GRAZIA Beauty Glossary: How to Use Retinol the Right Way

Your burning questions answered, once and for all.

GRAZIA Beauty Glossary is a recurring series that tells you everything you need to know in the world of beauty. It is your ultimate guide to knowing important skincare ingredients, beauty procedures, and trends. In this edition, we dive into one of the most controversial—but loved—ingredients in skincare: retinol. 

how to use retinol
Image credit: Michael Dziedzic (Unsplash)

What is retinol?

At its core, retinol is a form of Vitamin A that is most commonly found in skincare products. You might also hear retinol used interchangeably with retinoids; both are in the same family category, but retinoids are a stronger version and usually need a prescription to be used. Meanwhile, retinol can be purchased over the counter and does not require a prescription. 

What is it good for?

Retinol helps increase cell production, unclogs pores, does chemical exfoliation, and increases collagen production. Now you see why it’s such a coveted ingredient; it covers most of your skincare concerns in one product. Whether it’s anti-ageing, acne, or congested skin, retinol is a wonder ingredient that helps with them. 

How should I incorporate retinol into my skincare routine as a first-timer?

You may be tempted to begin using a high-dosage retinol product right away after knowing all its benefits, but be warned: the more concentrated the retinol in the product, the higher the chance of it irritating your skin. This may lead to skin redness, burning, and even sensitisation. That is why you need to introduce retinol into your skincare routine slowly and gradually.

For first-time users, start with a low-dosage retinol product; dermatologists typically recommend 0.25%, but if your skin is prone to sensitivity, go even lower at 0.01% to 0.03%. Next, use your retinol product once every three days to build your skin’s tolerance for it over two weeks. Then, you can use it every other day and eventually graduate to daily use. Only use your retinol products at night; never during the day. Be sure to use sunscreen the morning after retinol application, as your skin will be at its most sensitive—but we don’t need to tell you that you should be using sunscreen all the time, anyway. 

GRAZIA Tip: Retinol can be pretty harsh on the skin, so try to avoid applying it directly onto bare skin. Instead, apply a neutral, buffer ingredient such as an essence and hyaluronic acid serum, followed by your retinol serum, and then sandwich it with a moisturiser. 

What other skincare ingredients should I avoid using with retinol?

Glycolic acid, Vitamin C, benzoyl peroxide, salicylic acid, and scrubs. Retinol, on its own, is a harsh ingredient with exfoliating properties. Using it with any one of these listed ingredients may increase the risk of skin irritation. Instead, use them only when you’re not using retinol. 

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