The Ultimate Retinol Guide and Top Products to Try

Are you starting an anti-aging skincare routine and looking for products to test out? If you ask around, you’ll likely get recommendations for sunscreens, retinoids, wrinkle reducing serums and more. A strong fighter in the anti-aging battle is a derivative of vitamin A, also know as a retinol. We all want healthy, youthful skin so, we created an easy retinol guide that dives into everything that you need to know.

For decades now, retinol has been considered a holy grail ingredient in skincare. Most dermatologists, estheticians and other skincare experts consider retinoids to be anti-aging superheroes, capable of transforming the skin and keeping it looking ageless. We made it extra easy and also found the best retinol products to try!

Despite all of the amazing benefits, retinol can be a bit intimidating for new users. You may be wondering if you really need retinol? Or when to use one? If you’ve been considering adding retinol to your routine but still have questions, we’ve got answers.

The Ultimate Retinol Guide and Top Products to Try

Retinols 101: What You Need to Know

The skincare ingredient we all know as retinol, is actually just another name for vitamin A. Vitamin A belongs to a category of fat soluble substances called retinoids, and the retinoid family includes all the various derivatives of vitamin A – including Retin-A, Retinol, Retinaldehyde, Retinyl Palmitate, Isotretinoin, Adapalene and others.

By supporting cellular turnover, retinoids prompt the skin to exfoliate itself and shed dead skin naturally, which helps diminish the appearance of fine lines. Retinols aid in stimulating collagen production and increasing water retention in the skin. They can even be useful in treating skin conditions like acne and hyperpigmentation. 

Although all retinoids are derived from the same source (vitamin A) their potency can vary greatly. Retinoic Acid in pure form can be too harsh and is not suitable for all skin. However, derivatives like Retin-A, are converted to retinoic acid when applied topically, and work well to create similar results without the irritation of Retinoic Acid.

The Ultimate Retinol Guide and Top Products to Try

Guide to Retinol & Your Routine: When to Start and What to Expect

Skincare experts say you should start incorporating a retinol into your routine by age 30. However you can start using one as early as in your 20s, as preventative skincare. Starting earlier can help erase signs of sun damage and premature aging that have already occured. Every retinol guide recommends consistent usage for optimal results.

When using a retinol product, it can take up to a couple of months to notice visible results. So it’s crucial to stick with your product and stay consistent. It’s also advisable to start with a low percentage of retinol or vitamin A and work your way up to a higher dose, once your skin adjusts. If you don’t condition your skin with a progressive routine, you are more likely to experience irritation or other adverse effects from retinol.

If your skin starts to flake, peel or feel inflamed while using retinol, it is usually a sign of overuse. To avoid irritation, experts suggest starting out on retinol only 1 or 2 nights per week and then working your way up. Your skin needs to adjust to the strong ingredients and excessive usage it could cause even more damage to your skin. Keep reading for our beginner retinol guide that dives into a recommended timeline.

The Ultimate Retinol Guide and Top Products to Try

Tips & Tricks: Retinol Guide and Best Practices

It is important to be aware that retinoids are contraindicated for some conditions. For example, you should avoid use of your retinol about a week prior to any professional exfoliation treatment such as a chemical peel or dermaplane treatment. Pregnant or breastfeeding women should stop using retinol products, however you can still use alternatives such as beta-carotene – a precursor to vitamin A. 

Retinoids can make the skin more sun sensitive, which is why it is recommended that you only use retinol products at bedtime and apply SPF daily to protect your skin. An SPF of 30 or higher is best, and don’t forget to reapply if you will be out in the sun for prolonged periods of time.

Finding the right retinol product can require a bit of patience (as well as trial and error) but once you find what works for you, the results are worth it. Remember that just as most skin conditions don’t develop overnight, reversing them can also take time. Be patient with your skin and don’t forget to celebrate small incremental changes, as they occur.

guide to retinol

Retinol Guide for Beginners

For those of you just starting out with retinoids and retinol, here’s the standard recommendation of usage. As we mentioned earlier, start with a lower percentage and gradually work your way up:

  • Start with a pea sized amount and for the first few weeks, only use the retinol once a week. See how your skin reacts. If there is limited irritation start increasing usage.
  • In the following few weeks, use retinol 2-3 times a week and monitor how your skin reacts. If you have minimal irritation, move up to using retinol every other day.
  • After a few more weeks of alternating days of retinol, you can test out higher percentages to see how your skin reacts. Always give your skin sometime to adjust to the new product. Remember retinol can take up to 6 months to show a visible change in skin texture and tone.

A few important maintenance tips to keep your skin happy while adjusting to retinoids. Don’t forget to moisturize after your retinol absorbs into your skin. Moisturizing greatly reduces dryness and irritation, which will ease the adjustment period.

Photo by Mathilde Langevin on Unsplash

Retinol with my Skin Type

Dermatologists state that any skin type can benefit from retinols, but sensitive skin types should be cautious with dosage and care. The adjustment period may be longer and irritation may occur with more sensitive skin. One tip is to start with applying retinol on top of your moisturizer. The additional barrier can assist your skin with adjusting to the serum and can reduce irritation.

I’m using retinol and my skin is alway red! Help!

I wanted to add this bit in here because I dealt with extreme redness when starting with retinoids, almost to the point of quitting altogether. But I’m glad I didn’t. One of the biggest retinol mistakes, and generally a huge skincare mistake is using too many products at once. Sometimes less is more, and that is entirely the case here.

I was applying retinol after an AHA toner and my skin turned tomato red until I realized the combination was causing an adverse reaction. Avoid using retinoids with vitamin C, AHAs, BHAs, or salicylic acid. Avoid benzoyl peroxide products because these tend to deactivate the retinol. Do mix retinol with hyaluronic acid or niacinamide.

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Retinol + Vitamin C Serums

Although mixing retinoids and Vitamin C in the same routine can cause irritation, there is a safer way to reap the benefits of both. Try using a vitamin C serum in your AM skincare routine with ample moisturizer and SPF and then use your retinol in your PM skincare routine with more nourishing moisturizer.

Using Retinol for Acne

Firstly, can retinoids even help with acne?! YES! Retinoids help manage and prevent acne because they increase cell turnover while reducing inflammation and decreasing oil production. They can also help fade acne scars because of the faster cell turnover rate.

Did you know that Adapalene was a prescription-only formula that was a targeted acne treatment. Now it’s an over-the-counter product that’s still a prescription strength retinol made for acne. It’s also more effective and less irritating than tretinoin, another vitamin A derivative.

Plant Based Retinol Alternative

If you are looking for plant based option to the tradition retinoids, try a product with Bakuchiol. It’s derived from the psoralea corylifolia plant and the gentle, vegan formula is said to smooth fine lines and reduce dark circles. It’s also less irritating. Just note that there are limited studies on the efficacy of this product but totally worth trying. A few best selling products include: Goodnight Glow Retin-ALT Sleeping Crème & Squalane + Phyto-Retinol Serum.

Top Selling Retinoid Products

best selling retinol products for youthful skin

RELATED POST: The Best Order to Apply Skin Care Products

guide to retinol and benefits to retinol

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