An Expert-Approved Guide On How To Use Retinol For The Skin

Reviewed by Dr. Niketa Sonavane

Dermatologist, Trichologist, Expert in Alternative Medicine | MBBS, MD

Written by Sanya HamdaniSep 16, 2023
An expert-approved guide on how to use retinol for the skin

Retinol is one of the most popular skincare ingredients. Go through any beauty website or dermatologist interview and you will notice that retinol and its benefits will be mentioned somewhere. It is touted to improve skin texture as well as diminish fine lines and wrinkles. It also has the ability to improve skin tone. However, using retinol for the skin can be tricky, picking up a retinol-based product and slathering on your skin is definitely not the way to go about it.

To make sure you read the benefits of retinol for the skin and understand how this ingredient works, we consulted Dr. Niketa Sonavane (@drniketaofficial), Cosmetic Dermatologist of Ambrosia Aesthetics, Mumbai, to shed light on this topic.


1. What is retinol?

FAQs about retinol for skin

“Retinol is a vitamin A derivative. Vitamin A derivatives fasten the skin renewal process and stop dead cells from clogging pores and causing further problems. They stimulate cell repair and also boost collagen production. There are two different types of vitamin A derivatives. They are called retinol and retinoids.

Retinol is converted to the active form, 'retinoic acid', after absorption into the skin. It is milder and safe enough to be used in over-the-counter products. Retinoids, on the other hand, are very potent and are available only by prescription from a dermatologist,” says Dr. Sonavane.


2. What are the benefits of retinol for the skin?

FAQs about retinol for skin

One of the reasons why retinol is so popular in the skincare segment is because it offers more than one skin benefit. To know about this ingredient in detail, we asked Dr. Sonavane about the benefits of retinol for the skin, here’s what she has to say.

i) Exfoliates skin:

While physical exfoliation is essential, including an ingredient that mildly exfoliates the surface of the skin is essential too. Retinol stimulates as well as exfoliates the skin to give you a smoother, more even-toned complexion.

ii) Reduces pigmentation and uneven skin tone:

With regular use, retinol also helps visibly reduce pigmentation spots, fine lines, wrinkles and enlarged pores. This results in even-toned and smooth skin.

iii) Makes skin bright and glowy:

Retinol’s ability to boost skin’s appearance is unmatched. It is one ingredient that can make your skin tighter, brighter, smoother as well as glowing. Therefore, it is highly recommended by dermatologists to those with dull skin issues.

iv) Offers anti-aging benefits:

Retinol has anti-aging properties. It stimulates collagen production and decreases the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. This is why a lot of anti-aging products contain this ingredient.

v) Prevents acne:

Retinol has anti-acne benefits, too. It works especially well in treating comedonal acne. When used on acne-prone skin, retinol can reduce whiteheads and blackheads. Not just that, it reduces acne spots and scarring as well.


3. What is the best age to start using retinol?

FAQs about retinol for skin

Certain skincare ingredients are gentle and can be used right from your teenage years, however, there are others that can’t be started before your late 20s. In small proportions and with the help of a dermatologist, you can start using retinol for your skin early on for better maintenance of your skin.

“Retinol can be used to address different skin concerns, if you are using retinol for its anti-acne benefits, then you can use it at any age. Teenagers with skin congestion, blackheads and whiteheads do well on retinol. The ideal age for using retinol as a part of your anti-aging skincare is after 27 years. This is when your natural skin renewal slows down and makes your skin dull. This is also when you start noticing early pigmentation and open pores,” says Dr. Sonavane.


4. How to use retinol for best results?

FAQs about retinol for skin

Now that you know all the skin concerns this wonderful ingredient can address and the right time to start using it, let’s also take a look at how to use retinol for the best results. We asked Dr. Sonavane about the right way to introduce retinol in your skincare routine as well as other precautions that need to be taken, here’s what she has to say:


- Use retinol at night

FAQs about retinol for skin

Include retinol in your night time skin care routine, apply the recommended amount every night before going to bed to address your skin concerns. “Wearing it during the day will be a bad idea because sunlight deactivates retinoic acid and there will be no effect whatsoever,” advises Dr. Sonavane.


- Use gentle skincare products

FAQs about retinol for skin

“While there is no doubt that you have to with your regular CTM routine, when you are starting to use retinol for the skin, make sure to use a gentle cleanser and moisturizer with no other active ingredients as this can cause irritation,” suggests Dr. Sonavane.


- Start slow

FAQs about retinol for skin

“Retinol can cause redness, dryness and flaking when you first start using it. This is called ‘retinisation'. You can minimise this reaction by starting slowly. Use retinol every other night till your skin feels comfortable. Another way to ensure that your skin is safe, is to use your moisturiser several times during the day,” recommends Dr. Sonavane.


- Use sunscreen

FAQs about retinol for skin

As mentioned above, retinol can cause some dryness and redness, and going out without a layer of sunscreen will only make your skin susceptible to other skin problems. Plus, the results you are expecting with using retinol for the skin will be delayed further. Therefore, always use a broad-spectrum sunscreen during the day.


5. Are there any side effects?

FAQs about retinol for skin

Since retinol should be used in moderation and in the right proportion, we also asked our expert if there are any side effects of using retinol for the skin. Here’s what she said.

  • Overuse of active ingredients such as retinol can make your skin sensitive, therefore follow instructions as recommended by your dermatologist.
  • Inadequate hydration during retinol use can make your skin very dry, flaky and red. Therefore, focus on both internal and external hydration by drinking enough water as well as applying moisturiser.
  • Failure to use sunscreen can result in sunburn and pigmentation as retinol will expose your skin to the harsh UV rays.
  • Retinol is not safe to use by pregnant and breastfeeding women. Make sure you inform your dermatologist if you are expecting or breastfeeding.


6. FAQs about retinol for skin

FAQs about retinol for skin

1)  How often should you use retinol on your face?

A. Retinol can cause dryness and flaky skin when you first start using it. Experts recommend using it every alternate day. However, if you have sensitive skin, start by trying it once or twice a week and then increase it to three to four times a week.

2) Should you use moisturiser after retinol?

A. Yes, retinol should always be used in conjunction with a moisturiser to prevent the feeling of dryness. This will also protect your skin from further skin problems.

3)  What can you not mix retinol with?

A. Retinol is one of those skincare ingredients that should not be mixed with other active ingredients such as benzoyl peroxide, vitamin C, and AHA/BHA acids.

Sanya Hamdani

Written by

Sanya Hamdani is a skincare enthusiast and lipstick hoarder, she truly believes no two red lipsticks look exactly alike. With a Master's degree in Communication & Journalism and 5+ years of digital writing experience up her sleeve, Sanya has some of the biggest beauty experts in the country on her speed dial. When she's not swatching products or writing about the latest trends in beauty, you will find her watching F.R.I.E.N.D.S. or cooking up a storm in the kitchen.


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