Which Strength of Retinol Do You Need?


In this article:

How Much Retinol is Best?

Simply put, how much retinol your skin needs depends on your skin type, skin concerns, and your skin’s tolerance for this unique ingredient. The latter—your tolerance—is something you can find out only by experimenting with different strengths and application methods, and seeing how your skin responds.

In this article, we discuss not only what the different strengths of retinol can do, but also how much retinol is included in each Paula’s Choice product that contains it. We explain what results you can expect whether you opt for a low-, moderate-, or high-strength retinol product, or if you should alternate products with different strengths, which works great for lots of people.

Keep in mind that no matter what strength of retinol you decide to use, skin care is never as simple as one ingredient, no matter how good that ingredient may be! Just as one food (spinach, for example) isn’t enough to keep your body healthy, a single skincare ingredient can’t do it all, either. Instead, your skincare routine should contain a range of beneficial ingredients, including antioxidants, skin- restoring ingredients, and signaling ingredients. Paula’s Choice takes this approach with all of our products—including those containing retinol!

Lower Percentage Retinol Products

Despite retinol’s reputation as an anti-aging workhorse, not everyone’s skin can tolerate it in higher amounts. But lots of people can often use it with incredible benefit in lower percentages, especially if applied daily.

What Results You Can Expect: Don’t think that low levels of retinol won’t be beneficial, because they are! Published research has shown that concentrations of 0.01% retinol and up are indeed effective for improving multiple signs of aging and minimizing pore size, along with improving the overall health of skin. And because Paula’s Choice retinol products are loaded with other beneficial ingredients such as antioxidants, peptides, and superior hydrating ingredients, they provide even more amazing benefits.

Research has also shown that low amounts of retinol paired with other antioxidants helps defend the skin against environmental damage when worn under a broad-spectrum sunscreen during the day. (Don’t forget to apply SPF of SPF 30 or greater every day.)

Following are the Paula’s Choice lower percentage strength retinol products. Depending on your skin type and/or concern, you can easily alternate these with our high-strength retinol products:

  • Skin Balancing Super Antioxidant Concentrate Serum with Retinol—Is a silky, weightless, matte finish serum best for combination to oily skin types. It contains several antioxidants (vitamins C & E, green tea, willow leaf, grape seed, and more) as well as retinol at 0.03%.
  • Skin Recovery Super Antioxidant Concentrate Serum with Retinol—Formulated especially for dry, temperamental skin, this moisturizing serum is loaded with skin-defending antioxidants, nourishing plant oils, calming ingredients, and 0.01% retinol. Those with dry, temperamental skin should always begin with lower percentages of retinol to see how their skin responds before moving to higher amounts.
  • Resist Barrier Repair Moisturizer with Retinol—Is a light, skin-softening nighttime moisturizer with a lotion texture that combines 0.01% retinol with peptides, ceramides, and antioxidants, perfect for normal to dry skin types (also those with combination skin that have a bit more dryness as well). Note: This formula is identical to our PC4Men Nighttime Repair, we know most men don’t like using "women’s products" so we packaged it special for guys so they can have great skin care, too.
  • Resist Intensive Repair Cream with Retinol—A super-rich version of our original Resist Barrier Repair nighttime moisturizer, this anti-aging rich emollient moisturizer for dry to very dry skin contains 0.01% retinol and a mix of multiple peptides, ceramides, niacinamide and more.

These strengths of retinol are also ideal for combining with other products for special concerns such as our Boosters or other types of Targeted Treatments.

Moderate Percentage Retinol Products: The Next Step

If you’re dealing with stubborn concerns like uneven skin tone, noticeable of loss of firmness, deeper wrinkles, and/or stubborn bumps and flaws, you may want to consider adding a higher-percentage retinol product to your routine. This can be your nightly step or something you apply only 2–3 evenings per week. As previously stated, frequency of use depends on your skin’s tolerance to retinol.

What Results You Can Expect: Moderate levels of retinol (from 0.04% to 0.1%) often work more efficiently so you’ll see results more quickly than with low amounts. It’ll come as no surprise that these strengths of retinol products perform even better when combined with other beneficial ingredients, as discussed above.

Published research has demonstrated that retinol concentrations at 0.04% and up improve visible signs of environmental assault and improve the appearance of thinning skin. A 2009 study showed that over the course of 8 weeks, 0.1% retinol has impressive results for truly improving multiple signs of aging.

Paula’s Choice offers a variety of retinol formulas in the moderate-strength range, for both face and body:

High Percentage Retinol Can Deliver Professional Results!

For some, moderate levels of retinol may not provide the results they had hoped for, especially if their skincare concerns are more advanced. This situation is when moving to a product with a higher percentage of retinol is something to consider.

High-strength retinol products are products that contain 0.5% retinol up to 1%.

What Results You Can Expect: Higher percentage retinol products provide dramatic, rapid results in addressing your concerns that might not have responded to lower-strength formulas.

  • Clinical 1% Retinol Treatment—Is a powerhouse amount of 1% retinol combined with vitamin C, peptides, antioxidants, and plant-based soothing agents. This sheer lotion formula tackles your toughest signs of aging and environmental assault concerns. This formula is suitable for all skin types, especial normal to dry.
  • Resist 1% Retinol Booster—A versatile 1% retinol fluid that has a light-as-water feel but is a powerhouse for your skin! This Booster has the same amazing results as our Clinical 1% Retinol Treatment, but because of its texture it is great for someone with normal to oily or congested skin. Because it can also be layered with any moisturizer or serum you are using, it’s ultimately suitable for any skin type.

Can You Use AHAs or BHAs with Retinol?

Contrary to what you may have read elsewhere, the benefits of retinol in addressing multiple signs of aging are visibly boosted when an AHA (glycolic acid) or BHA (salicylic acid) exfoliant is used. A 2004 study demonstrated this by pairing 0.1% retinol with 8% glycolic acid.

If you’d like to read the detailed reasons why retinol works so beautifully with AHAs, BHAs, and vitamin C, check out our article, 6 Retinol Myths Busted!.

Note: When using moderate- to high-percentage retinol products, pay attention to how your skin responds when pairing it with your AHA or BHA exfoliant. If any reaction you don’t want occurs, reduce frequency of use until you find the right balance for your skin.

Not all Retinol Products are Created Equal

The secret to buying retinol products of any strength is to find those that are packaged to keep the ingredients stable (i.e., no jars or clear bottles) and that combine retinol with other skin-beneficial ingredients. These products should also NOT contain any irritating ingredients.

Of the dozens of retinol-containing serums and moisturizers on the market, you would be shocked to learn how many contain fragrance and/or large amounts of denatured alcohol or problematic, skin- aggravating plant extracts. These ingredients not only increase the risk of skin having a negative reaction, they also worsen all skin care concerns.

Choose the Right Retinol for Your Needs

Now that you have a better understanding of how to find the strength of retinol that’s right for your skin concerns, there isn’t anything stopping you from getting the results you’ve always wanted! Remember, no matter which strength you choose, it’s critical to look for a formula that combines retinol with a range of anti-aging ingredients in opaque, non-jar packaging. And, please, don’t forget to protect your skin from UV damage with a sunscreen rated SPF 30 or greater, every day, even if the sun isn’t shining.

The Best Skin of Your Life Starts Here: The same type of in-depth 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.

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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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