Retinol Guide: How To Use Retinol, Benefits Of Retinol, And The Perfect Retinol Skincare Routine

9 min
by Ben Gentzler
September 07, 2021

Whether you are your friends’ resident skincare guru or a complete skin novice, you have likely heard of retinol. This powerhouse ingredient is a derm favorite with a reputation for being a “magic solution” to a variety of skin problems. In this guide, we deep dive into everything you need to know about retinol, including how to use retinol, the benefits of retinol, and how to include retinol in your skincare routine.


What is Retinol

The name ‘retinol’ is often used as an umbrella term for products containing some form of vitamin AVitamin A is one of the primary ingredients responsible for boosting cell turnover and increasing collagen production – two very important functions to achieve and maintain healthy skin. 

Retinol is a type of retinoid (while the two are closely related, they are actually not the same – you can read more about the difference here) whose ability to smooth fine lines and wrinkles reigns supreme among other skincare ingredients. It also helps tackle complexion issues, acne, uneven texture, and hyperpigmentation (just a few of the reasons why it is considered a “magic solution”). 

Whatever your skincare situation is, dermatologists agree that you can benefit from adding retinol into your daily skincare routine.


When Should You Start Using Retinol? 


When you have access to such an amazing ingredient, why wait? It is recommended to start using retinol in your early 20s. Not only does it play a role in preventative skincare, but retinol also has a myriad of other benefits including battling breakouts and normalizing oil production – common problems for 20-year-olds. 

To find the best retinol product for your skin type and age stage, identify your main concern and select a product that is specifically formulated to tackle it. This will help you safely and effectively use retinol throughout the years (your main skin concern in your 20s might be different than in your 40s). With the right formula, retinol can be used as early as the teenage years.


What are the Benefits of Retinol

As we mentioned about retinol benefits, retinol can treat various skin concerns including fine lines and wrinkles, acne, acne scars, hyperpigmentation, and clogged pores. By speeding up the skin’s natural rejuvenation process, retinol can improve the skin’s overall texture. 

Retinol works in both the epidermis (outer layer) and dermis (the inner layer) of the skin. It increases the thickness of both layers by increasing cell turnover and stimulating collagen production. Retinol also protects existing collagen by destroying MMPs, the enzymes that break down collagen. The result: smooth, glowing, and healthy skin.


How to Use Retinol

To get the most out of your retinol (while also limiting the risk for irritation), proper application and usage are a MUST.

First and foremost, when using any product containing retinol, you have to use sunscreen (we are already wearing SPF every day anyway so this isn’t a big deal, right?). Sunscreen prevents redness and maintains retinol’s potency. 

Fun fact: retinol actually breaks down when exposed to UV rays. This is why you mostly see retinol packaged in darker or opaque bottles. It keeps the ingredient at its maximum potency. 

Retinol also helps increase cellular turnover which exposes the fresh, new cells to the sun. Sunscreen protects them from burning, becoming irritated, and resulting in future hyperpigmentation. You can even boost skin protection by also adding vitamin C skin care to your beauty arsenal. 

Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant that neutralizes free radicals from UVA/UVB rays and pollutants. While you can’t formulate retinol with vitamin C in the same product, you can absolutely layer the two ingredients. Experiencing sensitivity when layering? You can use a vitamin C face cream in the morning and retinol at night. 

When you first use a retinol product, apply a pea-size amount to a test patch of skin to ensure you don’t have an allergic reaction. Next, start building it into your skincare routine by using it just once or twice a week. If you find your skin gets irritated after use, you can try a buffering technique. For example, apply moisturizer before the retinol to reduce side effects. Eventually, you’ll want to work your way up to using it every night.


Will Retinol Make Me Purge?

So you are excited to start your retinol journey, picturing pristine, glowing skin. About one week in, you start to notice a flurry of breakouts… you are experiencing a purge.  

Skin purging is when increased breakouts and blemishes pop up after starting to use a resurfacing or acne product. If you are oily or prone to acne, congestion can sit under the skin’s surface. Resurfacing actives like retinol clear the skin by stepping on the gas for cellular turnover which brings all of that congestion to the surface. And it happens quickly and all at once.

Not everyone experiences purging, but it is possible with any ingredient that accelerates skin’s renewal process or tackles acne. Purging typically lasts between 4-6 weeks and is followed by significantly fewer and less frequent breakouts over time. Trust us, even though the purge isn’t fun, the end results will be worth it. Stick with it!

It is key to note that purging occurs in areas where you typically break out while adverse skin reactions will show blemishes or irritation in new areas. If you see severe dryness, redness, burning sensation, or new rashes, stop, put the product down, and back away. These are tell-tale signs that the formula you are using is not suitable for your skin type.

Girl applying retinol serum

The Perfect Retinol Skincare Routine

Follow these steps for the perfect retinol skincare routine:

  1. Wash your face with a non-stripping cleanser like the Dr. Dennis Gross Pore Perfecting Cleansing Gel to ensure all makeup, sunscreen, and excess oils are removed.
  2. Wait until your face is dry before applying retinol. If your face is damp, the retinol can absorb too deep into your skin and may cause irritation. A dry face will allow the retinol to work on your top layer of skin.
  3. Take a pea-sized amount of retinol. Starting at your chin, apply onto your face in upwards and outwards motions.
  4. Next, apply a moisturizer, evenly all over the face, followed by your eye cream. Try an eye treatment with retinol for an extra dose of its powerful benefits.
  5. Not sure if we have to say this again, but we will – the last step in your daytime routine is your sunscreen (don’t forget your sunscreen!). Try a high-performance, physical sunscreen like the All-Physical Lightweight Wrinkle Defense Broad Spectrum Sunscreen, SPF 30

Discover Dr. Dennis Gross Skincare for All Your Skincare Needs

For more skincare tips from the experts at Dr. Dennis Gross, check out our blog’s newest content. Discover our full line of retinol and ferulic skincare with powerful skincare ingredients that are suitable for a variety of skin types. Shop the collection of Dr. Dennis Gross bestselling skincare backed by dermatologists.

Written By

Ben Gentzler

Ben is an Education professional with 16 years of experience in prestige/professional skincare and beauty. Brand, retail, and professional/spa education & training.

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Written By

Ben Gentzler

Ben is an Education professional with 16 years of experience in prestige/professional skincare and beauty. Brand, retail, and professional/spa education & training.

MORE FROM Ben Gentzler

Layering 101: How to Layer Skincare Products

Read More