If you’re ready to incorporate a retinoid into your beauty routine, you need to do your research. Retinoids are among the trickier skin care products to become acquainted with, and you have to know how to use them safely before slathering one on. You'll also want to make sure you're using one of the best retinol creams for beginners, since the formulas can vary widely. So, I got in touch with an expert — Dr. Susan Bard, a New York City-based board certified dermatologist — to help guide me (and you) through the process.
So first, some science. According to Dr. Bard, “Retinoids are Vitamin A derivatives that bind to retinoid receptors in our cells. They help increase collagen production and increase skin turnover. This helps clear pores and improves acne as well as helps exfoliate to improve dark marks and fine lines.” That means yes, retinoids are incredibly beneficial for your skin, but users can experience initial redness and irritation when first introducing them, particularly people with sensitive skin or rosacea. To combat that, Dr. Bard advises waiting 30 minutes after washing your face in the evening to apply your retinol cream. “Start every other night at first and slowly titrate up to nightly use as tolerated," she suggests.
Some other tips on how to use retinol safely. Use no more than a pea-sized amount per application — that's all you'll need — and apply moisturizer over your retinoid to prevent dryness (check out a list of the best moisturizers to use with a retinol cream, here). Perhaps most importantly, it's essential that you wear sunscreen every day (which you should already be doing, of course), since retinoids can increase photosensitivity (also, they break down in the sun — another reason why we don't use them during the daytime).
“Once you build [up a] tolerance to your retinoid — a process known as hardening — you can add other ingredients to your regimen, but introduce them separately and slowly," says Dr. Bard. And if you're pregnant, nursing, or planning on becoming pregnant, don't use a retinol product, and check with your dermatologist if you have any questions.