How Do I Start Using Retinol?

How Do I Start Using Retinol?

If the thought of incorporating a retinol into your skincare routine only brings visions of dry, red, flaky, irritated skin, you’re definitely not alone. That being said, the folks who experience the dreaded “retinol uglies” probably aren’t taking the proper steps or using the proper skincare products to help support their skin through this transition period.

Below, you’ll learn everything you need to know about what retinol is, how it can benefit the skin, and how you can seamlessly incorporate a retinol into your routine with the help of Doctor Rogers RESTORE products

What is retinol?

Retinol is a type of retinoid, which is a class of vitamin A compounds. Retinol is just one of the many types of retinoids found in skincare products today—other types of retinoids include retinyl palmitate and prescription retinoid acid, also known as tretinoin.

The most studied retinoid is tretinoin, which has been shown to have a number of positive effects on the skin in the treatment of acne and sun damage. Tretinoin works by activating our skin’s retinoic acid receptor and retinoid x receptor leading to a number of beneficial changes in our skin.

So, what does retinol do for your skin?

There’s a reason why retinoids are lauded as the “gold standard” in skincare by every dermatologist: They can do so much for the skin. Here’s a list of the many ways using a retinoid in your regimen can improve your skin:

  • Decrease wrinkling
  • Increase collagen synthesis by stimulating fibroblasts
  • Decreases collagen degradation
  • Increases skin smoothness and improves texture
  • Improves skin discoloration
  • Increases skin cell turnover
  • Helps to prevent acne formation
  • Reduces inflammation, which can help with rosacea
  • Reverses sun damage

How to start a retinol regimen

When incorporating a retinoid into your skincare regimen, the key is to start low and slow. For my own patients, I  have most women start on a 0.25% retinol and men on a 0.5% retinol.

If you have thin or dry skin, you’ll absorb more of it than if you have thick or oily skin, so make sure you and your dermatologist take your skin type into consideration when deciding which type of retinoid and which strength you will use. If you use too much, you will stimulate too much skin turnover, leading to dry skin, peeling, scaling, flaking, burning sensation, and erythema (redness). Not only that, but you can also have increased photosensitivity when first using retinoid, due to thinning of the stratum corneum (or the top layer of dead skin). 

The key to avoiding the “retinoid uglies” is to make sure that 1.) you’re using the correct retinoid type and percentage and 2.) you’re using supportive skincare products morning and night. Retinol should be used at night because the nighttime is when your skin goes through the most regeneration. Additionally, retinoids can make your skin prone to sunburn, so it’s advised to apply at night rather than in the morning when your skin will be exposed to the sun throughout the day.

When incorporating a retinoid into your routine, you want to make sure you’re using a gentle cleanser that will leave skin clean (and primed for retinoid application), but won’t strip or irritate your skin—our RESTORE Face Wash is perfect for use both morning and night. Once you’ve washed your face, make sure to pat it dry and then you can apply your retinoid product—use a small, pea-sized amount on your face, neck, chest, and backs of hands, and follow with a skin supportive moisturizer, like the RESTORE Face Cream. It’s crucial that you use products that are well-formulated and non-irritating, as they will significantly help your skin during the initial retinoid transition.

In the morning, splash your face with water, apply a vitamin C serum, then our moisturizer, and finish with sunscreen—this is imperative in protecting your skin from photoaging and damage, especially when using a retinoid.

It can take up to 72 hours to start seeing irritation after using a retinoid, so I recommend applying the product twice a week for the first two weeks, and then building from there if your skin is tolerating the retinoid well. Once you feel like you can use the retinoid product every night without irritation, you can consider increasing the percentage of your treatment. If used consecutively, your skin will appear brighter, smoother, and less pigmented in as little as four weeks!

If you do notice that your skin is dry, peeling, scaling, flaking, burning, or red, I advise you to stop using the retinoid immediately. You should begin our #RESTOREreset rotocol and use just the RESTORE Face Wash, Face Cream or Face Lotion (depending on your skin type), and a zinc-based sunscreen. Once your skin returns to normal, start again with a lower percentage or with less product, less often.

Please contact us if you have any questions by filling out this form or emailing us at


Meet the author: Board-certified and practicing dermatologist, Dr. Heather D. Rogers, MD, is the founder of Doctor Rogers Skin Care and Modern Dermatology in Seattle, Washington. She studied at Stanford, University of Washington School of Medicine and Columbia University Medical Center. She lectures nationally, is well published, and an active member of the American Academy of Dermatology. Highly respected among the skin care community, Dr. Rogers has been annually named “Top 1% of Most Honored Doctors in the US” by Castle Connolly.

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