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When to Apply Retinol in Skincare Routine
It seems like every now and then, there’s an ingredient that pops up claiming to be the best treatment for acne or aging skin. One of these products is retinol, and you’ve probably heard of it — it’s hailed by many dermatologists as a “holy grail” treatment against acne. Retinol is also one of the most effective anti-aging products that is available without a prescription.
If you’ve had bad experiences with acne that just won’t go away, or if you’re looking to suspend or prevent any signs of aging and fine lines, then you’ve come to the right place! Here we’ll be discussing what retinol is, its effectiveness, its side effects, and how to incorporate it into your skincare routine regardless of what your skincare problems are. Let’s dive right in, shall we?
What is Retinol?
So, what exactly is retinol? Retinol is a form of retinoid, which is a derivative of vitamin A. Vitamin A is a naturally occurring compound that helps with cell reproduction. As a skincare ingredient, retinoids encourage faster cell turnover, which is the rate at which skin cells die and slough off in order to make room for newer skin.
This makes sense when you think of retinoids as a powerful anti-aging product and acne treatment — they promote the renewal of the skin at rapid rates, remove skin that has been sun-damaged, and help remove dead skin cells and oil so the pores stay unclogged. When it comes to fine lines and wrinkles, it’s best to use retinol to help improve the elasticity and plumpness of your face.
Retinol is usually sold over the counter and in much lower doses than prescription retinoids. Since retinol isn’t exactly a new product (it gained popularity in the US during the ’60s as an acne treatment), there have been a ton of studies showing its positive effects on the skin — it’s actually one of the most science-backed ingredients for skincare. Many of these studies have proven retinol’s potency in keeping skin young, and have even shown retinol to thicken the skin over time.
“Over-the-counter retinols can give you the same results of a prescription – it will just take longer,” says Dr. Marnie Nussbaum, a Manhattan-based dermatologist in Manhattan and an assistant professor at Cornell New York-Presbyterian Hospital.
If you want to prevent wrinkles or just need a treatment for your acne, a retinol treatment might be worth looking into for your skin care system. However, since retinoids can be extra strong, consulting with a dermatologist before starting a strong treatment and incorporating it into your skincare routine is highly recommended. Many people harm their skin further because they don’t know how to use retinol properly, and we want to make sure you don’t repeat the same mistakes.
What Order Should I Apply My Skincare?
Part of an effective and safe skincare routine is the order in which you apply your products. You could be using all the best products for your skin type, but they won’t work if you aren’t applying them in the right order, even if you are certain they’re effective. Your skin is a sensitive creature, and it deserves only the best products. To make sure they’re not going to waste, follow this simple guide to an effective skincare routine:
- Cleanser – Depending on your skin type. You can wash your face with an oil cleanser (great for removing heavy makeup, oils), a gentle foam cleanser (recommended for those with acne-prone skin!), or a cleansing cream (perfect if your skin’s the sensitive type)
- Treatment – This usually comes after the cleanser so as to give your treatment, whether it’s in the form of a serum or an essence, direct contact with your skin. This is usually where retinol comes in, or other active ingredients like acids.
- Moisturizer – Rejuvenates the skin and keeps it extra hydrated, especially since most treatments can be stripping.
- Sunscreen – Prevents sun damage and signs of aging. An often overlooked but essential product especially if you’re using acids that can photosensitize your skin!
Do You Put Retinol On Before or After Moisturizer?
Retinol, like many treatments, acids, and active ingredients, needs to be applied after cleansing and before moisturization. Your face also needs to be dry when applying retinol, as wet skin can make the retinol penetrate deeper and make its effects too strong. Moisturization can help calm down retinol’s side effects and is great for boosting the skin’s moisture barrier.
Retinol, while being a powerhouse of an ingredient, has some pretty uncomfortable side effects. If you’re still starting out on retinol, whether it’s prescription-grade or over-the-counter, there is going to be an adjustment period that you should watch out for.
This period may include side effects like irritation, redness, dry skin, and flakiness. Know that this is completely normal — your skin and face are just adjusting to the new product! You’re exposing your skin to a lot of new ingredients, but with the correct use and a bit of patience, you’ll be sure to reap retinol’s wonderful effects on your skin.
How to Use Retinol
If you’re wondering how to use retinol, you’ve come to the right place.
Start off small, using only a pea-sized amount once a week. Check your skin’s reaction after two weeks, and if the results are good, you can start to apply it twice a week.
Follow the same procedure — if you see positive results, you can start to apply it thrice a week, and so on. Like with any active ingredient, you may experience redness and irritation, so it’s best to take it slow especially if you have sensitive skin.
The best way to use retinol is by applying your retinol product at night so you’re less exposed to the sun. Using retinol WILL make your skin more sensitive to the sun’s harmful UV rays, so make sure you’re getting that good SPF in the morning if you think you’re going to be exposed to a lot of sun during the day. For dry skin, make sure you’re using a ton of moisturizer at night, too.
If you’re using actives and exfoliants like AHA and BHA, make sure you’re not using both the actives and retinol on the same night! When it comes to mixing actives, you need to be careful.
The active ingredient in the retinol product and the active ingredient in your exfoliant or treatment will not go well together. It’s best to stop using another active if you want to start retinol (especially if you have sensitive skin because retinol makes it even more sensitive to the sun), but if you’re using both and are determined to do so, it’s best to alternate them on different days. Use that vitamin C on Monday, the retinol on Wednesday, and your niacinamide on Friday. Don’t be in a rush to apply everything at once! Your skin is gentle and should be treated with care.
If you’re using retinol in your skincare routine and notice no signs of purging or irritation on your face, then consider yourself lucky. But if your skin does react badly, you can try to lessen your retinol use, opt for a milder dose of retinol, or consult a dermatologist. Retinol is incredibly tricky, and most of its worst side effects are brought about by user error.
Whew, don’t you just feel like you could be a skincare expert after reading all that? It’s my favorite thing — learning all of the nitty-gritty science-y details and feeling like a legit chemist. Hand me my lab coat now. Of course, this advice can only go so far, because consulting an actual doctor is always better.
So if you’re determined to add retinol or any form of retinoid to your skincare routine, be sure to read up on its side effects! Trust us, it pays off. We know you deserve to get only the best skin, and if you think this product will be what helps you get there, then go for it.
Now that you know how to use retinol the right way, your face will look younger and fresher in no time.
Wondering what your night skincare routine should be? Read our guide here.
Joey is an AB Psychology graduate of the University of St. La Salle – Bacolod. Her life’s passions include writing, film, and spending hours on end binge-watching fashion vloggers on Youtube.