Retinol: A guide on how and when to use it

After a year of lockdowns and endless ‘me time’, the addiction to our skin care routine has grown rapidly. The question is, do we know how to use everything in it correctly?

According to Google Trends, one of the top three most searched for beauty products of recent months has been Retinol, a potent Vitamin A. It has many benefits including preventing wrinkles, brightening dull skin, treating acne and fading dark spots, scaring and hyperpigmentation.

Image credit: Google Trends

Whilst Retinol is one of the most popular skin care products of late, the application process is often misunderstood and even just applying it at the wrong time of day can pose risks. However, Retinol is not a product we should fear; when used correctly it can give amazing results and work wonders for your skin.

To help you truly reap its benefits and prevent unnecessary damage to your skin, we enlisted the help of Pauline Sangha, qualified aesthetic practitioner, registered general nurse and PCA skin expert at 415 Professional Aesthetics Clinic in Gateshead to give us a guide on how and when to use Retinol safely.

What are the skin benefits of using Retinol?

“Retinol is classed as the ‘gold standard’ ingredient in skin care. It is clinically proven to prevent wrinkles, by smoothing fine lines and minimising new ones forming. It brightens dull skin, as it exfoliates on a cellular level, revealing brighter and smoother skin. It’s anti-inflammatory properties, can help with both breakout and acne prone skin as it regulates any oils and stops pores from clogging resulting in fewer blackheads, cysts and spots,” says Pauline Sangha.

“Retinol accelerates skin renewal and enhances collagen production, which reduces the appearance of fine lines, uneven skin texture and age spots.”

What are some of the risks of applying Retinol incorrectly?

“Over the counter Retinol comes in varying strengths but it is always advisory to use the smallest concentration and work your way up. Prescription Retinol is a stronger concentration and is prescribed by a healthcare professional or dermatologist with guidance instructions,” says Sangha.

“Retinol is a double edged sword as, yes, it makes your skin smoother and brighter but if you use too much, to soon, you will end up with flaky, red and irritated skin. Upon first introducing Retinol expect some mild irritation but no more than that. Start slowly and with a low concentration and build up once tolerated.”

How often should you use Retinol?

“Generally, we would advise once per week for a week or two, then twice per week for a month, and then up to three times per week for three months,” Sangha advised.

“Finally using it every other night, indefinitely and once established into a routine, after 12 months the concentration can be increased.”

What should I avoid when using Retinol?

“Retinol is a type of retinoid that is made from Vitamin A. Vitamin A is destroyed by sunlight and therefore, Retinol should be applied on an evening only,” warned Sangha.

“Whilst using a Retinol, a broad spectrum sunscreen with an adequate SPF should always be used daily. On the evenings Retinols are used, do not use acne products, acids or peels on your skin as you can run the risk of irritation and/or burning skin.”

What age would you advise to start using Retinol?

“Cell turnover slows down from your 30’s but we advise to introduce a Retinol from your mid 20s. Once it is applied and sinks into your skin, the Retinol speeds up cell turnover and leaves you with fresher, smoother skin. Prevention is better than cure, introduce the retinol!”

Are there any Retinol products you recommend?

“Whilst choosing a Retinol it can be complicated due to the multiple strength options with the most common being, 1%, 0.5%, 0.3% and 0.25%. Studies have shown you need at least a concentration of 0.25%, so I would recommend a product with at least this percentage.”

For a step-by-step guide on how to apply Retinol, check out the PCA Skin guide:

If you are looking for more advice on incorporating Retinol into your skincare routine you can receive it free from Pauline Sangha through


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