In a world full of overhyped and not-so-effective skincare products, retinol (Vitamin A) is the tried-and-true miracle-working ingredient your face truly needs. Basically, Vitamin A and all its derivatives (more on that later) are the heavyweights of the beauty world, here to save you from all your most annoying skin issues. Looking to smooth your lines? Retinol. Want a brighter complexion and smaller-looking pores? Oh, hi, retinol. Need to clear up your breakouts? Retinol again. It works on a cellular level to increase cell turnover (aka your skin’s natural renewal process), signal collagen and elastin production (two proteins in skin responsible for its firmness and plumpness), and regulate oil production, explains NYC-based dermatologist Kenneth Howe, MD. But there’s a small catch: retinol can be confusing as hell to use and there’s a notorious adjustment period when your skin turns red and flaky for a few weeks or even months. Here’s the official Cosmo stance on that: suck it up (and consult this handy guide), because your glowiest skin is on the other side.
EXACTLY HOW TO USE IT
1. Make it a part of your PM routine. Your skin is in repair mode at night and, as a result, more receptive to active ingredients like retinol (beauty sleep is real, y’all). Also, retinol formulas degrade in sunlight, says cosmetic chemist Ni’Kita Wilson, rendering them less effective when used during the day.
2. FYI: less is more. Overusing retinol won’t make it work better or faster—but it will leave your face looking like a red, peeling mess. To avoid a skin freak-out, use only a pea-size dot for your entire face. As for frequency, “apply it once a week for a week, two times a week for two weeks, and so on, gradually increasing your usage,” says dermatologist Dendy Engelman, MD.
3. Moisturise like your face depends on it. It’s non-negotiable for preventing flaking and dryness. Just choose a basic, gentle formula (you don’t want to overdo it with actives) and apply it about 20 minutes after your retinol, says celeb aesthetician Renée Rouleau. “Any sooner, and you may dilute its power.”
4. Acids are your friends! Yep, they help retinol work even better. Use a serum with AHAs and/or BHAs on alternate nights (don’t layer them with your retinol—that’s a recipe for irritation). “This helps remove the dead skin cells that retinol pushes to the surface, for better brightening and smoothing results,” explains Renée.
PSA: Yes, You Can (And Should!) Use Retinol Around Your Eyes
It’s key for minimising the appearance of crow’s feet and dark circles (it thickens your skin, so those bluish blood vessels under the surface appear less pronounced). That said, the area around your eyes is sensitive, so play it safe with these specially formulated picks.