How to add Retinol to your Skin Care Routine

I recently starting using retinol in my beauty routine and wanted to share some information that I learned from readings that I’ve done. I was surprised that a lot of what I thought I knew about retinol was wrong.  “Retinol” is just one type of product in a family of retinoids.  Therefore, when people use the word “retinol” they don’t always mean the same thing.  But basically retinoids are a form of vitamin A. It is thought that applying retinoid products to the skin helps to reduce wrinkles, plump-up skin, and smooth out skin tones (Jalimen, 2019).  Basically, it helps to keep your skin looking young.  It’s also been known to diminish acne scars. Retinoids have gotten a bad rap for causing skin irritation and increasing the risk of sunburns.  However, I am going to cover why both of those thoughts may be debunked.  I will link my references at the end for easier reading.

I also just want to disclaim that these are just personal opinions and not meant to be given as medical advice.  If you have a specific skin care need then I recommend discussing it with a dermatologist or other medical professional.  I am a registered nurse that has studied skin care but I am not claiming to be giving medical advice in this context. I have recently started using retinol in my nightly skin care routine and wanted to share my readings or even start a discussion with other people’s experiences with specific retinol products that have or have not worked for them.

From my understanding the strongest product in the retinoid family is actually Rentin-A or Tretinoin.  In the US, it only comes in prescription form.  A tube cost about $92 and is usually at least partially covered by most health insurances. It’s pretty strong and some dermatologists don’t recommend this as a starter retinoid product (Poer-Trench, 2020).  Most of the research and efficacy with retinoids have been studied within this form.

Most over-the-counter “retinol” products (drug store and department store varieties) contain actual “retinol” that is a less potent form of tretinoin and must go through a conversion once on your skin into an active form.  Although not as extensively studied as trentinoin, retinol does seem to be accepted by most dermatologists to work but may take more time to see results than with trentinoin.  Some people may see results in 12 weeks or 6 month or even 1 year of use with retinol (Poer-Trench, 2020).  Hence, retinol is more of a long-term maintenance product to be used in a nightly beauty routine and not something that your gonna see immediate results with overnight.

There are other derivatives of retinol too such as retinyl acetate, retinyl propionate, and retinyl palmitate that you may also see in skin care products.  These are even less studied.  They are supposed to be a more stable form as retinol but also weaker. They are the retinoid esters and go through two conversions into the active form on your skin. I have seen some articles where they say these are useless and others that say they are good options for people with retinol sensitivity or people first starting out with retinol products to build up tolerance.  For example, if you have sensitive skin and want to try a retinoid product then you could start out with one of the above retinol derivatives, then try an actual “retinol” product with low potency, then maybe move onto a retinol with 1% retinol, and then maybe increase to 2.5% retinol, etc.  If you’ve worked your way up to a full-strength over-the-counter retinol and want something stronger than it may be time to ask a dermatologist about a prescription for treninoin, etc. The idea is to build your skin-up to prevent the redness and irritation of jumping into a full-strength product. (Poer-Trench, 2020).  Using too much too quickly is often what results in skin problems associated with retinol (Sharkey, 2020). Thus, you want to start with a low dose retinoid and then build your way up to something stronger.

I wanted to try retinols because they are one of the most science-backed anti-aging skin care products on the market (Mukherjee et al., 2006).  Retinoid products are usually best used at night because it is thought that they may help your skin rejuvenate while you are sleeping.  It is important to use sunscreen during the day when using a retinoid to prevent against sun damage and un-doing the effects.  Sun may inactivate the retinoid products on your skin. However, there is new thought that retinoids do not actually cause increased sun sensitivities (Poer-Trench, 2020).  Yet, all dermatologist and articles that I’ve read state that it is best to use it at night and to wear a sunscreen during the day to protect your skin from sun damage. Most products recommend starting to use them 3x per week on alternating nights and then building up to every night over a course of time.  As mentioned earlier, you start with a low dose product and then build up in percentage over time.

I would avoid products that contain fragrance in them because it could be very irritating to the skin during a treatment.  I would also stay away from products that have denatured alcohol listed as one of the top ingredients. Alcohol can be very drying to the skin and damage your natural protective skin barrier which is more sensitive on your face.  Also avoid products with witch hazel as it is a grain alcohol too and also could be drying to the skin. 

