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How to Find the Right Retinol Strength for You

Beautiful woman applying a pump of serum on wrist

Retinols have quickly become the number one recommended ingredient to look for in a well-rounded anti-aging skincare routine and for good reason.

There are numerous documented benefits from using retinol, and younger looking skin is undoubtedly the most exciting one.

But starting a retinol regimen can be intimidating. With all the options available, it can be hard to know what to choose. And with retinol comes the potential of experiencing major skin irritation, so it’s not something you want to pick out on a whim.

So how do you decide on a retinol? Let’s take a closer look at this skincare wonder ingredient and find out.

What Is Retinol?

Retinol is a form of vitamin A formulated especially for topical skin care products. Vitamin A, as you may know, is an important part of a healthy diet. Vitamin A we get from food is helpful to both our skin and eye health.

But we can also use vitamin A in the form of retinol to directly affect the look and health of our skin. Vitamin A applied topically via retinol can prompt our skin cells to create more collagen.

Over time, retinol applied consistently and correctly can actually thicken your skin to reduce the lines that form as we age. With fewer wrinkles and plumper skin, we look younger and healthier. In fact, this is just one of the many reasons why retinol is so highly recommended for improving your complexion.

Retinol is also used to positively affect the skin in nearly every way. In addition to being a number one anti-aging ingredient, it is often used to treat acne. It improves the look of pores and reduces dullness, leaving skin smoother, softer, and brighter.

So by now, you’re probably wondering what retinol can’t do!

While it offers benefits that suit the needs and desires of almost everybody, retinol does have one major downside: irritation.

Retinol is a very potent ingredient, and with such a high level of potency comes a high risk of irritation. This is true for even those with the most resilient and healthy skin, not to mention sensitive types.

This is why finding a retinol that provides results but has limited side effects is a concern for many. So why does retinol pose such a potential problem for skin, and how can we avoid these pitfalls in order to reap all the benefits of retinol?

What Retinol Does

In the most basic sense, retinol acts as an exfoliant. This is the main reason that our skin reacts so strongly to this ingredient when first introduced to it.

It’s almost inevitable that when you first use retinol, you will experience some degree of redness, flaking, peeling or drying of your skin. Usually, this is only temporary as your skin begins to acclimate to retinol.

This is because the exfoliating effects of retinol go beyond that of a typical scrub or acid. Retinol goes deeper, renewing your skin from the inside out. In fact, dermatologists hail retinol as possibly the single most effective ingredient you can use to rejuvenate your skin. Even skin that has already aged can be prompted to change at the cellular level. That’s right: retinol makes your skin cells behave as if they were younger.

Infographic on younger versus older skin

Here are just some of the visible results you can experience with retinol:

  • Reduced appearance of acne marks and scars
  • A reversal of the damage caused by free radicals
  • Softened fines lines and wrinkles
  • Faster skin turnover
  • Increased collagen production
  • The prevention of wrinkles and sun damage

These are just a few of the benefits you can expect to find with continued use of retinol, starting at any age. You don’t need to wait until visible sun spots or wrinkles appear to start a retinol regimen, but even those who are already experiencing these issues can get proven results.

On top of all that, retinol can work remarkably fast. When used in an appropriate concentration, you can expect results “in as little as four weeks.”

But the key is a consistent and appropriate use of the right retinol strength, which may be the hardest part.

So how do you find the right dose of this miracle ingredient? Unfortunately, there is no quick answer, but with a little information, you can be on your way to your ideal retinol routine.

Finding the Right Strength

When looking for the retinol strength that is right for you, it is important to keep a few things in mind.

First—your skin type. Oily and dry types will require different levels of retinol.

Those with sensitive skin may be especially hesitant to try out retinol. Usually, they can tolerate it just fine but may need to stick with the lowest strength.

Dry skin may also have more trouble adjusting and will need to rely more heavily on moisturizers to keep any dryness manageable. Oily skin, on the other hand, may be the best able to handle higher strength retinol. Additionally, those who wish to use retinol to treat acne will most likely be able to get better results with higher strength formulas available by prescription.

Second, consider your current skin condition. Are you looking to simply prevent aging? Or, are you hoping to reverse the damage you already see?

Retinol is an effective treatment for any stage of aging. In fact, it is never too late or too early to begin using retinol on your skin.

However, if your skin has already aged significantly and you wish to see advanced results, you may need to aim for higher concentrations of retinol. This also goes for those who have concerns over uneven texture and other stubborn skin issues. Otherwise, if you are just starting to see damage or are hoping to prevent future wrinkles, you may be happy with lower strength retinol for many years.

Third, no matter your skin type or condition, you will need to be open to experimentation to determine your skin’s tolerance for retinol. There is no way to truly know what level of retinol your skin can tolerate without some trial and error.

Unfortunately, there is no easy, one-size-fits-all way to determine your ideal retinol strength level. This can vary widely. So the best way to figure it out is to begin low and go slowly, monitoring your skin for several weeks.

This is especially true if you have never tried retinol before. After several weeks of use without prolonged irritation, you can increase the days you apply retinol and even try a stronger concentration. Repeat the same process of applying and monitoring for several weeks.

You can settle when you find a retinol strength that is enough to deliver results without causing ongoing irritation.

