes the dermal layers to dry out and become flaky.
Applying a generous amount of moisturizer can reduce dryness and flaking. It helps the skin avoid irritation that may cause more damage. Hydrating from the inside can also yield such positive results.
Keeping your skin moisturized while using retinol allows the dermal layers to function optimally and enable this ingredient to penetrate your skin properly.
Avoid Other Active Ingredients
You may already have an arsenal of skincare products that you use regularly and while they work well for you now, the same results may not be achievable when you use them with retinol.
For instance, products with AHA/BHA acids don’t complement retinol since combining these ingredients is exfoliating and may cause drying and further irritation. Benzoyl peroxide is another ingredient you shouldn’t use with retinol since their components will cancel each other out — rendering both products less effective.
The best course of action is to use these products separately. However, keep in mind that you should avoid using retinol a day or two before you use exfoliators. This is to help normalize the sloughing and prevent your skin from drying out too much.
Use It Only at Night
Unlike other skincare products that should be used in the morning and evening, retinol should only be used at night. That’s because this ingredient can make your skin more sensitive to UV rays, which can cause sun damage and irritation.
Sunlight also breaks down retinol, causing it to lose its efficacy. Another reason to limit retinol use during the evening is that it supports cell turnover more efficiently since cell division peaks at night.
Always Wear Sun Protection
Since retinol heightens photosensitivity, it’s imperative that you diligently apply skin protection. Always wear sunscreen or sunblock when going out, preferably one with a daily broad-spectrum of SPF 30 or higher. Wearing protective clothing, staying in the shade, and limiting your time under the sun during its peak will also help you avoid skin damage.
Trying out retinol can be scary since you don’t know how it will affect your skin and for how long. With that said, you should talk to your dermatologist first before using this ingredient. Following this guide will also help you safely and effectively integrate retinol into your skincare routine
Keep in mind that the most expensive option doesn’t always mean it’s the best out there. Finding the best retinol for your skincare routine shouldn't break the bank. You can still get the right product while sticking to your budget by checking for online reviews and asking your dermatologist about affordable options.
Katie Pierce is a teacher-slash-writer who loves telling stories to an audience, whether it’s bored adults in front of a computer screen or a bunch of hyperactive 4-year-olds. Writing keeps her sane (most of the time) and allows her to enjoy some quiet time in the evening before she walks into a room of screaming kids (all of whom she loves dearly) the next morning.
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