How to start a retinoid

So, you’ve probably heard of retinoids before..but do you know how to start them? Where should they fall in your skincare plan?

You should definitely keep reading if you’re interested in treatments for breakouts or anti-aging.

First things first- let’s get clear on some terms. 

‘Retinoids’ are a category of vitamin A derivate available in a few different forms- retinol, retinaldehyde, and retinoic acid- in order of increasing strength. Retinol is the most common name used so I’m going to use it interchangeably here… but now you know when people say retinol they typically mean retinoids.

What is retinol? 

Retinol is an FDA approved form of vitamin A that increases skin cell turnover and collagen production. 

Why is that important, you may ask? These two things work to make your skin appear smooth, radiant, and lessen all those issues listed above. So, basically, all the things we want in our skin! 

Retinoids are the first-line topical skincare treatment to help with the following common skin complaints: oily skin, large pores, pimple spots, milia-prone skin, sun damage, fine lines, wrinkles, dark spots.

The truth is everyone should be using an appropriate retinoid for his or her skin type unless pregnant or breastfeeding (or preparing to become pregnant). 

For more info on retinoids (or if you’re just tired of reading) watch my video on retinoids.

Here’s how to do retinol right…

Before you use a retinol product for the first time, try a little bit on a small area of skin (a patch test). You're looking to see if you have any negative reactions (better to be safe than sorry). Make sure you apply a moisturizer after! After a couple of days, if this patch of skin isn’t very red or itchy, you can start adding retinol into your skincare routine at bedtime. 

Retinoid Application Instructions:

  • At night, apply a pea-sized amount to clean skin on the face by dabbing in 4 places and then massaging into a thin layer. You can repeat this for the neck, chest, and back.
  • Moisturize. This can be done before, after, or you can even mix your retinol with a moisturizer.
  • Avoid the sensitive areas including: around your eyes, nasal crease, and lips. Retinoids do extend a few millimeters beyond where you apply them. Pro tip: you can apply vaseline or aquaphor around these areas as a protective barrier. 
  • You should always apply retinoids at night (wash off in AM) because it makes you more sensitive to the sun. 
  • Start slowly. You’ll need to wait 3-4 days between the first application since it takes about that much time for the dead skin cells to lift up and appear as dry, flaky skin. This is normal. The goal is for there to be no burning, stinging, or any discomfort. This is why moisturizing is key! 
  • The idea is you workout your skin with a retinoid then help it recover with a moisturizer and rest!

    Here’s how to start or restart a retinoid routine: 

    1 -2
    Start on night 1 and repeat on night 4.
    Week 2-4Increase to every other night if you aren't experiencing dryness or flaking.
    Weeks 4-6You have a good idea of how your skin is tolerating it. If it’s not burning, stinging, itchy, red, or irritated, increase to nightly application. Flaking is normal- those are the dead skin cells sloughing off! 
    Week 8+It should be easy to use nightly. Decrease usage anytime you need to.

    Our skin has memory so the more you use a product the more it will start to adapt. Purging is very normal within the first 2-4 weeks. This happens because retinoids speed up the process of what’s happening in the oil glands, so it brings what would be a future bump to the surface a whole lot quicker. But it normally resolves itself. Your skin is resilient! 

    Pro tip: If your skin is flaking, you need to skip that night and resume when the skin has recovered. Most people can tolerate a retinoid product as long as it’s the right one for your skin and you’re applying it correctly. Hear me when is say: Stronger isn’t always better! 

    Pregnant, breastfeeding, or preparing to be?

    There's no clear understanding if retinoids are safe during pregnancy. For that reason, it's recommended that women avoid products containing retinoids (retinol, retinaldehyde, retinoic acid) while pregnant and nursing. Azelaic acid and bakuchiol are considered pregnancy-safe alternatives to retinoids. Please note your OB should approve all products used while pregnant or breastfeeding.

    Above all you need to listen to your skin!

    Think of this process like lifting weights. The goal when you walk into the gym isn’t to lift the heaviest weights. The goal is consistency and to do what works best for you and your body and goals. Your retinol usage is the exact same.

    Let's get started together if you’re ready to see results in your skin. Can't get enough? Here are more Retinoid Tips From A Dermatology  PA... it's everything I tell my patients at an in-office visit.

Free Resource Guides
Free Resource Guides

Free Resource Guides

Avene RetrinAL 0.1 Intensive Cream
Avene RetrinAL 0.1 Intensive Cream
Avene RetrinAL 0.1 Intensive Cream
Avene RetrinAL 0.1 Intensive Cream

Avene RetrinAL 0.1 Intensive Cream


Translation missing: en.pagefly.comments.title

Translation missing: en.pagefly.comments.moderated