How to Begin Using Retinol

Retinol can be hard for some Baumann Skin Types® to tolerate, but the benefits of using retinol and other retinoids outweigh the irritation that can occur. Many studies have shown that retinoids can significantly improve the appearance of lines and wrinkles, as well as help to clear acne. It’s important, however, that you talk to your dermatologist about which cleansers, moisturizers and other skincare products to combine with retinol to help you tolerate this powerful ingredient. In the meantime, follow these tips to help you get started, because the sooner you start, the faster you will see improvement!

Tips for Using Retinol and Reducing Irritation

Retinoids cause redness, peeling and irritation in the first two weeks after starting to use them. To avoid this, you will use a less potent form, in a small amount, infrequently. With time, the amount that you use and the number of times that you use the retinoid each week will slowly increase as you can tolerate it. The goal is to have you using two pea-sized portions of retinoid every night without developing redness, scaling or stinging.

It is important to realize that after you apply a retinoid, it typically takes four days to see the irritation. For this reason, the first time you use it, you should wait four days before the second application to see how you will react to it. Do not begin using a retinoid within five days of an important social event unless you already know how your skin will respond.

Here are a few additional tips to keep in mind when using a retinoid:

  • Retinoids can be applied to your neck, chest and backs of your hands as well as your face. While the hands usually do not get irritated, keep in mind that the neck and chest can be very sensitive, so start once a week and slowly increase from there.
  • Avoid waxing while using retinoids. If you need to wax the hair on your face, stop the retinoid one week prior. We recommend laser hair removal instead of waxing.
  • Alert your aesthetician that you are using a retinoid before getting a facial or microdermabrasion.
  • You should also be using SPF of 15 or greater and an antioxidant cream or serum every day.

How to Apply the Retinoid

  1. After washing your face with the recommended facial cleanser, apply the retinoid to dry skin. If you apply the medication to wet skin, more will be absorbed and you will be more likely to experience side effects.
  2. When applying the retinoid, use only a small amount. Place a small pea-sized amount of the medication in the palm of your hand. Divide the medication among the four quadrants of the face–the forehead, chin, and both cheeks.
  3. The skin in the area under the eyes is thinner. If you use a retinoid on the eyelids, dilute it at least 50 percent with your facial moisturizer. To do this, mix one part retinoid to one part moisturizer.
  4. It is necessary to begin very slowly to avoid irritation. The suggested application schedule is as follows:
  • Apply at bedtime every third night for two weeks. If you are not experiencing any side effects, then:
  • Apply the medication every other night for two weeks. If you are tolerating this without side effects, then:
  • Apply the medication every night.

Certain people may need to continue the medication every other night indefinitely if they have sensitive skin.

  1. If you are experiencing any redness, itching, peeling or tenderness, you may be using too much medication. Review the above instructions.

In Summary

Even if you have sensitive skin, don’t completely rule out the idea of using a retinoid to help improve your skin tone and texture. These products can truly work wonders on the skin, provided you seek professional advice from your dermatologist about how to use them and which products to pair them with for the best results. You can also view a general list of some of the retinol products that I recommend at Skin Type Solutions.

Wishing you great skin!


Dr. Leslie Baumann, M.D. and her team at Baumann Cosmetic Dermatology believe in proof, not promises. World-recognized for both cosmetic and general dermatology, our treatment strategies rely exclusively on evidence-based, scientifically verified products and procedures that promote skin health and a natural appearance. We combine effective medical procedures with individualized instruction on proper skincare, nutrition, supplementation and lifestyle in order to maximize the health of the skin and body as a whole while minimizing the effects of aging. For more, visit Dr. Baumann’s blog for daily updates Monday through Friday, or inquire about an appointment through

March 20, 2017 Acne, Skin Aging