How To Use Retinol: The 5 Big Retinol Mistakes To Avoid

Retinoids are truly the gold-standard skincare ingredient category. Derived from vitamin A, the powerhouse ingredient can have a profound impact on skin health. From pore-clearing, pigmentation-diminishing, fine-line elevating, texture-improving, the list of benefits is long and impressive.

However, a lot of people aren’t sure how to use retinoids (of which retinol is probably the most well-known) for best results and it’s easy to run into trouble and damage your skin barrier which manifests on the skin as dryness, redness or flaking. When I talk to patients, there’s so much fear around using retinoids, particularly if it’s the first time. But trust me, master your retinoid technique and the results will redefine what you expect from skincare!

Here are the top five retinoid mistakes and how to overcome them so you can achieve the ultimate in skin success. 


#1 - Using The Wrong Product For You

With a lot of noise about prescription retinoids, especially in skincare Facebook groups, there can be a serious sense of FOMO when it seems that everyone is using tretinoin - except you. This has become especially common with the advent of online prescribing services. My personal belief is that there is no substitute for a trained professional performing a detailed face-to-face consultation when it comes to starting prescription creams. And getting going with a non-prescription product is the right move for many, as you ease into this new step. 


It’s imperative that you find a retinoid that suits your skin and your concerns when embarking on your retinoid journey. If you have gone in too hard with the retinoids in the past, don’t despair and abandon hope. Allow your skin barrier to heal and then start again with a plan. I’d recommend starting with an over-the-counter product first until your skin gets accustomed - and then ascend the retinoid ladder slowly. This is a project for life - so there is no need to rush! For more help, watch my Retinoid Revelations series.


#2 - Wrong Application 

It’s incredibly common for people to misuse retinoids by not applying them correctly. They are designed for all-over use and NOT for spot-treating blemishes. You’ll lose all those skin-enhancing benefits that help boost morale and are literally the greatest glow givers.


#3 - Using It In The Wrong Areas

When applying a retinoid, you need a LOT of precision. Certain areas of the face are delicate and need special attention. The skin around the eye and on the neck is considerably thinner and have a lower threshold for redness and irritation if you overdo things. It’s why I came up with my moisturiser googles and the 13 Dot Technique to protect your skin from unwanted irritation.


#4 - Using It Too Often

One of the most common problems with retinoids is going in too hard and too fast. Starting with daily usage from day one is rarely doable. Your skin needs time to adjust and get used to using a retinoid treatment,  a process called retinization. 

Depending on the strength and your skin’s natural resilience, start off by building in breaks of  1 or even 2 days between applications. Write it all down. You can even create an excel spreadsheet like one of my patients did so you know exactly what you’re doing and when. 


#5 - Using Too Much Product

Unlike when using a hair mask when it doesn’t really matter how much product you use, with retinoids the amount you apply matters! Dosing your retinoid without care can often lead to red dry, irritated patches or what’s know as retinoid dermatitis. 

It’s why it’s recommended to use a pea-size amount initially, as it gives you lots of control. Using your fingertip is another way to visualise accurately how much you’re using. Make sure to find your way of standardising it. Whether it’s a pea-sized amount or a fingertip measure - BE CONSISTENT!

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