Retinol 101: Every Question You’ve Asked, Answered!

How to use retinol products

As one of the few skincare ingredients actually proven to show anti-ageing results, you’ll never go far in the beauty industry without hearing the word: retinol. It’s currently Escentual’s most searched for ingredient and has also seen a spike in interest on Google trends at the start of lockdown and has remained above-average search for the months that have followed.

But, despite retinol’ notoriety in the skincare community, it remains a mystery to most. With a mind-boggling array of concentrations, formats and brands to choose from, it can be difficult to find the right retinol product for your skin. However, don’t worry, this edit holds all the answers!

We asked you what you like to know about retinol and researched the most searched questions on Google and answered them here, to save you time searching…

What is retinol?

An incredibly potent ingredient found in anti-ageing skincare. Retinol is a form of vitamin A, which offers exceptional anti-ageing benefits for skin and can come in several different forms, including retinol, retin-A (prescribed) and retinoids.


Retinol VS retin-A (prescription strength) VS retinoids?

What’s the difference? It can be quite confusing. Consider retinoids your umbrella term for all products that contain retinol. Retinol and retin-A (prescription strength) are both types of retinoids that can be prescribed, but retinol is much weaker. Retinol has to be converted to the skin by stimulating fibroblast cells, whereas the retin-A is ready for your skin to use as soon as it’s applied.


What are the benefits of retinol?

Where to start? The benefits are endless. Retinol boosts cell renewal and collagen production for plumper and renewed skin with fast and visible results. The wonder ingredient also helps with hyperpigmentation, breakouts, residual scarring from acne and smooths the skin.

When used correctly, the texture change can be phenomenal, leaving your skin clear with an even tone and wrinkles smoothed away. If you have very textured skin, you may see more visible results than someone who already has ‘good skin’.


What are the negatives of retinol?

Don’t be fooled, retinol is strong! For this reason, it can dry and aggravate skin, especially sensitive complexions and irritable skin conditions like eczema and rosacea. If you struggle with any of these issues, retinol may prove to be too potent for you. That’s not to say it’s completely off the table – you could try a light concentration with a moisturiser to act as a buffer, so your irritable skin may be able to tolerate the retinol. See what works for you!

Retinol also increases your skin’s sensitivity to the sun. Although it’s a great anti-ageing ingredient, it has the potential to worsen your signs of ageing due to an increased sun sensitivity after application. The solution? Always apply sunscreen afterwards and wear a daily SPF  (you should always do this anyway, but it’s even more important after applying retinol).

Note: Using retinol while pregnant is not advised as it can cause damage to your unborn child.


What should you expect?

First, be patient with the results. Secondly, if you haven’t tried retinol before you may be surprised that it can leave behind an initial red complexion and flakey skin. But don’t worry, this is completely normal and just your skin building tolerance to this new potent ingredient. However – if it burns, feels sore or looks very irritated, your skin might just be too sensitive for retinol and it may be best to give this ingredient a miss.


What ingredients does retinol work best with?

Retinol and SPF go hand in hand; retinol is renowned for its anti-ageing benefits but it makes skin more susceptible to sun damage from UVA rays, the main cause of skin ageing. That’s why it’s essential to wear sun protection every day when you’re using retinol to make sure you don’t reverse the results you worked so hard to get.


What ingredients shouldn’t you use with retinol?

The ingredients to avoid mixing when applying retinol are vitamin C and AHA/BHA acids – they can be used in the same routine but should be used at alternate times of the day. I would recommend saving these for the morning and applying your retinol at night for best effects.

What age should you use retinol?

When you hear the word “anti-ageing” in your 20s you may think that this doesn’t apply to you – but it does. Although your skin in your early 20s is at its best, signs of ageing will start to appear. Plus, when you reach 25 your collagen will start to break down, so it’s the perfect time to start using it if you want to get ahead!

As for anyone 25+, retinol is a must. One of the few skincare ingredients proven to provide instant anti-ageing results, there is no question of its efficacy. In short, if you’re concerned about skin ageing, retinol should feature somewhere in your routine.


Which concentration should I use?

With retinol, you have to take it slow – it’s all about building up your skin’s tolerance. Only when you experience no irritation can you move up the ranks to treat your complexion to higher percentages. If I had to grade them? I’d say:


• Beginners: 0.1-0.3% (oil-based retinol tend to be more gentle)

• Intermediaries: 0.3-0.5%

• Experts: 0.5-1% (retinol veterans who’s tolerance to retinol has built up over time)


If you’re in your 20s opt for beginners level 2-3 times a week. For anyone older, start with at a beginners level and steadily increase; as the older you are, the more you can benefit from a higher percentage and regular application.


How much retinol should you use?

You may be tempted to go full-on, however, applying more formula won’t increase the efficiency or the effects, and will ultimately just waste product – which none of us wants. Save yourself a few pennies and aim for a pea size amount for each application – it’s all you need.


Where do you apply?

All over the face but cautious around the lips, nose, and eyes. Don’t apply to the neck because the skin is thinner and has less oil, meaning retinol can cause excessive skin irritation there.


When to apply?

Apply to a cleansed, dry face. The first step after cleansing, retinol comes before your other products such as serums, moisturisers and eye creams.


Discover more:

3 Retinol Rules For Radiant Results

The User-Friendly Retinol You Need: Redermic [R]

Shop this post