How to use Retinol – my top tips

Can an ingredient described as a “true miracle worker” really live up to such hype? The answer is a big YES! Ask any dermatologist what the best multi-tasking anti-ageing ingredient on the market is and the answer will be retinol. An antioxidant derivative of Vitamin A, this over the counter skincare ingredient gives powerful anti-ageing and complexion rejuvenation. Originally branded as an acne-fighting product, it wasn’t until its anti-ageing qualities were discovered that it was rebranded for that purpose. From boosting collagen production and reducing the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles to increasing the appearance of firmness and helping with imperfections such as pigmentation and acne, if you aren’t using it already, it’s definitely time to start thinking about it.

However, despite all the virtues of using it, there’s a catch! Retinol can be a tricky ingredient to get to grips with. On first using, you can experience skin sensitivity, redness and flaking, which can make it hard for those to decide to push on and continue using or to stop and call it quits. But if you do stick with it, the results far outweigh any initial niggles – good skin days all round! 

Here are my top tips for using retinol in your skincare routine:

1. Read your Labels – Look to see what the product is focused on: Is it a retinol to help with acne or fine lines and wrinkles, also what type of retinol it uses, some are encapsulated so it’s less irritating, and some brands create their own derivatives. More often than not, in eagerness to try, people don’t read the small print and end up choosing a retinol that may not be suited to them so be sure to read the product description and ingredients list first.

2. Get a Head Start – While there is no set time to begin introducing retinol into your skincare routine, most dermatologists advise starting early, particularly if you suffer from breakouts or pigmentation. Many women, motivated by early signs of ageing, such as sun spots or crow’s feet or simply eager to maintain their youthful complexion are kick starting their retinol journey in their mid-twenties. 

3. Low and Slow – Start with a low strength and build your way up. For retinol newbies, I recommend a percentage of 0.1 – 0.3 per cent. Using a retinol that is too strong for you can lead to red, dry angry skin, which is why most people give up when they first try. You need to play the long game with retinol. It also needs to be introduced slowly, I always advise my clients to start using twice a week, then work up to every other night and eventually nightly. If you’re a beginner, some good retinol serums and creams to start off with include, The Ordinary Granactive Retinoid 2% in Squalane, Indeed Labs Retinol Reface Skin Serum, Pestle & Mortar Superstar, La Roche Posay Redermic R, Murad Youth Renewal Night Cream and Origins Plantscription Retinol Night Moisturiser with Alpine Flower.

4. Less is More – On this occasion, more is not necessarily better. People can put on too much, thinking it will work quicker and better. You only need a pea-sized amount for your entire face. Slathering it on will not only use up your supply a lot faster, but it can also cause redness, dryness and irritation. Even when used prudently, retinols can be drying so if this happens, make sure to use a moisturiser alongside it to counteract any drying effects.

5. Don’t Stop at your Face – When applying retinol, don’t neglect your neck or décolleté, these areas are notorious for showing signs of ageing, yet are often neglected. Remember though, the skin is thinner here, so if you do find those areas a little sensitive, try buffering your retinol before smoothing it on. Something like La Roche Posay Cicaplast Baume can be combined with your retinol to dilute it so your skin can adjust and there’s less likelihood of any irritation. 

6. Stick to a Routine – Retinol is one of those products that needs to be applied regularly to see the benefits. It’s not one of those products you leave sit on the bathroom shelf and only take out to play on special occasions or when your skin is in dire straits. Once you have built up to using nightly, keep using in order to maintain and improve the results you are seeing. Remember consistency is key when looking to achieve results with your skin.

7. Don’t Forget SPF – While retinol plays its part to help skin look younger, it can also make your skin more sensitive to UV rays (which is why it is typically used at night). You need to be diligent about applying SPF daily as if you don’t you may be setting yourself up for more damage in the long run. And again, don’t forget your neck – thin neck skin is more susceptible to sun damage, which will cause wrinkles and sagging.

8. Take the Next Step – After the six-month mark, your skin may have become used to the retinol you’re using and might actually start to become lazy and stop responding the way it has been – a simple way around this is to move on up to a slightly stronger concentration such as 0.5% and above. Medik 8 Crystal Retinal 6, NeoStrata Skin Active Retinol + Nag Complex, Dermalogica Overnight Retinol Repair 1%, Paula’s Choice Clinical 1% Retinol Treatment and The Inkey List Retinol Serum have great formulations.

As always, if you have any beauty concerns you would like to ask me about, please email You can also follow me on Instagram and Facebook 

If you would like to begin your journey to healthy beautiful skin, I am available by appointment in Solace Holistic Centre Clonakilty where I offer Skincare Consultations, Murad Facial Treatments, Facial Peel Treatments, Teen Facials and Rejuvapen Micro Needling – all details of these and my Tween and Teen Workshops are on

Sherna Malone

Sherna Malone is a skincare specialist working in West Cork.

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