How to Use Retinol Products


In This Article:

Mountains of research have shown that retinol (more commonly known as vitamin A) is one of the best transforming and rejuvenating ingredients for your skin. Despite this ingredient’s popularity, confusion lingers about how a retinol product can fit 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!
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Recommended Retinol Products

What is Retinol?

Retinol is just another name for vitamin A. It’s considered a cosmetic ingredient and found in various anti-aging skincare products like moisturizers, serums, and eye creams.

Retinol can be broken down to become other forms of vitamin A that’s also found in skincare products, such as retinyl palmitate, retinaldehyde, retinyl retinoate, and retinyl proprionate. 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; they just aren’t quite the powerhouse pure retinol is.

Why is Retinol Good for My Skin?

Retinol works as a skin-restoring ingredient. It’s capable of exceptional, directed results when used 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.

How Do I Choose a Retinol Product?

Choosing a retinol product is easier than you think! Here are some pointers to help you decide:

  • Packaging matters! Retinol is sensitive to air and light exposure, which means no clear or jar packaging. Instead, look for retinol products packaged in opaque, airless, or air-restrictive containers.
  • Choose the texture of your facial retinol product based on your skin type: Creams for dry skin, lotions for normal to combination skin, and 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. Some experimentation may be necessary!

What about the amount of retinol? Paula’s Choice 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 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 lower and higher amounts of retinol based on your skin concerns and how your skin responds.

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

A common misperception about retinol is that it exfoliates your 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 in this manner.

It gets confusing because for some people, retinol can cause flaking skin. People see the flakes and assume the retinol is also exfoliating their skin. Flaking skin is not exfoliation. AHAs and BHA help skin do what it should be doing naturally, and naturally you don't see your healthy skin cells shed. Instead, you just see a smooth, renewed skin surface and a healthy glow. AHAs and BHA help skin shed just 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 product 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 product to your face, neck, and chest.
  3. If you're using a skin brightening product too, apply it now.
  4. Proceed with your moisturizer, eye cream, and/or serum.

What about applying a retinol product during the day? This is fine to do as long as you follow with a broad spectrum sunscreen rated SPF 30 or greater. We typically advise applying retinol at night because most people don’t mind layering an extra (yet essential!) product 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 such as niacinamide. Despite retinol's superstar status, improving the appearance of aging skin is far more complex than any one ingredient can address!

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 Treatments.

About the Experts

Paula Begoun is the best-selling author of 20 books on skin care and makeup. She is known worldwide as the Cosmetics Cop and creator of Paula's Choice. Paula's expertise has led to hundreds of appearances on national and international television including:

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The Paula's Choice Research Team is dedicated to busting beauty myths and helping you solve your skincare frustrations with research-supported expert advice—so you'll have the facts you need to take the best possible care of your skin.

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