Skip Nav

How to Use Retinol?

Retinol 101: Here's Exactly How to Use It

As POPSUGAR editors, we independently select and write about stuff we love and think you'll like too. If you buy a product we have recommended, we may receive affiliate commission, which in turn supports our work.

If you're at all interested in skincare, I'll bet you've heard of retinol and retinoids before. Retinol isn't new, but it is a proven "wonder product" that reduces fine lines and wrinkles and improves the overall skin tone. However, with so many variations, product names, and percentages available, it's hard not to get confused. Even I, a bonafide skincare junkie, find myself in a muddle from time to time.

First things first: Retinoid is the name for vitamin A and its derivatives. Retinoids can include retinyl palmitate, retinol, and retinyl retinoate. Retinol is therefore a type of retinoid used in skin care. Now we've cleared that up, we can prove that using retinol isn't actually as daunting or confusing as it has been made out to be. We reached out to the formulation and development director at Medik8, Daniel Issacs, to finally answer all the questions you had or didn't know you needed about retinol.

Read on to get in the know about everything retinol, and then shop the products to start your skincare journey.

Who can use retinoids?

Daniel says at Medik8 they recommend "anyone over the age of 25 includes a retinoid into their regime" as "even for those without a skincare concern, it help to prevent the formation of lines, wrinkles, hyperpigmentation, and blemishes." However, he advises that retinoids are not recommended for use by pregnant women or those breastfeeding.

What is your advice for using a retinoid for the first time?

"If you are a retinoid beginner, choose a low-strength retinoid" such as Medik8 3TR ($55) (0.3 percent retinol). After using this as an introductory product, you can work up to higher strengths. Issacs recommends this retinoid ladder: "apply your retinoid product twice a week for the first two weeks, then apply every other day for two weeks, and then ever day after that. This introduces the retinoid slowly so that your skin has time to adjust. You should also be sure to use SPF the morning after the use of retinoids." It is also very important to note that you should only use retinoids at night, as in the day they are not photostable, which means their effects will be deactivated if exposed to direct sunlight. However, Medik8's r-Retinoate ($195) is a photostable retinol that can be used both day and night. The Medik8 website is a great tool for beginning the use of retinol guiding on age and skin type.

What skin reactions can retinoids cause?

"Retinoids can cause mild irritation when you start using them. This is nothing to be alarmed by." Phew! "This happens because the skin cells are being overloaded with unusual amounts of non-physiological (or inorganic) retinoid acid causing redness and irritation." The retinoid is "stimulating cellular renewal and adjusting to having an abundant source of this beneficial vitamin." If you follow the retinoid ladder (explained above) this should not cause intense irritation. The Medik8 Retinol TR range uses release technology with encapsulated retinol to both stabilize the retinol and to slowly release the retinol into the skin, decreasing the irritation.

What other benefits do retinoids have aside from antiaging?

"Because retinoids are so efficient at speeding up cellular renewal, they can significantly reduce uneven skin tone and texture, as well as clearing and preventing breakouts. They also help to minimize the appearance of hyperpigmentation by inhibiting the production of excess melanin." Don't know about you, but I'm sold.

What products can you not use in conjunction with retinoids?

Issacs says that they "don't specifically recommend to not use retinoids with other ingredients." However, "some say not to use AHA/BHAs with retinoids, but this is often based on a common misconception that retinoids have a similar action to exfoliating acids." This is because "AHA and BHAs work by breaking down the glue that holds dead skin cells to the surface of the skin. This allows dead skin cells to be naturally shed. Retinoids work by speeding up the rate in which cells are renewed, essentially causing old cells to retire faster. We actually recommend a combination of AHA and BHA's with retinol as they complement each other perfectly — the retinoids speed up cellular renewal and the acids ensure that retired cells can be efficiently shed from the surface of the skin." The best thing to do when beginning the use of retinol is to begin low and monitor how your skin is reacting and adjust accordingly.

"We recommend that if you are using retinoids with another ingredient and are getting adverse side effects (such as excess flaking, redness, and discomfort), you alter your routine to incorporate only one. As with all antiaging regimes, always use SPF to protect the skin."

Medik8 3TR
Medik8 3TR
Buy Now
Medik8's r-Retinoate
Medik8's r-Retinoate
Buy Now
Latest Beauty