How To Start A Retinoid - 5 Things That Will Make It Easy!

skincare routine

How To Start A Retinoid - 5 Things That Will Make It Easy!

It seems that starting a retinoid is still a hard thing for many people to do.

How do I know this?

Well, I spent a day talking to beauty journalists, some of the smartest people in the business. And yet, even though they all acknowledged that it's ultimately the best thing for their skin, many of them said they’d struggled through the first few weeks…so they put it off.

It got me thinking about the ways I coach my patients through the tough, early stages in the clinic - many of whom are starting prescription retinoids from the outset. So I decided to create a list of hacks for you to help break down those barriers to entry, creating a truly stellar skincare routine!!! Let’s go!

Before we start, let’s just recap:

Retinoids are the family of skincare ingredients derived from vitamin A.

Now this fact might just blow your mind: retinoids influence in excess of 3000 genes that operate within your skin. They’re responsible for many, many skin functions and influence things like cell turnover, the cellular pathways behind skin ageing, breakouts, pigmentation, redness……it’s extraordinary how much they do.

But they make people scared.

There’s the worry of redness, irritation, flaking, purging…

BUT…It doesn’t have to be like that. So let’s get into those 5 skin-saving tips for retinoid mastery!!!

How do you start to use a retinoid?

1) Start

It’s actually fine to view your first retinoid as almost a conditioning tool, whose role is simply to get you using one without any expectation other than achieving tolerance, where it goes on the skin and doesn’t cause irritation.

Retinoid strengths: where to start:

Unless you’re seeing a doctor, I’d highly recommend getting started with something non-prescription, which will be easier to manage in terms of the potential for irritation. You can always increase the strength at a later date - this is a marathon, not a sprint.

Should I use a retinoid with other ingredients?

2) In the early stages, try skipping morning actives and just focus on your retinoid step.

It can be SO tempting to jump in with lots of different actives, given the temptations now available everywhere from Boots Ingredients to The Ordinary and beyond.

When we take any action in life, we need to be able to measure its impact so we know whether to keep doing it and what steps to take next. If you initiate too many steps at once, it’ll be hard to gauge which product is doing what. And you’ll definitely increase the risk of skin irritation.

Should I moisturise if I’m using a retinoid?

3) Support your retinoid with the right products.

A skincare routine is like an orchestra - that makes you the conductor!!! Your retinoid might be your star violinist, but it needs the rest of the team to pull its weight to make beautiful music.

So sort out:

  • A non-drying cleanser (in fact, the more simplistic your cleansing routine, the better)
  • A barrier supporting moisturiser - think ceramides or niacinamide, and plenty of occlusives. You might be tempted to skimp on moisturiser, especially if you’re prone to breakouts - that would be a mistake. You cannot win the retinoid game without a trusted moisturiser (maybe even 2, as you may need a richer one some days and a lighter one on others).
  • A broad spectrum sunscreen - like hand in glove, your SPF and retinoid are a perfect fit. Together, they will help you age incredibly gracefully, allowing you to hang on to your precious collagen. And let’s face it, we ALL care about our collagen!!!

    Perfected Basics

    4) Protect the sensitive bits!

    This is the most common error I see in people starting out with a retinoid: you accidentally swipe it across an eyelid. Or on the lips. Or it gathers in a crease at the corner of the lips - ouch!!!!

    So anticipate this by creating a barrier with your moisturiser. For lips, prep them with a trusted lip balm (even Vaseline will work). They will ‘fill’ the space so your retinoid can’t collect there and cause irritation. You can try my trusted “Moisturiser Goggles” - or you can do a full layer of moisturiser all over before you apply your retinoid to slow everything down. Don’t worry, it’ll still find its way in. This is an invaluable technique called buffering -a total gamechanger.

    Moisturiser Goggles

    5) Measure your dose!

    So you’ve got your products all together. You’re starting out with the right strength - but how much do you use? This is the make-or-break point. If you over-do it, all your best laid plans will be in vain.


    We talk about a pea-sized amount. It’s worth thinking about that. Maybe wander over to the freezer and find a pea. They’re smaller than you think. Basically, you want it to cover the area you want it to cover with little to spare. If you’re rubbing in for ages, that’s right - you put on too much.

    Flawless Nightly Serum

    I highly recommend you use my 13 Dot Technique. There are several good reasons for this. Firstly, having a little routine makes you stop and think about what you’re doing. Slowing down our thinking is good here- it makes us more precise and careful. Secondly, it means you create an even layer - again, vitality important as we want the benefits all over our skin, not just on trouble zones.

    13 Dot Technique

    That’s how we truly unlock retinoid magic.

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