There is a great video by Vlogger-Cosmetic-Dermatologist Dr. Shereen Idriss where she discusses all the in-outs of Retinoids and even goes over some product selections. 

Harper’s Bazaar also recently published an article The 11 Best Retinol Creams You Can Get Right Now.

Here’s some Retinol Products that I have looked at (while on a budget).

First Aid Beauty FAB Skin Lab Retinol Serum .25% Pure Concentrate, Anti-Aging Serum for Sensitive Skin for $58. It contains Hyaluronic Acid, Vitamins C + E, Aloe, Colloidal Oatmeal, Allantoin and Ceramides to nourish, soothe and comfort the skin.  I like that it has all the soothing ingredients like aloe and colloidal oatmeal as well as the Hyaluuronic Acid which helps draw moisture into your skin.  This is a brand that a lot of people swear by and I think it a good product to delve into Retinol use for the first time.


Paula’s Choice 1% Retinol Treatment for $50. This one is also loaded with antioxidants, moisturizing properties, and oat extracts to sooth skin.  This is what I am currently using.  I like that Paula’s Choice does sample sizes. There is 1% retinol Treatment Travel Size available for $9.
The first retinol product that I tried was the RoC Retinol Correxion Eye Cream $18. It was actually something that I got in a beauty box. I used it under my eyes and also as a spot treatment.  Then I started using the Paula’s Choice 1% Retinol Treatment in addition to the RoC eye cream.  RoC also makes a retinol serum but it doesn’t tell you the percentage and has fragrance higher up on the ingredient list than actual retinol. But I like this eye cream. I’ve been using for several weeks now (just at night) and do see improvement with fine lines around my under eye area.
I also just got the DERMA E Hydrating Eye Cream $18 in my beauty capsule from Target.  I like that it contains Retinyl Palmitate and Hyaluronic Acid. Sometimes I like using eye creams as retinol spot treatment because they are usually less sensitizing on skin and other facial products.


Artnaturals (available at Target) also has a 2.5 % retinol cream available for just $13.  I am thinking of trying the cream next. They also have a 2.5 % retinol serum but it contains witch hazel. It may be a small enough amount though that it’s okay. I would be more weary if it were a top 3 ingredient but it’s more of a non-active ingredient. From an ingredient stand point and price these almost seem too good to be true. I’ll let people know what I think after trying them
CeraVe Resurfacing Retinol Serum for $17 and CeraVe Skin Renewing Retinol Face Cream Serum for Fine Lines and Wrinkles for $19 (available at most drug stores). It doesn’t give concentrations but contains a lot of great ingredients for your skin such as cremecides, niacinamide, and hyaluronic acid.  May be great as a starter retinol treatments.  Be careful with other drugs store brands as some contain denatured alcohol and fragrance which I would avoid in a retinol product due to fear of causing irritation.
Avon’s Anew Clinical Line Eraser with Retinol Treatment for $45 is also one I’d like to try. It doesn’t give a concentration so probably is a lower dose so safe for those with irritations or first-time retinol users. It is often on-sale for half-price and right now is just $27. It is fragrance and alcohol free.

What Retinol products have you tried? Do you have a favorite? What is your favorite power skin care ingredient?

Share the Love, Kat


Jalimen, D. (2019, August 27). Choosing Skin Care Products, Know your Ingredients. What is Retinol. Radiance by WebMD. Retrieved from,

Mukherjee, S., Date, A., Patravale, V., Korting, H. C., Roeder, A., & Weindl, G. (2006). Retinoids in the treatment of skin aging: an overview of clinical efficacy and safety. Clinical Interventions in Aging, 1(4), 327–348. Retrieved from,

Poer-Trench, B. (2020, May). 11 Retinol Myths That Dermatologists Want You to Stop Believing. Allure Magazine. Retrieved from,

Sharkey, L. (2020, September). Yes, Retinol Is Safe — When Used Correctly. Here’s How to Get Started. Healthline. Retrieved from,

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