Here's how to use retinol in your skincare regime

In another instalment of #AlexAnswers, our beauty influencer Alex Light fixes one of your beauty dilemmas. This week it's all about retinol. Over to you, Alex...

Alex Light

There are tons of skincare products on the market that promise to turn back the clock and get rid of your skin imperfections. But the ones that are likely to make good on those promises? Those that contain retinol.

Retinol has become a household name thanks to its incredible anti-ageing capabilities - it's the line-banishing wingman for your skin. I started using it after I met celebrity facialist Kate Somerville, who told me that late 20s is a great time to incorporate it into your skincare regime, and haven't looked back since – my skin is smoother, my dark spots are reduced and I have fewer blemishes than I used to.


But despite its power, retinol is not the most user-friendly ingredient to suddenly start using. It can be irritating at first, causing redness, peeling and sensitivity, so I wasn't surprised to get this question from @lauraabey: "I want to start using retinol but just don't know how, do you have any tips?"

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To fully answer the question, I spoke to consultant dermatologist Dr Anjali Mahto, author of The Skincare Bible: Your No-Nonsense Guide To Great Skin, who has some top tips. But let's start from the very beginning…

What is retinol?

Retinol is a form of retinoid, a derivative of Vitamin A. Essentially, it is a cell-communicator, and it tells them to renew themselves regularly, which results in fresher, younger-looking skin. What's more, it improves the appearance of sun damage, lines, acne, scars and dark spots, and it evens out your skin tone. You can get retinol if topical in both prescription and over-the-counter formulas.

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 How should I use it?

"I usually recommend that retinol treatment needs to be built up gradually," says Anjali. "Start with a couple of applications a week initially, before building up to daily usage."


As for products, Anjali recommends The Ordinary's Granactive Retinoid 2% in Squalane: "It's a gentle product to start with and great for someone with sensitive skin."

When should I start using it?

Anjali seconds what Kate Somerville advised me, about starting to use the powerhouse ingredient in the late twenties. "Though widely known as an anti-ageing ingredient, the benefits of using retinoids are broad, and we should be incorporating them into our routines earlier than we think," she says. "The skin loses about one per cent of collagen per year from our mid-twenties, therefore introducing retinoids into your regime from your late twenties onwards will be very beneficial for your skin."

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When should I apply it?

Anjali recommends applying your retinol product at night. "The skin is more permeable during sleep so it is an optimal time to use targeted treatments for your skin," she advises. "Apply your treatment to cleansed skin and use a night cream after if your skin is mature or dry – this is when your skin needs the extra moisture the most."

Anything else?

"It's essential that you use an SPF30 minimum on your skin during the day, as retinoids can make you sensitive to ultraviolet light from the sun," says Anjali. 

Hope that answers your question, @lauraabbey! Everyone else, get in touch if you have any other questions @alexlight_ldn – I'm here to help!