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 • Skincare  • Skincare Guides  • Here’s How to Know How Often You Should You Be Using Your Retinol

Here’s How to Know How Often You Should You Be Using Your Retinol

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Main image – Javierdiaz/Stocksy

When it comes to retinol, things can get…confusing. Why? Because despite being super beneficial for the skin (collagen boost, reduced fine lines or unclogged pores anyone?) not everyone knows how to use it. 

So how often should you use it? Well everyone’s skin is different so there is no ‘one size fits all’ with retinol. It all depends on whether you’ve used it before, how your skin reacts to it and how much you’re actually using. Hence, the confusion.

But let’s just debunk it once and for all. Celebrity aestheticians Ian Michael Crumm and Jenette Serrins, dermatologists dermatologist Dr Geeta Yadav and Dr Jody A. Levine, and plastic surgeon Dr Patrick Davis, are here with some guidelines to help you decipher the right retinol strategy for your skin. 

After all, a dermatologist or aesthetician can provide more specific instructions for your own skin type and lifestyle, rather than quickly asking Google or tapping up your favourite influencer. 

So, consider this an expert consultation (of sorts). Whether you’re a complete retinol novice or you’re slightly further down the line, this article will show you exactly how frequently you should be using it, so that it can work to its full potential – whatever your retinol status or skin type. 


How often to use retinol if you’re a beginner

The advice with retinol is always to start slowly. “If you’re new to retinol, start with a lower concentration and use it once or twice a week initially,” explains Crumm. “You’ll need to build up your skin’s tolerance to be able to use it so frequently,” adds Dr Yadav.

So how low is a low concentration? “0.1% or 0.25%, applying once weekly until your skin no longer shows the common side effects of retinol use, like dryness or mild irritation, which may take several weeks,” Dr Yadav continues. 


Image – Ohlamourstudio/Stocksy


These side effects will eventually fade as your skin adjusts to retinol. But it’s a good idea to listen to your skin and incorporate some mild ingredients into the rest of your skincare regime to stop the side effects getting worse. 

For example, use a gentle cleanser which is non-foaming and fragrance-free. Choose a moisturiser containing things like oats which help to soothe the skin.  And always use a daily SPF to protect your skin, especially when using retinol, as it can cause your skin to be extra sensitive to UV light.


How often to use retinol once your skin can tolerate it

You’ll know your skin has adapted to retinol when there is no longer any dryness, irritation and/or peeling and your skin is starting to look noticeably more fresh and smooth. So, when it’s ready, you can build up to applying it more regularly. 

  • Maturing skin:

“Work up to twice weekly, thrice weekly and so forth,” Dr Yadav recommends. “Once your skin can fully tolerate the retinol you’ve been using, you can then move up to a stronger concentration like 0.5%, then 1%.” 

  • Acne-prone skin:

Dr Yadav says, “the same applies for acne as it does for anti-aging.” However, it depends on your level of acne.

“Retinoids, including retinol, are often used for treating acne,” explains Crumm. “The frequency can depend on the severity of your acne and your skin’s tolerance. It’s common to use retinol or other retinoids as part of your night time skincare routine but always consult a dermatologist.”

  • Sensitive skin:

“If you have sensitive skin, you might need to use it less frequently or choose a milder retinoid,” says Crumm. Serrins adds, “you will need to keep to the lowest percentage of retinol and probably only use it once a week.”

Dr Davis on the other hand says to be even more cautious. “As far as OTC [over-the-counter] products go, most people feel safe using 0.25% strength,” he explains. “If you have sensitive skin however, you should seek the advice of your physician before using any retinol product.”


How to know if you’re using retinol too often

If there’s one thing you shouldn’t do when using retinol is overdo it. Vitamin A is a strong ingredient and this can be detrimental to the skin when used too much. 


Image – Maitepons/Stocksy


“If you experience redness, peeling, dryness or irritation, you may be using retinol too frequently or too much at once,” warns Dr Levine. “It’s important to scale back usage and allow your skin to recover.” Use the skincare tips in the beginners’ section to soothe and protect the skin and remember to always wear an SPF.


The takeaway

So the most popular opinion amongst the experts is to introduce retinol slowly into your regime, whatever your skin type. Apply it once or twice a week to start with, then build up as your skin starts to get used to it.

Once you’ve tested the waters, your percentage and frequency of use then depends on your personal skin type. For example those with ‘normal’ and/or maturing skin may progress to using 1% every single day. Whilst those with sensitive skin are advised to chat to a professional before they even consider using retinol.

In any case, retinol should be treated with caution and not over used. There are usually side effects when you first start using it but they shouldn’t last longer than around eight weeks. If they do then it’s probably time to stop using it. 

And as always, don’t forget that using a daily SPF is crucial, especially when using retinol, as it can make the skin extra sensitive. 


Meet the experts

Ian Michael Crumm is a celebrity aesthetican and beauty expert as well as co-host of the BeautyCurious podcast with Dr. Elyse Love. He is known for his passion for skincare and sun safety, is actively involved in philanthropic efforts to promote skin cancer awareness and believes that #ProtectedSkinWins.


Jenette Serrins is a skincare expert and celebrity aesthetician, and the owner, founder, developer and alchemist of Jenette Skin Care Inc and Being in LA wellness spa, a Los Angeles-based spa that tends to the likes of Emma Watson and Rachel McAdams.


Dr. Geeta Yadav is a board-certified dermatologist and founder of FACET Dermatology


Dr Jody A. Levine, MD is a one of America’s top dermatologists and the Director of Dermatology at Plastic Surgery & Dermatology of NYC, a leading medical and aesthetic practice in New York City.


Dr. Patrick K. Davis is a renowned facial plastic and reconstructive surgeon delivering a highly personalised treatment experience in Beverly Hills, California.


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Beauty Editor

The former Beauty Editor of Glamour UK, Philippa has been a beauty and lifestyle journalist for over 16 years, picking up countless tips and tricks from makeup artists, hair stylists, dermatologists and celebrities. In that time she’s written for names like Cosmopolitan, The Sunday Times Style, The Telegraph, Grazia, Refinery 29 and Byrdie. Philippa lives in the UK with her husband, two children and their hyperactive cockapoo, Paddy.

Expertise: Makeup, hair care
Education: Oxford Brookes University

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