2 Experts Weigh-In on How to Use Retinol the Right Way
Retinol seems to do it all. Particularly after basking in the sun these past (swelteringly hot) summer months, it's a good idea to incorporate it into your regimen to erase all traces of summer sun damage.
The resurfacing magic happens by increasing the skin’s rate of cellular turnover and the exfoliation of surface-level skin cells, including blemishes and scarring. This minimizes signs of photo-aging, like hyper-pigmentation, improves skin tone, smoothes inconsistencies in texture, and even refines pore size. You also reap long-term benefits with continued use, as accelerated collagen production slows the development of future lines and wrinkles. While performing all these skin-loving miracles, the champ also fights pop-up breakouts like nobody's business.
Retinol's myriad skincare functions make it a leading active ingredient recommended by dermatologists and estheticians. But along with its many positive functions come a few risks, too. The ingredient can be irritating, causing dry patches and flaking, for starters. Years ago I swore off retinol products after experiencing side-effects from a dermatologist-prescribed "gentle" formula. I told him I was allergic and didn't believe him that I wasn't! Having learned how to use it correctly, my opinion has since changed.
Retinol also causes skin photo-sensitivity, making it unsuitable for daytime use. Unless you are using Verso Skincare's patented form of daytime-safe retinol 8, this concern stands. Retinol is a controversial summer skincare pick depending on whom you ask — and if you do use a retinol product in the sunnier seasons, keep covered, stay out of direct sunlight, wear a hat and sunglasses, and regularly reapply SPF. Regardless, it's great for erasing the signs of too much sun post-summer.
Whether you are currently using the fab anti-aging ingredient, or are thinking about starting, here are 5 expert tips on using retinol correctly and efficiently for the fall. Keep reading to see what celebrity esthetician Joanna Vargas and Dr. Lamees Hamdan, the founder of Shiffa Beauty, have to say on the matter of improving your post-summer skin.
Dr. Lamees Hamdan, founder of Shiffa Beauty
(Photo via Savoir Flaire)
(1) Begin using retinol in your 20s.
"In your 20s, early signs of aging and sun damage start showing on your skin, and I see a lot more acne in people in their 20s, as well (which, in turn, leads to the possibility of scarring and hyper pigmentation)," Dr. Hamdan explains. "The best cure is to start early on when the symptoms are mild."
In other words, using retinol preventatively — an anti-aging strategy coined "prejuvenation" — yields better results. Starting a serum, night cream, or oil before your wrinkles and lines get too deep is key. Once those creases get to the deeper layers of your dermis, they become increasingly harder to treat.
(2) Pair it with anti-inflammatory ingredients to prevent irritation.
If the ingredient is causing flaking or dryness, using an extra-nourishing, anti-inflammatory product or oil afterwards can help. Joanna Vargas recommends reaching for a reparative serum to use in conjunction with your retinoid in order to mitigate potential skin damage.
However, with her luxe formula — which she took extra time to formulate using skin-soothers to prevent reactions — you will not need to. "[Super Nova serum] is clinical strength... I tried to combine it with soothing anti-inflammatory ingredients that support the skin, so it won't get too red or too dry," she explains. I personally own the serum and have received the Super Nova Facial — which Dakota Johnson loves — and it was undoubtedly the best facial of my life.
Joanna Vargas, Celebrity Esthetician, Spa, and Skincare Line Founder
Other examples of anti-inflammaging products to try post-application include azulene-hued blue tansy oil, os well as Kate Middleton's favorite oil blend, Beuti Skincare Beauty Sleep Elixir ($65). You can also reach for a beauty balm to seal in nourishing moisture, like One Love Organics Skin Savior ($49) or LOLI Date Nut Brûlée ($68).
Do not reach for items like petroleum jelly or vaseline, however. These contain petro-chemicals that are toxic to your health and will form a barrier over your skin, blocking ingredients and moisture (and everything) out.
(3) Use it at night.
Unless you're using Verso's retinol8, apply your retinoid at night. Vargas suggests applying it after "properly cleansing" — whatever that looks like in your nighttime beauty rituals.
My recommendation would be that if it's in a serum, apply it after your toner. Then follow with your moisturizer mixed with a couple drops of an oil, or a beauty balm. If it's in a cream, apply it after your serum and, once it has absorbed, follow it with the soothing, anti-inflammaging hydrator of your choice. Make sure that the products you apply after do not contain retinol or vitamin A, which is another name for the ingredient.
Sunday Riley Luna Oil ($55-105)
Available in .5 oz or 1 ml
Some formulas have their reparative soothers mixed right in to make them gentler on the skin. The best example of this would be the beauty editor-beloved nighttime oil, Sunday Riley Luna Oil. If you experience flaking in spite of the Xanax-like effects of blue tansy oil on the skin (I did at first), don't apply it every night — wait until your skin builds up a tolerance.
No matter what, wear and reapply your SPF religiously the following day.
(4) Use it over the long-term.
"Not only is retinol useful for all types of skin, whether oily or dry, but [it] also supports healthy collagen formation," Dr. Hamdan shares. "It lays down the bricks for more robust skin later on that can [better] withstand the effects of both chronological aging and photo aging."
In other words, choose a retinol product that suits your skin type, then continue using it long into the future. This ensures the cumulative effects of accelerated collagen production, which gives your skin "bounce" and slows the formation of wrinkles.
(5) Prescription-strength retinoids deliver faster results — but don't rush it.
If you've got sensitive skin, prescription-strength retinoids are probably not on your path. Those of you with mature or otherwise resilient skin types may be able to tolerate them. If you're crazy-impatient, Dr. Hamdan advises that Rx-strength products can show results in as little as two weeks.
"Prescription retinoid is typically for older skin types and perhaps oilier skins, as well... It gives you the fastest results — in two weeks versus eight weeks, as with OTC retinols," Dr. Hamdan advises. "I am in my 40s and tried using prescription but just couldn't... It makes [my] skin too sensitive."
Still, don't push it. Causing irritation, peeling, and skin damage is not worth it. When it comes to retinol, slow and steady is worth the wait.
1. Shani Darden Texture Reform ($95)
2. Joanna Vargas Super Nova Serum ($295)
3. Shiffa Rose Maroc Night Elixir ($175)
4. Verso Skincare Reviving Eye Mask ($60)
5. Fitglow Vita Youth Oil - large size ($159)
6. InstaNatural Retinol Serum ($17)
9. Pai Bio-Regenerate Rosehip Oil ($40)
Do you have any retinol tips to share? Tell me on Instagram!
This post contains affiliate links. Shop them to show me some love :)