Easy Ways to Add Retinol to Your Routine
Written by: Megan O’Neill
Published on: June 8, 2023
Are you getting more sleep? Did you get a haircut? Dermatologist magic? More sex? The effects of retinol on skin are really noticeable—one of the reasons it’s the gold standard in skin care for everything from premature aging to breakouts. Here’s how to layer your favorite retinol with your other products for maximum results.
Supercream with Peptides
AFORÉDr. Few Clean Retinol
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Plumping Face Oil (Especially Great for Dry Skin)
MaraEvening Primrose + Green Tea Algae Retinol Face Oil
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Firming Serum with Moisture Boosters
Augustinus BaderThe Retinol Serum
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Brilliant for practically any skin type and prized for its firming, wrinkle-smoothing, brightening, blemish-clearing, tone-evening benefits, retinol—a derivative of vitamin A—works by boosting cellular turnover and helping support collagen production. Find the right one for your skin (a cushiony cream, nourishing oil, silky serum—whatever you prefer) and the transformation you (and others) see can be remarkable. (It might take about six weeks of consistent use to see a difference, but see it you will.)
When Do I Use Retinol?
Apply retinol only at night, as it makes your skin more sensitive to the sun. Since it’s a powerhouse exfoliant that can initially irritate and cause dryness (even though retinol ultimately helps skin more effectively retain moisture), keep the rest of your routine gentle and moisturizing.
1. Wash Away the Day
Choose cleansers that can smooth away mineral sunscreen, makeup, grime, and pollution, but avoid alpha hydroxy acids or other intense exfoliants within 24 hours of using retinol (too much exfoliation is extremely irritating to skin).
goop BeautyCloudberry Exfoliating Jelly Cleanser
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For Dry Skin
Augustinus BaderThe Cream Cleansing Gel
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For Oily Skin
goop BeautyMalachite + Fruit Acid Pore Purifying Cleanser
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2. Retinol Comes Next
The key to getting the results you want is finding a formula that feels beautiful on your skin, so you look forward to it. To help minimize any reactions your skin might have, start by using your retinol every third night, working your way up to every other night and, eventually, every night, if your skin can tolerate it. To get the biggest benefit, apply retinol to damp skin, which is more absorbent; to soften the intensity, apply it to dry skin.
Dr. Dennis GrossAdvanced Retinol + Ferulic Intense Wrinkle Cream
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Dark-Circle-Fighting Eye Treatment
NaturopathicaPassion Fruit & Retinol Ageless Eye Serum
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Brightening Serum-Cream with Reishi Mushroom
Monastery MadeRei Gentle Retinol Cream
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Retinol and Two Retinol Alternatives
Marie VeroniqueMulti-Retinol Night Emulsion
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If you have sensitive skin or are pregnant, retinol alternatives like bakuchiol, retinal (a precursor to retinol that’s said to be gentler on skin), and alfalfa extract can deliver remarkably glowing, firming, smoothing results.
Bakuchiol Face Oil with Clinical Results
goop BeautyAll-in-One Super Nutrient Face Oil
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Retinal Serum for Supple Skin
de MamielGravity Fix
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Texture-Refining Serum with Alfalfa Extract
KORA OrganicsPlant Stem Cell Retinol Alternative Serum
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Luminizing Cream with Bakuchi Seed
RanavatRenewing Bakuchi Crème
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Replenishing Collagen and Bakuchiol Sheet Mask
VennCollagen Intensive Phyto-Retinol Renewal Sheet Mask
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Another way to soften the intensity of retinol if you’re concerned about flaking or dryness: Blend it with a diluting dab of moisturizer or face oil first, or smooth on a layer of moisturizer a few minutes after you’ve applied retinol.
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Lightweight Cream (Great for Sensitive Skin)
Tata HarperFortifying Moisturizer
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Le PrunierPlum Beauty Oil
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Bonus: Skin Cycle
Switch out the retinol step every few nights to give skin a rest, and use a different formula in place of retinol. Giving your skin days off from certain active treatments—aka skin cycling—allows you to reap the benefits of other skin-friendly actives (like AHA exfoliating serums) that might not play well with retinol.
goop BeautyDark Spot Exfoliating Sleep Milk
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Peptides for Wide-Awake Eyes
goop BeautyLift + Depuff Eye Masks
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Vintner’s DaughterActive Botanical Serum
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Again, never apply retinol during the day. Instead, boost skin with other kinds of actives—antioxidants, peptides, and more.
If you like to wash your face first thing in the morning, go for a nourishing formula with ingredients like aloe and glycerin that flood skin with hydration, leaving it dewy and plumped.
Refreshing Cream with Moisturizing Extracts
Alpyn BeautyJuneberry & Collagen Hydrating Cream Cleanser
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Softening Toner with Glycerin and Aloe
goop BeautyFlower Acids Resurfacing Toner
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2. Protect and Luminize with Vitamin C
One of the best-for-skin antioxidants, vitamin C brightens and smooths all skin types. It’s only very slightly exfoliating, so it shouldn’t be too much for most skin when used in a routine with retinol. If your skin can handle it, the one-two punch of retinol in the evenings and vitamin C in the mornings delivers pretty spectacular benefits. Note that because this one is made with hyaluronic acid, it’s especially moisturizing.
The boost in cellular turnover from retinol can lead to flaking and dryness, depending on your skin; moisturizing helps counteract any side effects and keeps your skin healthy in the bargain.
Plush Turmeric Cream
KORA OrganicsTurmeric Glow Moisturizer
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Beauty ThinkersAntioxidant Boost Facial Oil
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Furtuna SkinRinascita Delle Olive Replenishing Balm
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4. Most Important Step: Mineral Sunscreen
Retinol increases sun sensitivity, so if you weren’t already applying the world’s most effective wrinkle cream (nothing prevents sun damage and signs of premature aging like sunscreen, except staying out of the sun altogether), make it a daily habit. Unlike chemical sunscreens, mineral sunscreens are made with soothing, inert minerals like zinc oxide (it’s the main ingredient in most baby-bottom creams), so they’re ideal for people using retinol. (Chemical sunscreens also pose real health threats.) Because sunscreens are made with moisturizing ingredients, those with oilier skin may find they can skip moisturizer altogether, using mineral sunscreen in its place.
Translucent Tint (with Vitamin C)
ILIAC Beyond Triple Serum SPF 40
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Cream with Glowy Finish
Grown AlchemistNatural Hydrating Sunscreen SPF 30
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Silky Serum with Nourishing Extracts
MARAAlgae + Zinc Sea Kale Sunscreen Serum
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Foundation and SPF in One
Tower 28 BeautySunnyDays SPF 30 Tinted Sunscreen Foundation
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