When should you start using retinol? A beginner’s guide

When should you start using retinol? A beginner’s guide

The hype around retinol is real. Touted as a holy grail anti-ageing product, it's a staple on any dermatologist's top shelf, but there's still much confusion surrounding it.

So, if you're unsure about the difference between retinol and retinoids, and don't know when you should start using the popular ingredient, we've got the breakdown.

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What is retinol?

Retinol refers to topical products, which contain a Vitamin A derivative.

But, for starters, when we talk about retinol, we're actually speaking about retinoids. They work by increasing collagen production, as well as the rate of skin cell turnover. This can help treat acne, blackheads, and clogged pores, making retinoids great for improving your skin's texture, as well as reducing the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles.

There are a number of different types of retinoids, which are available in different strengths. Retinoic Acid - also referred to as Retin-A or Tretinoin - is the strongest strain, and requires a prescription. It's effective when treating acne, as well as ageing. The weakest form of retinoids, on the other hand, are known as retinol esters.

Over-the-counter retinoids are available in many different product forms, including face cream, eye creams, and serums, while most prescription retinoids come in cream or gel form.

When should you start using retinol?

Although there is no "right" time to use retinoids, most dermatologists agree that you should start incorporating the ingredient into your regimen during your mid-twenties. This will be particularly useful for those who suffer from acne flareups and hyperpigmentation.

As with most things, it's best to go slow with retinoids. We advise starting with a weaker form of the ingredient, such as a retinyl palmitate or retinol, and use it for three months. Most dermatologists recommend following this with a three-month break. This is because research has shown that cell turnover is no longer increased or productive after three months of use.

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You must, however, ensure you use sunscreen daily when using retinoids. The ingredient increases cell turnover, which can temporarily make the skin thinner, and more fragile. As a result, retinoids can increase photosensitivity in the skin, so don't skimp out on a high, broad-spectrum sunscreen in the mornings after you use retinol. But as well all know, we should really be aiming to use sunscreen every day.

As a general rule of thumb, if you're using retinoids for the first time, it's best to start off at between 0.1 and 0.2 per cent strength, and build up to 1 per cent.

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How long does it take to see a difference with retinol?

Like with most skincare products, it can take a while to see a difference in your complexion when using retinol.

You will likely see some results in four two six weeks. But with acne, it can take up to 12 weeks to see improvements. In the short term, you can expect to notice unclogged pores, and a healthy glow, due to the retinoid removing dead skin cells from the surface.

It's worth sticking with retinoids, however. Around the six-month mark, retinoids can help grow new collagen, and elastin. Many people also notice a reduction in fine lines and wrinkles, as well as hyperpigmentation.