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 • Skincare  • Skincare Guides  • What Age Should You Really Start Using Retinol? We Asked 3 Skincare Experts

What Age Should You Really Start Using Retinol? We Asked 3 Skincare Experts

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Main image – Ohlamourstudio/Stocksy

Any retinol enthusiasts out there will know it’s a powerful ingredient that helps to fade fine lines, boost collagen and even fight acne. And spend more than 2 minutes on TikTok and you’ll see plenty of influencers swear by it and advise their followers – some in their teens – to join the retinol train for smoother, more youthful looking skin. 

“Sign me up” I hear you cry. But wait! It may sound like introducing retinol into your skincare regime is a no brainer, but you’ll need to consider your age before you make the move. 

Because apparently, if you use it too young your skin could really suffer as a result. Plus, you may not even need retinol that early on in life anyway. Ever heard of the phrase, ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’? That!

So, what happens if you use retinol too young? What age should you start using it? And what are its benefits later on? Our skin experts, aesthetic surgeon Dr Lubna Khan-Salim, cosmetic regulator Kamal Kaur and board-certified dermatologist Dr Sheila Farhang, are here to give the proper advice when it comes to using retinol.


What age should you really start using retinol?

This depends on what you’re using it for, and there are two main reasons to start using retinol. The first is for anti-ageing, and the second is for acne. “A good time to start retinol for anti-ageing is mid 20s and beyond,” explains Dr Sheila Farhang.

But Kaur thinks even older for anti-ageing purposes, “Retinol and vitamin As are highly potent substances. For anti-ageing purposes retinol is recommended to be used around the age of 30.” Meaning that if you’re in your late 20s and haven’t started using retinol yet, you really shouldn’t feel like you’ve missed the boat.

However, “For more serious concerns such as blemishes, retinol can be used at an earlier age under close supervision,” Kaur explains.


Image – Katarinaradovic/Stocksy


That means if you’re a teen looking to tackle acne breakouts you can still use retinol, but with some caveats. Dr Sheila Farhang, suggests “an over-the-counter retinol such as Neutrogena or La Roche Posay,” for mild acne, or for moderate to severe acne, “a prescription strength, retinoid, such as tretinoin, as this is a known treatment for acne as it unclog pores and increases skin cell turnover.”

Before reaching straight for either over the counter or prescription retinol for your breakouts though, you’ll still want to speak to an expert, “I would advise consulting with your GP/dermatologist/skincare specialist in the first instance as there are plenty of products and steps to take prior to jumping to retinol which could cause worsening of the skin and sensitisation,” advises Dr Khan-Salim.

“Sometimes a very simple targeted skincare routine can work wonders.”


What happens when you start using retinol too young

As appealing as it may seem to using retinol as soon as possible though, Kaur says that unless you’re using it under proper supervision for acne earlier in life or for anti-ageing purposes later, it can have a negative effect on your skin. “When retinol is used by younger consumers due to internet trends, it could cause additional skin concerns due to misuse,” she says.

“For example, using retinol every night could damage the skin barrier, causing redness and sensitivity which may then lead the consumer to applying more products to the skin which could do more harm than good.”


Image – Ohlamourstudio/Stocksy


Dr Khan-Salim adds, “I see too many people come into my clinic who have started using retinol too young and too often and it has caused their skin to become red and sensitised,” she says. “Whilst a lot of people seem to strive towards this glassy-skin look, it’s actually a sign of barrier compromise.”

So, if you’re a tween or teen without acne? “Only focus on a cleanser, moisturiser and sunscreen,” Dr Khan-Salim says. Younger skincare fans should “avoid retinols if they don’t have acne or any other skin condition that is recommended by their dermatologist,” she adds.


Will you still see benefits if you start using retinol later in life?

Absolutely. “Retinol is a form of vitamin A which is often promoted in skincare and used for anti-ageing and cellular repair,” explains Dr Khan-Salim. “It’s the gold standard for an anti-ageing skincare regimen,” adds Dr Farhang

As long as you use it responsibly by reading the instructions and taking into account your skin type and the strength of your retinol, it has proven to be an excellent anti-ageing ingredient, even if you didn’t start using it in your teens or twenties.

“It’s also important to note that retinol use does not thin the skin,” Dr Farhang says. “This is a huge myth as it increases skin cell turnover but it actually strengthens the skin by increasing collagen.” Introduce it into your regime slowly though, whatever your age, in order to allow your skin to become accustomed to it.


The takeaway

Whilst retinol is seen as one of the most effective anti-ageing ingredients for those who are aged mid 20s plus, it shouldn’t be used as an age prevention ingredient in anyone younger than that.

Retinol can often be recommended by doctors and dermatologists to younger patients, sometimes even teenagers if they’re experiencing acne, but as Dr Khan-Salim points out, it should really be used as a last resort. There are lots of brands and ranges available to teenagers that can help treat acne that don’t contain retinol. 

Prevention is key to a smoother, more youthful complexion in the long run. But there are many other methods for those younger than their mid 20s to try before jumping head first into an ingredient like retinol that won’t positively impact their skin’s age bracket.


Meet the experts

Dr Lubna Khan-Salim is a Yorkshire based surgeon who trained and practiced in plastic surgery before moving into cosmetic aesthetics. She is a member of the Royal College of Surgeons of England.


Kamal Kaur is an expert in UK & EU cosmetic products and the founder and principal regulatory consultant at The Cosmetic Regulator. She has over 7 years regulatory experience across FMCG, e-commerce and luxury beauty brands.


Dr. Sheila Farhang is a board-certified dermatologist and founder of Avant Dermatology & Aesthetics.


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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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