Keep in mind that even the smallest amount of retinol is effective and that trying to withstand a strength that is too much for your skin will only result in damage. Ultimately, applying retinol correctly and consistently is much more important than the strength that you end up using. Read on to find out why this is, and to make sure that you are using retinol to your advantage.

Follow Directions for Best Results

No matter where you are in your use of retinol, it’s important that you are following the best  application methods.

Not only does this help prevent unnecessary and unsightly irritation from developing, but it ensures that you are getting the most out of the retinol that you use.

Follow these steps to flawlessly incorporate retinol into your skincare routine:

  1. Wash your face with a gentle cleanser. Make sure that your cleanser does not contain any exfoliants, benzoyl peroxide, alpha hydroxy acids, or beta hydroxy acids. Combining retinol with these is a surefire way to hurt your skin.
  2. If you use any eye creams, now is the time to apply them—after cleansing but before your retinol. Applying a gentle eye cream first will help protect you from getting any retinol on the delicate skin that surrounds your eyes. If you’re not sure where to begin, you can always start with the Resveratrol Dark Circle Eye Cream, which is formulated with a wonderful antioxidant-rich blend of caffeine, resveratrol, and vitamins A and E.
  3. Wait until your skin is completely dry. This is important because applying retinol on damp skin can be highly irritating, due to the fact that water will cause the retinol to be absorbed too deeply. It’s best to avoid trying to speed up drying by rubbing your skin with a towel. Instead, pat dry as usual and then wait several minutes to let any remaining moisture air dry.
  4. Dispense the right amount of retinol and no more. Typically, you will want to use about a pea-sized amount of product for your face, but check the directions of your particular product. Using more than the recommended amount of product will not give you faster results; in fact, just the opposite is true. Using too much retinol in one application is another source of skin inflammation.
  5. Apply the retinol to your skin, starting with your chin and working up and out to cheeks and forehead. Again, check your product’s directions for any additional detail on how and where to apply. Usually, you will avoid the eye area completely. There are, however, specially designed eye creams that contain a small amount of retinol that is appropriate for use around the eyes.
  6. Once your retinol is applied and absorbed, move on to applying moisturizer all over as usual. This is also vital for keeping your skin from becoming dried out from the retinol.

The best time to apply retinol is at night. This gives your skin time to absorb and use the retinol. Additionally, if there is any temporary redness immediately after using retinol, your skin will have time to calm down while you sleep.

It’s also critical to remember that retinol makes your skin more sensitive to the harmful radiation of the sun. Not only should you avoid prolonged sun exposure when you are using retinol, but you should apply sunscreen every day. Even if you only apply retinol at night, your skin will still be prone to burns and sun damage during the day.

Those new to retinol should follow this application routine every other night at first. Expect that your skin will go through an initial “retinoid reaction” that may include dryness, flaking, and peeling. This is a normal adjustment period for your skin, where your top layer of skin is rapidly exfoliating. Your skin should eventually get used to the retinol but anticipate that these initial symptoms can last anywhere from 2-6 weeks.

As your skin gets used to retinol, you may be able to increase retinol use to every night. However, some people will find it easier on their skin to stick with every other night or even just a few times a week. This is fine as well. Retinol is still effective when used every few days, and it’s best to just listen to your skin’s individual needs.

Consider Formulation

In addition to finding the correct strength retinol for your skin, take some time to look into the formulas that retinol comes in. The product’s texture—gel, cream, oil, etc.,—is also a factor in how your skin will respond to the retinol contained in the product.

Applying moisturiser to face

One simple example is that oily skin types often do better with retinol in the form of a gel. On the other hand, creams with moisturizers added often work better for those with dry skin.

For a luscious moisturizing formula, you may wish to try the Resveratrol Pinot Noir Phyto-Silk. Enriched with retinyl palmitate, which is stable derivate of retinol and palmitic acid, as well as other skincare heavy-hitters like collagen and Acetyl Hexapeptide-8, this rich blend will give you a smoother, softer, dewy glow.


As we’ve discussed, retinol use is a great idea at any age and for any skin type. Even sensitive skin can use retinol in a way that works for their skin.

However, there are a few important things to know about using retinol no matter your age or skin type.

While it’s true that retinol boosts collagen production and thickens your skin, it also makes your skin more susceptible to all types of environmental damage. We’ve already mentioned sun damage here, but you should also take extra precaution to protect yourself from other things while using retinol.

The cold and dry conditions of winter can also wreak havoc on retinol-treated skin. During this time of year, you may need to reduce retinol use to every day or two if you start to experience unusually dry skin.

Smoking is another major source of skin damage no matter what your routine is, but this is extra harmful when your skin is treated with potent retinol. Tobacco use is something you should try your best to quit in order to obtain healthy skin.

Any and all types of pollution are hard on your skin no matter what ingredients you use. While some types of environmental pollutants and things like free radicals are basically impossible to avoid completely, you can fortify your skin against these factors by using antioxidant-rich skincare in addition to retinol.

Finally, if you aren’t sure if retinol is working for you, consult a dermatologist. They may recommend a different formula, application routine, or even prescribe higher strength retinol than what is available over the counter if your skin could benefit from it.

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