Retinol remains one of the most confusing ingredients to date, despite its prominence in skin care. Customers know it's one of the best, most proven ingredients around, but are often confused when it comes to how to apply retinol.  

Getting the most out of retinol doesn't necessarily require a dermatologist's or cosmetic chemist's insight, but it's important to understand this ingredient works, what it does, and if it’s right for you. Let’s take a look at when and how to apply retinol.  

What is retinol serum?   

Retinol belongs to a group of compounds called retinoids, which are derived from vitamin A. Your body produces retinol naturally, which helps boost cell turnover, increase collagen production, and reduce fine lines and wrinkles. Generally, retinols are considered less powerful than prescription retinoids. Skincare products usually contain this type of vitamin A since it is more skin-friendly.  

The dos and don’ts for applying retinol   

Here are some dos and don’ts on how to apply retinol that you must keep in mind before you incorporate the ingredient in your skincare routine.   

  1. DO choose the right strength of retinol  

Those with sensitive skin should apply retinyl palmitate, those with normal skin should apply retinol or retinaldehyde, and those with oily and acne-prone skin should apply adapalene (aka Differin).  

  1. DON’T use too much product at once  

Most people don’t know when and how to apply retinol. Because they are so excited about having a clear, healthy complexion, they tend to apply a lot of serum when they get their hands on it. Especially with retinol acne treatment serum, this is not recommended, because overuse may irritate already sensitive skin. Dermatologists recommend applying a pea-sized amount to your entire face.  

  1. DON’T use harsh products too frequently  

You should not use acne treatments, acids, or peels on the nights you use retinol; otherwise, your skin will be irritated or burned. [Разрыв обтекания текста]  

  1. DON’T forget to apply sunscreen everyday  

Retinol is renowned for its ability to treat sun-damaged skin, however, it is not the preferred choice in place of broad-spectrum sunscreen. You only need to apply the serum once at night, and it is better to avoid using it during the daytime. You should opt for sunscreen (at least SPF 30) if you will be spending time outdoors in the harsh heat. 

how to apply retinol

When should you start using retinol serum?   

Starting retinol early is never a bad idea. For its anti-ageing benefits, retinol is recommended to be used in your teens to reduce oil production and acne, as well as in adulthood. But as your skin's needs change, you may need to switch retinol products. For example, you might begin with a retinol spot treatment for acne and then change to a prescription retinol serum as your skin ages to treat wrinkles and fine lines.   

People often incorporate retinol into their routine during their 20s and 30s for preventative anti-ageing, but you don't have to wait until then. Moreover, it is one of the most effective ingredients for visibly reducing fine lines, wrinkles, and age spots on the skin. Unless your dermatologist recommends otherwise, you should usually start with an over-the-counter retinol product if you're using it for the first time. Furthermore, retinol should not be used during pregnancy.  

how to apply retinol

A cell's function is affected by retinoids and retinol, specifically how quickly it divides and turns over. Retinoids stimulate skin cell division, leading to the buildup of the epidermis, the protective top layer of the skin. In the epidermis, the elastin and collagen that give our skin its bounce and which diminish as we age. Our skin becomes thinner and frailer, as a result, thereby resulting in visible damage, such as wrinkles and sunspots.  

There are a number of ways that retinoids mitigate those issues. The cells at the top of the epidermis multiply more rapidly, thickening the epidermis. Chemicals like hyaluronic acid are produced in your skin to keep it healthy and plump. It stimulates the production of collagen and inhibits its breakdown. Additionally, they inhibit the inflammatory mechanisms that aggravate acne and pimples.  

Things you need to know before using retinol   

As long as you follow a few simple steps, incorporating retinol into your beauty routine isn't as intimidating as it may seem. If you want to know how many times to apply retinol or how to apply retinol for acne, here’s what you should know before you start using retinol in your skincare routine.  

Beginners should start slowly   

People who use retinol for the very first time are unaware of how to apply retinol at night, and hence can make the mistake of applying it every night. That's far too often for many individuals, especially as their skin gets used to it! To acclimatise your skin to retinol, apply it twice a week at night (every three days). You can increase the frequency to every other day if you don't experience any redness or flakiness the following day. Eventually, you can even apply it every night but start off gradually!  

how to apply retinol

Make sure other skincare products are compatible   

AHA/BHA, exfoliants and scrubs should usually not be used directly before or after retinol products, as the skin can become irritated or sensitive.  

If you combine retinol with your moisturiser and apply it to your face, you can reduce the likelihood of irritation and help your skin adjust to retinol. This way retinol would be gentler on your skin, which would help people with sensitive skin. Over time as your skin gets used to the retinol serum, you can apply it straight to your skin and follow it up with a moisturiser.   

Another way is to apply your moisturiser and then top it off with your retinol product.   

Apply sunscreen and only use retinol at night 

Retinol makes your skin photosensitive, meaning it is more sensitive to UV rays. Moreover, sunlight decreases the efficiency of retinol. Retinols should therefore be only used at night, followed by applying a broad-spectrum sunscreen of SPF 30 or higher throughout the day. Also, remember to not use retinol if you’re planning on spending more time in sunlight the next day.   


Is it safe to use retinol around my eyes?  

Retinol is often considered too delicate for the eye area. However, this particular region of skin is the most likely to benefit from the smoothing, anti-ageing effects of retinol. Remember, however, that retinol should only be used near the eye area if the product is gentle enough. You may want to use a rich moisturiser after retinol application on the eye area if it is too drying. An eye cream may be more effective for those with dry skin, while a gel may be better for those with oily skin.  

How long does retinol take to work?  

There are a variety of factors that affect the amount of time it takes for you to see results, such as your skin type, dosage, and amount of product applied. Retinol generally begins to provide benefits after approximately 12 weeks of regular use. You should not assume that more is always better, since this could lead to disastrous results. The best way to use retinoids is by building tolerance. You should start slowly and gradually increasing your dosage. Results can be achieved without having to use prescription-strength retinoid. Always go slowly!  

Can retinol cause any side effects?  

One of the most common misconceptions about retinol is that it thins the skin. That's not true at all. Adding retinol to your routine actually thickens and strengthens your skin because it stimulates collagen production. As you begin using retinol, you are more likely to experience peeling and flaking. Likewise, retinol may worsen acne before it improves it, as your skin has to get used to it. You may also experience skin dryness. Moisturising properly may reduce this and other symptoms.  

How long should I wait to apply moisturiser after retinol?  

If you are wondering how long should you wait to apply moisturiser after retinol, here’s your answer. Before continuing with the next step of your routine, you should allow 20 minutes or more. It is okay to use other products afterwards, but allow enough time for the vitamin A to be absorbed. Hence, for your question, how long after retinol to apply moisturizer, the answer is 20 minutes.  

What are you favourite ways to use and apply retinol? Let us know in the comments…