A GUIDE TO HOW MUCH AND HOW OFTEN TO USE RETINOL
Understanding the way retinol works and using it correctly are essential for achieving optimal results for your skin.
WHAT IS RETINOL ?
Few skincare ingredients have been as extensively studied—or proven to be as effective—as retinol. A derivative of the vitamin A family, retinol is a topical retinoid available as an over-the-counter alternative to more powerful prescription retinoids like retinoic acid and tretinoin.
HOW DOES RETINOL BENEIFT THE SKIN
When applied topically (i.e. to the skin), retinol is an effective ingredient for promoting skin cell renewal and faster skin cell turnover – a process that naturally slows as we age.
Inefficient or erratic skin cell turnover can play a role in blemish formation. Retinol’s ability to stimulate skin cell renewal helps reduce blemishes caused by pores blocked with bacteria, oil, and dead skin cells. It's beneficial for mild acne-prone skin, ketosis pilaris (aka "chicken skin"), and hyperpigmentation.
An effective antioxidant, retinol also combats oxidative stress in the skin. Oxidative stress occurs when UV exposure and external aggressors cause a build-up of free radicals. Over time, free radicals contribute to cellular damage and accelerate skin ageing. Oxidative stress contributes to the breakdown of collagen and elastin, leading to fine lines, wrinkles, and uneven skin tone. The small molecules of retinol penetrate deeply to reach the skin's dermis layer, where it reduces oxidative stress to help delay onset of those visible signs of ageing.
Within the dermis, retinol also helps boost elastin and collagen production, which also naturally decrease with age. Collagen is the fibre-like protein that gives skin much of its structure, and elastin is a coiled spring-like protein that provides skin elasticity. Together these proteins help keep your skin firm, plump and smooth-looking.
How to use Retinol
Because retinol is such a powerful skincare ingredient, we recommend taking a cautious approach to introducing it to your skincare routine when getting started.
HOW OFTEN TO USE RETINOL
SkinCeuticals always recommends a “Low and Slow” approach to help minimise signs of irritation from retinol.
Start with a low concentration—such as 0.3%—to begin with. And take it slow, with two to three applications per week, then gradually increasing to five as the skin acclimatises and develops tolerance. For more on retinol for beginners read our guide
When your skin is tolerating a concentration of 0.3% five nights a week, it's fine to step up to a higher concentration like 0.5% – but reverting to two to three applications a week and once again increasing the frequency as your skin allows.
SkinCeuticals also offers a maximum strength 1.0% retinol, which should only be used after a stepped period of pre-conditioning with 0.3% and 0.5% as per above to prevent retinol burn. Apply only in the evening. We also recommend you consult a healthcare professional before starting Retinol 1.0%.
HOW MUCH RETINOL TO USE
To gain maximum benefit but minimise the risk of irritation, you need apply only a pea-sized amount of product over your entire face. It can be helpful to dispense first onto your fingertip, then dot it around the forehead, cheeks, and chin for even coverage, before gently rubbing in. We recommend applying retinol as part of a night time skincare routine only, after cleansing and toning, and before other serums or moisturisers. Allow the retinol to be fully absorbed before applying other skincare products. You should also avoid applying retinol round the sensitive eye area.
USING RETINOL FOR DIFFERNT SKIN TYPES
Retinol can be beneficial for a variety of skin types, but how it's introduced, and the concentration used, can vary from one skin type to another:
- Sensitive Skin: If your skin is particularly sensitive, start with a lower concentration of retinol and use less frequently, perhaps once a week. You can also try using a short contact method initially, washing off the retinol after 30–60 minutes instead of leaving on overnight. Monitor your skin's reaction and adjust usage accordingly. Choose retinol products formulated for sensitive skin, which often contain comforting ingredients.
- Dry Skin: Retinol can exacerbate dryness. If you have dry skin, ensure you're also using a deeply hydrating moisturiser. You might also consider using retinol less frequently.
- Oily and Blemish-prone Skin: Retinol can be beneficial for blemish-prone skin because of its ability to promote skin cellular turnover. However, be cautious when combining retinol with other blemish treatments to prevent excessive drying or irritation.
- Mature Skin: As skin ages, its cellular turnover slows. Retinol can be particularly beneficial for mature skin types looking to reduce signs of ageing. However, as the skin also tends to become drier with age, hydration with an ingredient such as hyaluronic acid is important.
- Combination Skin: If you have combination skin, monitor how different areas of your face react to the retinol. You might need to amend the location or frequency of application based on the differing response of oily versus dry areas.
RETINOL AND THE IMPORTANCE OF SUNSCREEN
Although using a broad-spectrum sunscreen should always be part of your daily skincare routine, there are additional reasons why it's essential to include sun protection when you're using a retinol product.
