Imagine the different categories of acid treatments to be a pyramid. You’ve got your vitamin C serums that graduate to chemical exfoliants such as AHAs and BHAs, then at the very top stand retinol products.

Retinol is actually vitamin A, which sounds like an unassuming ingredient but it is extremely potent in its pure form. You often find retinol in anti-ageing products, as well as in prescription skincare to help with acne and scarring. Its primary functions are to resurface your skin by rapidly increasing cell turnover rate, and to boost collagen production.

When applied, retin-based skincare works to metabolise your skin’s surface enzymes, and converts them to retinoic acid. Retionic acid then does all the magic, but it takes anywhere between three to six months of consistent use to see pronounced differences. Immediate benefits will include a reduction in skin texture issues, and a visible fading of hyerpigmented spots.

Retinol use depends on your age, skin type, and skin condition. Ideally, women in their mid- to late-twenties looking to bolster their anti-ageing regimen should incorporate a retinol product into their skincare routine, as that is when your cell turnover rate on the skin slows down. If you’re someone looking to use retinol, here are some guidelines.

Those with any doubts or questions should seek help from a licensed dermatologist.

1
Know if your skin can take it

Over-the-counter retinols are tricky, as they can aggravate existing acne, or cause a slight flakiness of the skin. Always patch test a retinol before using it all over the face, through a minimum duration of two weeks.

2
When to apply

Retinols should go on your skin after cleansing, toning, and a chemical exfoliant (if any). They should be used at night, and they should be left on your skin for about 20 minutes, or as instructed on the label. Follow up with a moisturiser. If you have dry skin, it’s best to alternate your retinol product with your chemical exfoliant to prevent exacerbating the dryness.

(Photo: @sundayriley)

3
Less is more

Do not use retinol on damp or wet skin, as that interferes with the absorption. Apply a pea-sized amount, or if it’s an oil, a few drops. Don’t go overboard as that could lead to skin aggravation. Use your fingers and smooth it over your skin, starting off with the forehead, which is the least sensitive part of the face. Move on to the neck.

4
Follow the 1-2-3 method when it comes to frequency

Like any acid-based product, you’d want to increase your frequency of usage instead of applying it every single day when you first start. Begin with once a week, for two weeks, and see how your skin reacts. Then, go up to twice a week, eventually building to thrice weekly. If your skin shows signs of duress, go back down to once a week, or none at all until it calms down.

Beatrice Bowers
Features Editor
Beatrice Bowers writes about beauty, drinks, and other nice things. When not bound to her keyboard, she moonlights as a Niffler for novels and can be found en route to bankruptcy at your nearest bookstore. Don't tell her boss.