How to Use Retinol Products


In This Article:

There are mountains of research showing that over the counter retinol (more commonly known as vitamin A) is one of the best skin-transforming and rejuvenating ingredients. Despite its popularity, however, confusion lingers about how to fit a retinol cream into your skincare routine. Let us help you figure it out so you can get the best skin of your life, now and into the future!

Recommended Retinol Products

What is Retinol?

Retinol, just another name for vitamin A, is considered a cosmetic ingredient and is found in various anti-aging skincare products, such as retinol facial creams, serums, and eye creams.

Retinol also can be broken down into other forms of vitamin A, such as retinyl palmitate, retinaldehyde, retinyl retinoate, and retinyl proprionate, which are also found in skincare products. Generally, though, skincare experts around the world consider pure retinol far more effective than these retinol derivatives. That doesn’t mean these ingredients aren’t effective; it’s just that they aren’t quite the powerhouse pure over the counter retinol is.

Why is Retinol Good for My Skin?

Whether in a retinol cream or other type of moisturizer with retinol, retinol works as a skin-restoring ingredient. It’s capable of exceptional, directed results when included in well-formulated, specially packaged skincare products (more on packaging in a moment).

Regardless of brand or texture, when used as part of a brilliant skincare routine, retinol’s revitalizing effects include minimizing the appearance of wrinkles, improving uneven skin tone, and shrinking the look of enlarged pores, not to mention reigniting a feeling of firmness and radiance. A moisturizer (or serum) with retinol can be aging skin’s best friend!

How Do I Choose a Retinol Product?

Choosing the best retinol cream for wrinkles is easier than you think! Here are some pointers:

  • Packaging matters! Retinol is sensitive to air and light exposure, which means no clear or jar packaging. Instead, look for retinol facial creams or other retinol products packaged in opaque, airless, or air-restrictive containers.
  • Choose the texture of your facial retinol product based on your skin type: Retinol creams for dry skin, lotions for normal to combination skin, and retinol serums or gels for oily or congested skin.
  • It’s also fine to choose the texture of your retinol product based on personal preference and how it pairs with the other products in your routine. You might have to experiment to see what’s best for you—but there’s an over the counter retinol product that’s right for you.

What about the amount of retinol? Paula’s Choice Skincare offers a variety of retinol products in various strengths to meet the needs of different skin types and concerns.

Our advice? If you’re new to over the counter retinol, begin with a lower-strength product, such as a serum or moisturizer. If you’ve used retinol in the past and had great results, consider our moderate-strength retinol product. For more tenacious concerns, like deep wrinkles and pronounced uneven skin tone, look to our higher-strength retinol products. You can also alternate between the lower- and higher-strength products based on your skin concerns and how your skin responds. This is important to keep in mind because there isn’t a single best retinol product over the counter; instead, there are many, whether you want a retinol facial cream or a different texture.

Can I Use AHA or BHA if I’m Using a Retinol Product?

A common misperception about retinol is that it exfoliates skin. Retinol, in any of its forms, does not do the same thing as AHA or BHA exfoliants.

AHAs and BHA ingredients exfoliate the dead surface layers of skin, improving signs of environmental damage and hydrating for renewed smoothness. Retinol doesn’t work that way.

The confusion arises because retinol does cause flaking skin for some people. When they see the flakes they assume the retinol is also exfoliating their skin. Flaking skin is not necessarily a sign of exfoliation. The AHAs and BHA help skin do what it should be doing naturally, and you don’t notice your dead skin cells when they shed naturally; instead, you just see a smooth, renewed skin surface and a healthy glow. AHAs and BHA help skin shed the way it did when you were young.

For the best anti-aging benefits, it’s ideal to use both an exfoliant and a retinol cream as part of your regular skincare routine.

How to Use Your Retinol Product

Here’s how to use a retinol product with your nightly skincare routine:

  1. Cleanse, tone, and exfoliate your skin with your AHA or BHA product as usual. You do not need to wait for the exfoliant to absorb.
  2. Apply the retinol facial cream or serum to your face, neck, and chest.
  3. If you’re using a skin-brightening product too, apply it now.
  4. If you’re using a booster product, apply it now.
  5. Proceed with your moisturizer, eye cream, and/or serum.

What about applying a retinol product during the day? That’s fine, as long as you follow with a broad-spectrum sunscreen rated SPF 30 or greater. We typically advise applying retinol creams at night because most people don’t mind layering an extra (yet essential!) product on in the evening.

For best results, a retinol product should be used with other anti-aging products containing rejuvenating ingredients, such as antioxidants, skin-replenishing ingredients, and different visibly restorative ingredients like niacinamide. Despite retinol’s superstar status, improving the appearance of aging skin is far more complex than any one ingredient—even retinol!

Last, if one retinol product doesn’t seem to work well for you after a few weeks, try another over the counter retinol cream. The best retinol cream for wrinkles is one that’s well formulated, loaded with other beneficial ingredients—and one you’ll look forward to using because you’re loving the results!

The Best Skin of Your Life Starts Here: The same type of in-depth scientific research used to create this article is also used to formulate Paula’s Choice Skincare products. You’ll find products for all skin types and a range of concerns, from acne and sensitive skin to wrinkles, pores, and sun damage. With Paula’s Choice Skincare, you can get (and keep) the best skin of your life! See Paula's Choice Retinol Products.

References for this information:

Dermatology, May 2014, pages 314-325
Toxicological Research, March 2010, pages 61-66
The Journal of Pathology, January 2007, pages 241-251
Clinical Interventions in Aging, December 2006, pages 327-348

About the Experts

Paula Begoun is the best-selling author of 20 books about skincare and makeup. She is known worldwide as The Cosmetics Cop and creator of Paula’s Choice Skincare. Paula’s expertise has led to hundreds of appearances on national and international radio, print, and television including:

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The Paula's Choice Research Team is dedicated to busting beauty myths and providing expert advice that solves your skincare frustrations so you can have the best skin of your life!

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