When my patients ask me what product is most important for proper skin care, I always point to sunscreen. I have no doubt it’s the most powerful anti-aging product. What comes in second after sunscreen? Retinol. Bar none. 

“Retinol” is a catchall term used to describe products with a Vitamin A derivative that increases collagen production and the rate of skin cell turnover. They can help improve overall texture, minimize fine lines, lessen the appearance of wrinkles, even out skin tone, treat acne, and more. In other words, retinol is a powerful potion. 

Because retinol is so powerful, it’s important to understand how to use it properly—and safely. 

I’ve Never Used Retinol. Help!

If you’re just starting out with using retinoids, you need to know that your skin will go through an adjustment period called “retinization”. You might notice redness, irritation, scaling, and a burning or stinging sensation. These are all normal reactions. 

How Long Will Retinization Last?  

This “purge period”, the process of your skin shedding old, dead cells and replacing them with new, healthy ones, can last about four weeks (longer if you use retinols less frequently). It’s possible for your skin to look worse during this phase because the purge forces dead cells, oils, dirt and bacteria beneath the skin to rise to the surface; your skin might even peel at some  point. But remember the end result: new, healthier skin!

What Can I Do to Minimize the Effects?

For my patients who are starting with retinol, I recommend the following strategies to help minimize retinization:

  1. START SLOW For first-timers, I recommend using retinoids twice a week for the first week then increased as tolerated. Most people are able to find a balance where they can avoid intense retinization by using the product about three times a week. A few patients have reported being able to use retinol daily but this is not necessary!
  2. BE PATIENT If you do see signs of retinization, wait to apply your next treatment. 
  3. MOISTURIZE You should be moisturizing twice a day under normal circumstances; if you’re using retinol and see retinization, moisturize more!
  4. BE PRUDENT You’ll want to avoid using other active ingredients like AHA and BHA as well as topic L-ascorbic acid (Vitamin C) during the retinization period. Adding these to your treatment could cause excessive skin sensitivity, irritation, and redness. 
  5. TIME IT RIGHT Always use retinol at night and then wash it off in the morning. It can make your skin more sensitive to UV rays. Besides, sunlight decreases the effectiveness of the product. 
  6. STOP IT Before any treatment on your face, you should stop using retinol at least 5 days prior. That includes waxing, chemical peels, microblading and so on. 
  7. NEVER FORGET While you should be using sunscreen on your face as part of your regular skincare routine, this is especially important when you’re using retinol. Use a minimum of SPF 30 to protect that fresh new skin!

Don’t get discouraged if you still see some redness or irritation. If you continue to follow these tips, the effects will subside. 

When Should I Expect Results?

Typically, you’ll start seeing some improvements in your skin within three months of using retinol. So hold the course and you should start noticing a decrease in fine lines and wrinkles, a decrease in clogged pores, a minimizing of pigmentation, and tighter, healthier skin!

Here are some photos of a patient who used retinol to decrease the look of pigmentation on her skin. (I should note that she also uses sunscreen and Vitamin C serum daily; these two skin care products also contribute to an improvement in her skin.)

Retinol is a safe and super effective part of a skin care routine for those looking to allay the signs of aging. I can tell you that from my personal experience and from consistent use that it works! 

Have a question or need more information about how retinol might work to address your specific skin concerns? Reach out to us to book a free consultation!

Photo credit: © Can Stock Photo Inc. / sai0112

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