How to Introduce Retinol and Retinoids into Your Routine – Skin Rocks

How to Introduce Vitamin A into Your Routine

Widely considered as the gold standard skin ingredient, unless you’re new to skincare, you will have likely heard of retinol. Much-loved by dermatologists and aestheticians alike, it’s best known for its ability to significantly improve the appearance of the skin, especially lines, wrinkles, and sun damage. 

Retinoids, such as retinol, are derivatives of Vitamin A; with retinoids being an umbrella term used for the various types found in over the counter and prescription skincare. In order to work, they need to convert into retinoic acid, which is bioavailable to the skin. The difference between each type of retinoid is the number of stages it takes to convert, with the strength and effect weakening the more conversions there are. This is why Tretinoin – a concentration of pure retinoic acid - is much stronger than retinol, which takes two conversion stages. 

Retinoic acid then interacts with receptors in your skin cells to increase cell turnover, encouraging new cells to migrate to the top layer and improving skin texture. It also kick-starts collagen production - which thickens the dermis and reduces the appearance of wrinkles - and slows the breakdown of existing collagen. The gift that just keeps on giving, retinoids can also help to fade hyperpigmentation and prevent photo-ageing caused by UV exposure, leaving you with a brighter, more even complexion. They also help to normalise skin function, reducing excess oil production and unclogging pores ― particularly beneficial for acne-prone skin. All in all, almost everyone can benefit from adding a retinoid to their skincare routine.

So, while the results can be impressive, many are hesitant to add a retinoid to their routine as they can be irritating ― especially when used incorrectly. This is understandable but fear not, as we’re here to share our top tips to help you add it to your routine with minimal fuss.

Vitamin A (aka retinol) Application Tips:

  • Before adding any new skincare product into your routine, make sure your skin isn’t irritated or sensitised. If it is, take care of any sensitivity first.
  • Add to your routine slowly. Start off using it every third day before increasing to more regularly once you know your skin can tolerate it. You can then follow this general rule of thumb: use it 3 times a week in your 30s, 4 in your 40s and daily once you hit 50+.
  • If you’re wondering when you should start using it, we would suggest from your mid to late 20s, depending on your lifestyle (e.g. if you smoke, bake in the sun, party excessively etc).
  • Start with a low-strength, gentle formula and build up over time. As mentioned previously, there are a number of vitamin A derivatives in varying strengths. Our Retinol Box contains a formula that uses retinyl palmitate and hydroxypinacolone retinoate (HPR) in a nourishing, oil base, that is both efficacious and non-irritating ― great for beginners!
  • Use after cleansing. If you’re using other products, this should be first in line. Brands have traditionally advised applying on dry skin but dampening the skin first can help with penetration. We advise against this if you have sensitive skin however.
  • Use it at night and make sure you’re applying SPF during the day. Otherwise, you’ll be undoing all its great work and wasting your hard-earned money too! Some newer brands have formulas that can be used during the day but if in doubt use in the pm.
  • Apply a small pea-sized amount (or in the case of an oil, a few drops) and distribute evenly across the face. More is not more in this scenario. A great tip for even application is to split your face into four quadrants (theoretically, of course!) and dot a quarter amount into each before blending it out.
  • With stronger formulas, avoid the direct eye area (unless it’s a targeted eye cream), neck, around the nostrils and the corners of the mouth, as these areas are prone to irritation.
  • When you first start using vitamin A/retinoids, we suggest going easy on the actives, particularly exfoliating acids. Once you know your skin is tolerating it well, you can then re-introduce them on ‘non-retinol days’.  
  • Some may find retinol quite drying. In this case, you can either apply a nourishing moisturiser over the top or, ‘buffer’ its effects by applying a thin layer of moisturiser beforehand. This won’t stop your retinol from working, it’ll just penetrate slower and mitigate any potential irritation or dryness.
  • Dryness, irritation, redness and flaking are all normal reactions when you first start using retinol. During this stage, be kind to your skin and keep it simple with a hydrating and nourishing routine. You’ll know when you’ve overdone it, or if your skin is unhappy if it; stings when applying a simple moisturiser, feels like it’s burning or is sore and painful to touch. In this scenario, stop usage, go back to basics – cleanse, moisturise, SPF - and give your skin time to recover before reintroducing. The buffering technique will be helpful here.
  • Be patient. Consistency is key and full results can take up to six months.  
  • For prescription-strength formulas, bear the above in mind but please follow the guidance provided by your doctor.  

So, there you have it. While finding the right retinoid for you can be a little bit of trial and error, once you do, it’ll be worth it. Ready to give it a go? Learn more about our Retinol Box here.


Katie Onyejekwe

Qualifications - BTEC National Diploma in Beauty Therapy Applied Science


Book - Skincare, Caroline Hirons