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How to use Retinol
How to use Retinol


How to use retinol

Retinol is one of the most popular anti-ageing skincare ingredients, thanks to its ability to stimulate collagen and boost skin cell renewal. While retinol is safe and effective if used correctly, it can cause some common side-effects – such as redness, flaking, tingling, and irritation. Therefore, the key is to know how to use retinol properly.

Read on as we cover how much and how often to use retinol as part of your skincare routine.

In this guide:

How to use retinol as part of your skincare routine

It’s best to start with a low concentration of retinol in any skincare products you use to build up your skin’s tolerance. While it can be tempting to start out with the highest concentration of retinol to achieve maximum results, the higher the strength, the more powerful its effects. Lower concentrations can help to minimise potential side effects of redness, dryness, and irritation.

Here are some tips on how to incorporate retinol products into your skincare routine:

Start with a patch test

If you’re using retinol for the first time, it’s recommended to start with a patch test. To do this, simply:

  1. Apply a small amount of your chosen retinol product to your cheek or elbow three times a week, for two weeks.
  2. Wait to see how your skin reacts before applying the product elsewhere.
  3. If you notice any sensitivity – such as redness, itchiness, or peeling – you may want to pause the test for a week.
  4. If you notice an immediate burning sensation, rinse the skin with cold water and pat dry.
  5. If your skin reacts well to the patch test, this is usually a good indicator that retinol is suitable to add to your skincare routine.

Phasing retinol into your skincare routine

If your skin reacted well to the patch test, you can begin to gently phase retinol products into your skincare routine. Simply:

  1. Clean and dry your skin before applying retinol.
  2. Apply the product two to three times per week, for the first three weeks to help build up your tolerance.
  3. Unless you're using a specifically-formulated cream – like NEUTROGENA® Retinol Boost Eye Cream – avoid applying retinol products to sensitive areas, such as around the eyes and mouth.
  4. After three weeks, begin to work up to daily use if you’re comfortable doing so.

Note: You may experience side effects from using retinol, such as redness, flaking, and a tingling sensation. However, this is completely normal, and usually temporary indications that the product is working. If the effects cause discomfort, limit use to once every other day until your skin adjusts. If the effects persist, discontinue use.

Further guidance on how to use retinol:

  • Use sun protection – Although retinol can help reduce the effects of sun damage, you still need to protect your skin from the sun while using the ingredient. Additionally, retinol can make your skin more sensitive to the sun. Therefore, always wear a sunscreen with at least an SPF of 30 or higher and cover exposed skin with protective clothing.
  • Moisturise – If your skin becomes irritated after using retinol, moisturise and refrain from using the product for a few days until it clears. Just ensure you’re using gentle and hydrating moisturisers that complement the active ingredient.
  • Avoid using retinol if you’re pregnant – If you’re pregnant, are breastfeeding, or plan on becoming pregnant, don’t use products containing retinol.
  • Take extra care when applying to sensitive skin – While retinol is generally suitable for all skin types , those with fair and sensitive skin should take extra caution when using retinol products. These skin types may find it harder to adjust to the ingredient.

What to do if your skin becomes irritated from retinol

As previously mentioned, redness, warmth, tingling, and flaking of the skin are normal, temporary signs that retinol is working. However, if these side effects cause discomfort, limit use to once every other day until your skin adjusts. If symptoms persist, stop using the product altogether.

If you have sensitive skin, it’s also a good idea to adapt frequency of use to suit your skin type.

How often to use retinol

Since retinol can potentially irritate your skin, it’s wise to start using it slowly. After conducting a patch test, you can start to use retinol once every few days, for the first three weeks, then gradually increase usage.

At first, you may experience side effects from retinol, but these symptoms should clear up after a few days once your skin gets used to the ingredient.

Note: While retinol gets to work right away, it may take several weeks before you notice any visible changes to your skin.

How much retinol to use

When it comes to retinol, less is more - as too much is more likely to irritate your skin. Additionally, never use products that contain retinol more frequently than advised on pack. Doing so can only increase your risk of side effects rather than its effectiveness.

How to use the NEUTROGENA® Retinol Boost Range

If you’re unsure how much retinol to use, here’s some guidance on how to use the NEUTROGENA® Retinol Boost Range once you have built up tolerance:

  • NEUTROGENA® Retinol Boost Eye Cream – Apply three small dots under the eye area once per day and gently blend, avoiding direct contact with the eyes.
  • NEUTROGENA® Retinol Boost Day Cream SPF 15 – Squeeze two pumps of cream onto your palms and gently massage the product into your face and neck. Use the product once per day as instructed. Turn pump to closed position when not in use.
  • NEUTROGENA® Retinol Boost Night Cream – Apply two pumps of cream onto your palms every evening and gently massage over your face and neck. Turn pump to closed position when not in use.
  • NEUTROGENA® Retinol Boost Serum – Apply daily to cleansed skin. Use no more than two pump-sized amount and gently massage into the face and neck area until fully absorbed. Pay close attention to any wrinkle-prone areas.

If you’ve used retinol products before or once your skin has become tolerant to lower-dose retinol products, you can start to use higher percentage products , such as our Retinol Boost+ products:

Always wear SPF during the day when using our retinol products, as retinol can make your skin more sensitive to sunlight.

Retinol use FAQs

Can you combine retinol with other skincare ingredients?

Retinol can generally be used with skincare products containing moisturising ingredients, such as hyaluronic acid , and skin brightening, hydrating ingredients such as niacinamide . However, care should be taken if using it with products containing active ingredients such as AHAs and vitamin C , which can also irritate your skin. In this case, it’s best to use the products at different times of the day or on different parts of your face.

Should you put moisturiser on after retinol?

Moisturising your skin after applying retinol can help to ease irritation. When choosing a moisturiser, opt for a non-comedogenic product that won’t clog your pores. You’ll also want to look out for options that are gentle and intensely hydrating.

What is a safe retinol percentage for beginners?

Percentages of 0.01% retinol or greater are proven to be effective at improving multiple signs of ageing, reducing pore size, and improving the overall health of your skin.

If you’re using retinol for the first time, it’s best to start with lower concentrations, such as in the NEUTROGENA® Retinol Boost Range , as this will allow your skin to build up tolerance to this potent ingredient with a reduced risk of potential side effects. Once you have built up tolerance to retinol, or if you have used retinol products in the past with no side effects, then you can move to higher concentration products, such as those in the NEUTROGENA® Retinol Boost+ Intense range.

Whatever you choose to use, always follow the on-pack instructions and do not use more product than advised.