Start the skin with retinol, a powerful ingredient


Retinol improves all skin types – and smooth-faced celebrities like Nicole Kidman and Paris Hilton are praising it. It is one of the most studied skin care ingredients, with over 50 years of peer-reviewed research showing its short and long term benefits.

Why isn’t everyone using it? Well, the initial setup can be tricky. Until recently, I found my skin shed when I used formulas that were 0.5% retinol or higher and I just didn’t want to deal with the peeling. The confinement gave me ample time to develop my tolerance.

Irish entrepreneur Jennifer Rock – of renowned Skingredients and The Skin Nerd – told me that clients come to her with a range of retinol issues, including uncertainty over their skin’s tolerance for the ingredient and alarm or disappointment during a first reaction to a retinol-based product.

She is also seeing cases of product overload, in which customers’ retinol products are undermined by a range of other treatments that may work well on their own but cause irritation in concert. While I think the benefits of retinol are well worth my time to adjust, there are some easy ways to get started with the ingredient that can help you minimize shedding.

Start small

Kate Somerville + Retinol Firming Eye Cream, € 83 on

Targeting a small area like your eyes can help you gain confidence. “Retinol is one of the most important anti-aging ingredients. There are so many benefits that it boosts collagen, helps reduce wrinkles, eliminates environmental damage, reduces scarring, helps skin texture… it does it all! says Kate Somerville, a famous esthetician, who recommends her clients use retinol 2-3 times a week from her twenties.

Kate Somerville + Retinol Firming Eye Cream, € 83 from, has a massage applicator and includes pure retinol, bakuchiol alternative to retinol, hyaluronic acid, aloe vera and vitamin E .

Start slowly

Paula's Choice 1% Retinol Booster, € 46 on
Paula’s Choice 1% Retinol Booster, € 46 on

“The amount of retinol your skin needs depends on your skin type and concerns, as well as your skin’s tolerance,” says Paula Begoun, founder of Paula’s Choice Skincare. You can determine your skin’s tolerance by experimenting with different strengths and frequencies of use and seeing how your skin responds.

“Generally, the level of retinol depends on whether you want to maintain the health of your skin or if you have advanced skin conditions that you want to treat. Lower retinol concentrations are best for maintenance and minor skin care issues. Higher concentrations (up to 1%) are best for those with visible signs of sun damage or rashes.

Paula’s Choice 1% Retinol Booster, € 46 at, also includes a range of soothing agents and antioxidants to enhance retinol results.

Just start

Experimenting with retinol can get expensive, but The Inkey List’s “try it out” prices allow you to try a variety of ingredients without breaking the bank. Their simple formulas also help you avoid overloading the skin with active ingredients.

For example, The Inkey List Retinol Face Serum, € 11.99 on, mixes 1% stable retinol and 0.5% granactive retinoid (slightly stronger than retinol), with squalane to hydrate and soothe. The slow release formula minimizes irritation.

Start with a moisturizer

Kiehl's Retinol Skin-Renewing Daily Micro-Dose Serum 50 ml, € 68.50, on and
Kiehl’s Retinol Skin-Renewing Daily Micro-Dose Serum 50 ml, € 68.50, on and

Dryness is the downside to retinol that everyone wonders about, but did you know that a formula that combines the super ingredient with alcohol can dehydrate it further? Alcohol or denatured alcohol is used to make retinol products lighter and more quickly absorbed.

The added dehydration just isn’t worth these texture benefits in my opinion. Applying a fragrance-free moisturizer or even a little petroleum jelly before using your fragrance-free retinol can reduce transepidermal moisture loss that occurs overnight. If you have a particularly low tolerance for pure retinol in general, I recommend relaunching from an old favorite.

Kiehl’s Retinol Skin-Renewing Daily Micro-Dose Serum 50ml, € 68.50, on and, is fragrance and alcohol free. There is a fairly low concentration of retinol in the bottle, so it may take some time for you to see specific retinol benefits.

The formula also contains niacinamide, ceramides and a peptide in the formula to help fortify the skin’s moisture barrier and increase skin tolerance from the first use.

Start the night

Regardless of your use, retinol is most effective when applied at night to cleansed and dried skin. UV rays interfere with the process. The ingredient often leaves the skin slightly sensitized and it is essential to follow up with a broad spectrum SPF30 or higher the next day.

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