3 Retinol Tips For Beginners From An Esthetician

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Sarah Nicole Payne is a Denver based expert esthetician.

As an esthetician, there’s one star product my clients are curious (and often apprehensive!) to add to their regimen: good old retinol. For a beginner, retinol can sound scary, especially when they hear stories of how the famous ingredient can cause uncomfortable side effects like dryness, sensitivity, and flaky skin.

Even still, for many, retinol is considered the be all end all in the quest of youthIt smoothes wrinkles, evens out discolored skin, helps produce fresh collagen and increases skin firmness. Because of this—regardless of any stories of retinol gone wrong—it’s a coveted player in any skincare aficionados routine.

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If you’re here, you’re likely ready to begin your path toward procuring the rewards of retinol or looking for guidance in how to do so. These are my top 3 retinol tips for beginners, so no matter what, you can have a positive experience and fall head over heels for your skin.

Tip 1: Slow and steady wins the race.

Often, I see newbies begin their retinol journey with a high concentration product, without realizing they’re setting themselves up for an unenjoyable experience before they even get started. Starting on a prescription-strength or over-the-counter 1.0 isn’t for everyone. When it comes to retinol, a less is more approach is best. You want to begin with a low concentration so your skin can become accustomed to the effects of the ingredient. Too much can cause your skin to behave in less than ideal ways, like becoming sensitive or dry and flaky.

The typical guideline for starting a retinol regimen goes like this:

In the first one to two weeks, apply your retinol two nights a week, but never back-to-back consecutive evenings.
During weeks three and four, increase to using it three nights a week.
Through weeks five and six, begin alternating every other night.
And finally, in weeks seven and eight you can increase to nightly usage.

Every skin type is different, you may find your skin can tolerate more or less frequently than suggested. Pay attention to your skin and find your personal sweet spot. If you feel dry, tight, or any uncomfortable sensations, dial back your frequency.

Tip 2: Wait for your skin to dry and buffer with a serum.

One of the best things you can do to prevent adverse side effects is wearing retinol on bone dry skin! Whether you’re using a serum or face cream with retinol, wait for your skin to completely dry after cleansing and for your other products to absorb before applying. Otherwise, the moisture can pull retinol into your skin, speeding up its absorption and potentially leading to unwanted side effects.

My favorite trick of all time is utilizing a serum as a buffer. It’s incredibly simple, all you need is a hydrating hyaluronic acid serum to layer under your retinol. Make sure to check for exfoliating ingredients, you don’t want to layer these with retinol as it can over process your skin. Only juicy, nourishing serums are allowed to be used as a buffer! Wait for the serum to completely absorb, following the dry skin rule, and follow up with your retinol of choice.

Tip 3: Layer on lush goodness to protect the skin.

Now it’s time to seal in the goodness! I find using a moisturizer with skin restoring ingredients like ceramides, sphingolipids, and phospholipids help support your skin’s barrier. Doing so prevents moisture from escaping your skin, so your complexion stays soft, supple and hydrated while partaking in a retinol regimen.

For an extra layer of protection, you can apply a thin layer of your favorite facial oil on top. The oil acts as a sealant, locking in hydration and further preventing negative side effects often experienced by retinol usage. And of course, never forget your daily SPF to guard your skin from the damaging effects of the sun!

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