When to Start Using Retinol: Explained

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If you’ve started to notice fine lines developing on your skin, then you’ve been spurred into action to step up your anti-aging skincare regime. You want to keep your beautiful face looking as youthful possible for as long as possible.

And you’ve probably heard of the miracle ingredient called retinol during your research.

And although retinol can indeed work wonders on your skin, is there a right time that you should begin using it? In this article, we’ll discuss when to start using retinol.


When to Start Using Retinol

LilyAna Retinol Results

It is a common myth that you can only start using retinol when you actually have fine lines and wrinkles. In fact, many dermatologists suggest that you can begin your retinol regime as soon as your elastin production starts slowing and your collagen breakdown accelerates.

This happens on average at about age 25.

This is because retinol has the ability to get rid of these signs of aging. but also stops them from developing in the first place.

And preventing skin damage through aging is much easier to manage than trying to repair it!

What is Retinol, Anyway?

Tree of Life retinol

Although you may have heard about retinol, you may be curious as to what it actually does to keep skin looking younger. Retinol is a form of retinoid, which is a vitamin A derivative that has the capability of smoothing and brightening the skin so that it looks clearer.

It does this by increasing your skin cell turnover.

Retinoids come in different strengths and retinol is considered the weakest of these concentrations.

This is why retinol is used in most anti-aging skincare treatments on the market.

Retinoids are generally only available from your doctor via prescription.

How Does Retinol Work?

PCA Skin’s Intensive Anti Aging Face Serum before and After

Retinol stimulates the production of both your skin’s elastin and collagen. It does this by increasing cellular turnover and attacking the enzymes that are responsible for the breakdown of collagen.

The result is clearer skin and pores for a young and healthy appearance.

Your skin’s pores will be kept clear with consistent use of retinol through this increased cell turnover, which causes the sloughing off of dead skin cells.

Also over time, retinol increases collagen production in the top two layers of skin.

This results in the thickening of the skin. The thicker skin keeps us looking younger because as we age, our collagen levels decrease.

Another thing to note is that it can take anywhere between three months to a year of consistent retinol use in order to see any real noticeable change in your skin’s texture.

A retinol regime isn’t a quick fix. You have to be in this for the long haul.

When to Start Using Retinol

EVA Naturals Retinol

In order to stop the effects of aging before they start to appear, retinol has the potential to become a favorite player in your beauty regime. Even if you’re in your early 20s!

If you already suffer from dry skin, then a retinol creme is considered a good place to start.

Of course, your choice of product comes down to your personal preference. However, cream forms will be far less irritating to your skin, especially if it’s dry or sensitive.

This is because retinol cream formulations will also include moisturizers to help keep your skin hydrated and, therefore, less irritated. See also: Should You Use Retinol Before or After Moisturizer?

Retinol has these different strengths to correlate with how fast your skin breaks it down.

High concentration retinol of 1.0%+ works faster. But if you have sensitive skin or this is your first retinol experience, then in order to avoid seriously irritating your skin, you have to start slow.

Remember, your retinol journey is a marathon, not a sprint.

There are also other common forms of retinol contained in most anti-aging products these days.

Retinyl palmitate, which is the retinol derivative found in the lowest concentration products, is especially used by those with dry or sensitive skin.

High concentration retinol of 1.0%+ works faster. But if you have sensitive skin or this is your first retinol experience, then in order to avoid seriously irritating your skin, you have to start slow.

Retinaldehyde is the best retinoid available without prescription in the United States. Retin-A, also known as tretinoin, is the prescription-only version. It is the strongest, and generally only prescribed for those who suffer from acne or sun-damaged skin.

See our article on Tretinoin purges for more information.

So what retinol concentration should you choose? We break that down here.

Low-Concentration Retinol 0.1%

PCA Skin’s Intensive Anti Aging Face Serum

Using retinol — and other similar vitamin A derivatives — at a concentration of 0.01% is considered best for sensitive skin types and for those just starting their retinol journey, because it will cause the minimum irritation while your skin becomes more tolerant. 

Eau Thermale Avene’s RetrinAL 0.1 Intensive Cream  is a lightweight, velvety cream. It has an active ingredient called Retrinal at 0.1%. Retrinal is a retinaldehyde, which is a rare derivative of vitamin A that is even more powerful than retinol.

RetrinAL 0.1 Intensive Cream will reduce the appearance of deep lines, is silicone and fragrance-free, and contains Avene thermal spring water to help smooth and brighten the skin.

Medium Strength Retinol 0.5%

PCA Skin’s Intensive Anti Aging Face Serum

After using low concentration retinol for at least 12 weeks and your skin has done well with it, then you can make the choice to move up to a moderate 0.01%–0.4% strength. You can use your new strength retinol about two or three nights a week to start. Once your skin gets used to it, then you can up the dosage to every night.

PCA Skin’s Intensive Anti Aging Face Serum is a 0.5% retinol cream that is to be used at night to help strengthen skin. It contains niacinamide, retinopeptides and orange stem cell extract.

This retinol cream will help to boost your collagen levels and firm skin, as well as reduce any uneven patches, and smooth fine lines and wrinkles.

The Good Stuff: 1%+ Retinol

The Ordinary Retinol 1%

Finally, if your skin has tolerated retinol so far and you’re at least nine months into using retinol on a regular basis, then you can move up to the highest strength of 0.5%–1%.

Making this move shouldn’t be a decision that you take lightly, as your skin’s reaction to using it can be as harsh as if you were taking prescription retinol products.

The Ordinary Retinol 1% in Squalane  is a retinol oil that actually works very well with acne, oily, and blemish-prone skins.

It makes the skin’s texture very smooth, reduces breakouts, and diminishes acne scars as well.

Use at least one hour before bedtime to wake up to brighter skin/ Application can cause the skin to feel slightly warm to tingling, but that means you definitely know it’s working. It’s a great part of The Ordinary’s skincare routine!


Now that you have the lowdown on when to start using retinol, you can rest assured that you can keep your skin looking younger for much longer so that you feel more confident every day.

Written by Kayla Young

Kayla is the founder of LuxeLuminous. She has worked professionally in the tanning industry for years. She has been interested in esthetics since childhood, and has tried every hair, skin, and makeup product ever produced (more or less).