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A Guide for How Much and How Often to Use Retinol

A Guide for How Much and How Often to Use Retinol

Understanding how retinol works and how to use retinol in your skincare regimen is essential for optimal skin improvement and avoiding potential unwanted side effects.
05 Oct 2023

There are few skincare ingredients that have been as extensively studied—and proven effective—as retinol. Its benefits for the skin were first discovered in the late 1960s by Dr. Albert Kligman, a legendary dermatologist who also coined the term “photoaging” and performed pivotal research that uncovered how sun exposure damages the skin.1 Originally available exclusively by prescription in the form of its close cousin, tretinoin, retinol has changed the face of over-the-counter skincare for improving visible signs of aging, skin discoloration, surface texture, and acne.


Retinol is a derivative of vitamin A that helps promote the skin’s natural cell turnover when applied topically. Unlike exfoliants that physically or chemically remove dead skin cells, retinol works to optimize the cellular renewal process. Retinol is an effective ingredient for promoting the skin’s natural rate of turnover as it slows down with age. Inefficient or erratic cellular turnover can play a role in blemish formation as well, making retinol a beneficial ingredient for acne-prone skin.


Because retinol is a powerful skincare ingredient, there are a few guidelines to follow when introducing this ingredient into your skincare regimen to help reduce the chance of irritation or peeling as the skin adjusts. When teaching clients how to use retinol, SkinCeuticals skincare professionals strongly suggest a “Slow and Low” approach, which can help minimize signs of irritation from retinol.

How often to use retinol: The “slow” component means starting with two-to-three retinol applications per week, and gradually increasing to five applications a week as the skin acclimates and demonstrates tolerance. “Low” refers to starting with a “starter” concentration such as 0.3%.

Once the skin can tolerate 0.3% five nights a week, you can step up to a higher concentration like 0.5%–again beginning with two or three applications a week and increasing usage frequency as the skin allows. Once the skin can tolerate this higher concentration without unwanted side effects, SkinCeuticals offers a maximum-strength 1.0% retinol for conditioned skin (although the same “slow” product introduction applies in this case as well).

How much retinol to use: To reap the benefits of this ingredient and minimize retinol irritation, apply a pea-sized amount of product to the entire face. It can be helpful to dispense the product on your fingertip and dot it on the forehead, cheeks, and chin before gently rubbing it into the skin.

A few other tips when learning how to use retinol include applying it only in the evening, avoiding the eye area, and allowing retinol to fully absorb before applying other skincare products. When used as part of a multi-step nighttime skincare regimen, apply retinol after cleansing and toning, and before other serums and moisturizers.


SkinCeuticals offers several retinol concentrations for the face, as well as a targeted retinol treatment for the neck. All of these products are formulated to minimize retinol skin irritation with a delivery technology that ensures a slow and steady release, and help improve the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, skin discoloration, visible pores, and blemishes by accelerating cellular turnover. The packaging of our retinol products has also been developed to help preserve ingredient potency.

Retinol 0.3: Recommended for first-time retinol users, this 0.3% concentration features advanced stabilization and controlled-release delivery technologies to preserve the product’s potency and minimize irritation from retinol. To minimize retinol irritation, this formulation also includes chamomile-derived bisabolol along with boswellia serrata extract from the frankincense plant for skin-soothing benefits.

Retinol 0.5: Appropriate for intermediate users whose skin has demonstrated tolerability for a lower retinol concentration, Retinol 0.5 improves the appearance of visible signs of aging and pores while helping to minimize breakouts. This formulation also features a skin-soothing complex of chamomile-derived bisabolol and boswellia serrata extract from the frankincense plant.

Retinol 1.0: Our highest-concentration retinol is ideal for experienced users whose skin has been pre-conditioned with lower levels of this active ingredient. Although Retinol 1.0 users’ skin has already proven its tolerance and is less likely to experience retinol irritation, this potent formula does contain a skin-soothing complex to help keep the skin calm and comfortable.

Tripeptide-R Neck Repair: This corrective neck treatment features retinol to improve early and advanced signs of neck aging alike—including those caused by repetitive movements associated with looking down at mobile devices. In addition to pure, slow-release retinol, this potent formula also features a tri-peptide concentrate to improve the appearance of lines and the feeling of firmness along with a glaucine complex that supports the skin’s resistance to visible neck aging. Clinically demonstrated to improve the appearance of visible neck aging and uneven skin tone, additional study results include:

  • 27% average improvement in neck skin crepiness
  • 16% average improvement in the appearance of horizontal neck lines
  • 16% average improvement in neck skin firmness


In addition to the “Slow and Low” approach to retinol application frequency and concentration, SkinCeuticals specifically formulates its products to further help minimize irritation from retinol. For those whose skin needs a helping hand through the retinol acclimation phase, Triple Lipid Restore 2:4:2 is proven to shorten the adjustment period by up to one week while reducing dryness thanks to its optimal and patented ratio of ceramides, cholesterol, and fatty acids. This advanced anti-aging moisturizer helps replenish the skin barrier and support the skin’s natural repair to offset the effects of retinol while improving the appearance of skin smoothness, laxity, pores, and overall radiance.


Although broad-spectrum sun protection should be part of any daily skincare routine, there are two specific reasons why sunscreen is especially essential when using a retinol product. First, retinol enhances skin-cell turnover, leaving fresh, new, healthy surface cells vulnerable to photosensitivity. Second, retinol’s potency can be degraded by UV light—which is why it’s generally recommended for application in the evening. SkinCeuticals offers several sheer, tinted, and corrective sunscreen options that help protect any type of skin, including those using retinol.

To discover the ideal retinol product for your skin and get advice about how to use retinol, use our online Regimen Finder, visit one of our SkinCeuticals SkinLab locations, or schedule an appointment with a SkinCeuticals Skincare Professional for a one-on-one consultation.



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