How To Use Retinol In Your Skincare Routine

How To Use Retinol

You’ve read a million articles, but still aren’t sure how to use retinol?   You aren’t alone.

Plenty of your friends are telling you to introduce one into your skincare routine.   Or maybe even your dermatologist or facialist has chatted with you about it.

Here’s the thing—it’s not hard, but it’s totally fair to not know where to start.  And be sure to check out this article if you’re new to this, “What Is Retinol?

Have no fear.  We’ll talk you through the best way to start using a retinol—the good, the bad, the ugly.

Step 1- How to Use Retinol:  Find the best retinol for your skin

profile of asian woman with glowing skin
Image via StyleCaster

As you may already know, retinol is amazing for both anti-aging and acne-fighting benefits.

While the ingredients in retinol will work on both of those areas, you want to find one that specifically targets your main concern.

Look on the packaging of the retinols you may be considering and make sure its targeting your chief skincare complaint.

You’ll also want to start with a gentle concentration, which means there is less of the retinoic acid in the formula.

You never know how your skin will react to a new product, so starting small and allowing your skin to slowly adapt is best.

Once your skin can tolerate a more gentle retinol, you can work your way up to a stronger concentration.

Retinols also come in many different forms, so finding the type of retinol that works best with your skin type is key.

As a simple rule of thumb, creams are generally best for dry skin, lotions for normal to combination skin, and serums or gels for oily or congested skin.

There are what seems like a million retinol options on the market at all different price points, so the world is your oyster when selecting one best suited for you!

Step 2- Don’t use too much product

middle-aged woman with dab of cream on face

When it comes to how to use retinol, you have to know this cardinal rule: a little goes a long way.

I know we’re all tempted sometimes to cake on the product, with the hopes that more product will equal better results.

With retinol, that couldn’t be further from the truth.

All you need is a small amount, about the size of a pea, to use over your entire face.

If you’re opting to use a retinol in other areas, such as your neck, décolletage, and back of your hands, you’ll obviously need more of the product.

Start small in those areas as well by just using a dab of the retinol.

Step 3- Apply it at night

If you read our in-depth article on what retinol is, then you already know that we debunked a major retinol myth.

It’s often been said that using retinol during the day will cause you to get sunburnt on your face.

While that isn’t actually true, exposing retinol to the sun does make it ineffective, so it’s basically pointless to use a retinol during the day.

For this reason, it’s best to apply your retinol at night only.

We also debunked a myth on how to use retinol that said retinol must be used on dry skin.  Again, that isn’t completely true.

However, the most common way to use it, and the instructions on most retinol packaging, would say to apply the product on dry skin for best results.

If you’re looking for a straightforward way on how to use retinol in your nighttime skincare routine, follow these easy steps: cleanse, tone, apply retinol, follow with other skincare products.

You may have heard otherwise, but you don’t need to wait to apply your other products on top of the retinol.  You can apply face serums, moisturizers, etc. on top immediately after application.

Step 4- Be consistent…even if it hurts a little

Be Consistent
Image via Everyday Health

Because retinol is a powerful antioxidant, it is important to use it every day.

That’s why we’ve recommended starting with a lighter dose so your skin has time to adjust to the active ingredient.

Since retinol exfoliates the skin, produces new collagen, and causes skin cells to turn over more quickly, it’s normal for your skin to be a little tender and red when first using the retinol.

That’s why being consistent is one of the best pieces of advice when learning how to use retinol.

It’s normal for us to want to stop using a face product when we experience a little bit of discomfort.  However, that isn’t recommended with a retinol.

Keep using it, unless the discomfort becomes too extreme for you.  Then reduce the number of times you’re using it weekly, or opt for a less intense formula.

Step 5- Be patient.  It’s worth it!

Be Patient

I know; it’s super hard to be patient.  Especially when claims of how well a product work are so incredible.

But when it comes to a retinol, time is on your side.

While some products may promise to deliver results sooner, it most likely that you’ll start to see a change in about 12 weeks.

It’s a long time to wait. I get it.

However, less acne, reduced fine lines and wrinkles, more collagen and elasticity in your face.  The list goes on.

The results are more than worth it.  You just have to stay consistent and remain as patient as possible, even if you don’t see changes right off the bat.

So there you have it.  Now that you know how to use retinol, it’s much easier than it seems, right?

Find a retinol product that works best for your skin, make it a daily habit, and find yourself thanking the skin gods in about 12 weeks.

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About the Author ()

Jessica Jones is the Executive Editor of At age 23, Jessica began seeing a few fine wrinkles and decided to make it her life's mission to stop them in their tracks! When she's not trying out the newest retinol creams, Jessica can usually be found at the gym, or at happy hour!