Firstly, retinol enhances skin cell turnover, meaning there are more fresh, new, cells on the skin surface. These new cells are particularly vulnerable to sun damage.
Secondly, the potency of retinol can be degraded by UV light (which is why all SkinCeuticals retinol products are in packaging that protects the contents from sunlight). It's also a reason for recommending retinol application in the evening, to give it time to work.
RETINOL DURING PRGRANCY AND WHILST BREASTFEEDING
High doses of oral vitamin A during pregnancy have been shown to be harmful to the foetus. Although the concentration of retinol used in skincare products is typically much lower than levels found to be harmful, retinol, as a vitamin A derivative, is generally not recommended for use during pregnancy or whilst breastfeeding. If you're pregnant, planning to become pregnant, or breastfeeding, always consult a healthcare professional about your skin care routine and the safety of the products you use. There are many alternative ingredients that can be safely used during this time.
HOW TO MINIMISE SKIN IRRITATION OR RETINOL BURN
In addition to the “Low and Slow” approach to application frequency and concentration, SkinCeuticals specifically formulates products to further help minimise irritation from retinol.
If your skin needs a helping hand through the process of retinol pre-conditioning, Triple Lipid Restore 2:4:2 moisturiser is proven to shorten the adjustment period by up to one week, whilst reducing dryness thanks to a patented ratio of ceramides, cholesterol, and fatty acids. For the first 2 weeks we recommend 'sandwiching' your retinol product between two layers of Triple Lipid Restore (Triple Lipid, Retinol, Triple Lipid) to buffer the retinol. This is especially worthwhile for sensitive skin.
Ingredients to avoid combining with retinol
Vitamin C: Although both retinol and vitamin C are popular in anti-ageing routines, using them together can be too aggressive for the skin, potentially causing increased sensitivity and irritation. If you're keen to use both, consider applying vitamin C in the morning and retinol at night.
Alpha Hydroxy Acids (AHAs) & Beta Hydroxy Acids (BHAs): When combined with retinol, these widely used chemical exfoliants (such as glycolic acid, lactic acid, and salicylic acid) can exacerbate skin sensitivity. If you need to use both retinol and an AHA or BHA, it's advisable to apply on alternate nights to minimise potential irritation.
Benzoyl Peroxide: Often found in acne treatments, benzoyl peroxide can oxidise retinol, making it less effective. Furthermore, using the two simultaneously can cause excessive drying and skin irritation.
When introducing retinol to your skincare routine, it's vital to monitor your skin's reaction and adjust accordingly. Always ensure your routine is balanced, complementing the potency of retinol with soothing and hydrating products. Retinol can cause dryness and skin irritation, especially after starting a new product. If your skin reacts, try waiting 30 minutes after washing your face before applying retinol. Using retinol every second or third night to begin with, and slowly increasing the frequency, can help prevent irritation. The risk of this or even retinol burn may be greater if you're using more than one retinol-containing product at a time, so check product labels carefully—especially if using a combination of products for anti-ageing or blemish control, as these are also likely to contain retinol. If you continue to experience discomfort, see a healthcare professional.
SKINCEUTICALS RETINOL PRODUCTS
SkinCeuticals offers a range of retinol products for the face at different concentrations, as well as a targeted retinol treatment for the neck. All are formulated to help improve the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, skin discolouration, visible pores and blemishes by accelerating turnover of skin cells. They also feature a delivery technology that ensures slow and steady release to minimise skin irritation and their packaging has been optimised to preserve active ingredient potency.
Retinol 0.3 Anti-ageing Night Cream is non-comedogenic and fragrance-free, making it suitable for all skin types and recommended for first-time retinol users. It contains 0.3% pure retinol to promote cell turnover, improving the appearance of fine lines, wrinkles, discolouration, pores and blemishes. This retinol cream is ideal for ongoing use or for conditioning skin prior to moving up to Retinol 0.5
Retinol 0.5 Anti-ageing Night Cream contains 0.5% pure retinol, slowly and evenly released to diminish the appearance of fine lines, wrinkles, blotchiness, blemishes, and discolouration. Recommended for first-time users of retinol creams and ideal for continued use or for conditioning as a prerequisite to Retinol 1.0. Non-comedogenic, so it won’t block pores, and suitable for all skin types, in particular ageing and acne-prone skin.
Retinol 1.0 Anti-ageing Night Cream is ideal for ageing and sun-damaged skin that's been pre-conditioned using Retinol 0.5. Formulated with 1.0% pure retinol and comforting chamomile-derived bisabolol to help diminish the appearance of fine lines, wrinkles, sun spots, and discolouration, whilst minimising blemishes and the appearance of pores.
WHERE CAN I FIND OUT MORE?
To discover the ideal retinol product for your own skin type and get advice about how to use retinol, use our online Routine Finder, or visit one of the SkinCeuticals Authorised Australian clinic locations.