How Often to Use Retinol: Learn the Proper Usage Frequency

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Retinol is a gold-standard skincare ingredient that does a lot of remedial benefits for the skin. However, this amazing comes with a lot of serious side effects when used incorrectly. So if you are wondering how often to use retinol on your skin, read ahead to find out. 

Retinol is a skincare ingredient that belongs to the retinoid family—a class of vitamin A derivatives ranging from over-the-counter to prescription strength. Retinoids are known to be very beneficial when it comes to treating skin problems such as aging and acne. 

As popular as they are for being effective in treating several skin concerns, they are also known to come with several side effects that occur when you use them too much or too often.

Retinol has a drying effect on the skin and can also cause other side effects when you use it too often. Read ahead to find how often you can use retinol on your skin as well as how to use it on your skin properly to effect positive results. 

How Often Should You Use Retinol?

For a first-time retinol user, you have to go slow and gentle with the use of retinol on your skin. It is best to only apply retinol on your skin two to three times weekly. If your skin is sensitive, once or twice a week is enough for your first two weeks. 

This is to help get your skin familiar with the ingredient without sending your skin into a protective state. After the first two weeks, you can increase your usage frequency as your body allows. 

Rushing to apply retinol on your skin too often will cause your skin to react harshly to the ingredient. Build up your usage frequency gently and only if your skin allows it. Do not keep increasing the usage frequency if the side effects don’t stop occurring. 

As time goes on, you can increase your usage frequency within six months till you are able to use retinol on your skin daily. However, this also depends on the strength of your retinol product. 

If your product contains a high percentage of retinol, you might want to use it every other night instead of nightly use. 

When to Use Retinol in Your Routine

According to Joshua Zeichner, MD, an associate professor and the director of cosmetic and clinical research at Mount Sinai, “the evening is the best time to rest and this is when repair and skin cell turnover is at its peak.” 

He went further to state that he recommends applying retinol on the skin in the evening right before going to bed. This will help to enhance the body repair that happens naturally during that period. 

Aside from that, it causes the body to become sensitive to the sun’s ultraviolet radiation. When you apply retinol on your skin in your morning routine before leaving your home, your skin becomes sensitive and prone to sun damage. 

Retinol is also known to be sensitive to exposure to direct light. When you go into the sun, the sun deactivates the retinol in your skin. To avoid sunburn or less effective treatment with your retinol product, it is best to avoid using it in your morning routine.

The best time to use retinol on your skin is in your nighttime routine. This way, there is no risk of sunburn, and it will assist your body repair itself after a long tiring day. 

How Long Does It Take Retinol to Work?

It takes about 12 weeks of using retinol serum to see significant results and improvement from using the product to treat your skin concerns. 

If you are using it to treat aging, uneven skin tone, and hyperpigmentation, you should start seeing results after about four weeks of using retinol on your skin. However, it might take a longer time for retinol to treat acne and acne scars. 

It may take up to 24 weeks to see tangible results when using retinol to treat severe acne breakouts. However, consistency is the key to achieving great results when using retinol to treat skin problems. 

Use your retinol product diligently on your skin to achieve your desired result more quickly.

How to Use Retinol Properly on Your Skin

Although retinol is known to be a very effective treatment for several skin problems, it is also known to cause side effects when it is not used properly on the skin. Therefore, it is best to know how to use retinol on the skin without triggering side effects. 

Follow the following steps to help you reduce the risk of side effects when using retinol on your skin. 

1. Do a Patch Test

The first step is to confirm if retinol is okay to be used on your skin. To confirm this, you have to carry out a patch test on your skin. To do this patch test, use a drop or pump of the retinol product on your inner wrist. 

The skin on the inner wrist is very sensitive and will most likely show signs of an allergic reaction if you are allergic to the product.

Allow the product to stay on your skin for 24 hours before washing it off. If you see any form of reaction or irritation on your skin do not continue to use the product. 

If you do not sense or notice any allergic reaction on your skin, you can safely use retinol on your skin. 

2. Choose the right retinol percentage for your skin

Retinol comes in different forms and levels of concentration. You can decide to go for either a retinol cream, serum, or lotion. These products are not made equal, they contain different levels of concentration. 

The most common percentages of retinol in a product are 0.25, 0.3, 0.5, 1%, and 1.5%. If you are new to using the ingredient, stick with a low percentage, between 0.25 to 0.3. These two percentages are less likely to cause any side effects. 

This is also the best option for you if your skin is sensitive. This allows you to enjoy the benefits of using retinol on your skin without any risk of side effects. After a few months of using it on your skin, you should be able to move up to a higher percentage.

3. Ensure that your skin is clean before applying retinol 

Wash your skin to rid your skin of all dirt and debris that’s clinging to your skin. This is the first step in every skincare routine, as you can’t apply your skincare product to an unclean clean. Applying retinol to an unclean clean will only cause your skin to get clogged up more.

Wash your skin with a bar of gentle soap to remove dead skin cells from the surface of your skin. After washing, rinse your skin with clean water and blot your skin dry with a dry, clean towel. You may now apply your product to your clean skin.

4. Always moisturize after

Retinol is known to cause dehydration to the skin. This is the most common side effect of using it on your skin. Therefore, you need to moisturize your skin after using retinol on it. 

This will help to restore hydration to your skin. For this purpose, ensure that you use only a hypoallergenic moisturizer to avoid irritating your skin. 

5. Use sunscreen to protect your skin

Due to the known fact that retinol puts the skin at risk of sunburn, it is advised to always apply sunscreen on your skin in the morning after using it in your nighttime routine. This will help to protect your skin from all environmental damage as well.

For this purpose, your best bet is a broad-spectrum sunscreen of SPF 30 or higher.

What Are the Possible Side Effects of Using Retinol?

When you start using retinol on your skin, you may experience side effects such as dehydration, redness, flaky skin, and even peeling. This happens if you have never used any vitamin A derivative on your skin. 

Side effects can also surface when you overuse the product. You may experience side effects such as retinol burn. Rashes and itchiness are also side effects that can occur when you use it carelessly on sensitive skin. 

You may also experience severe allergic reactions such as eczema, swelling, acne breakout, discoloration, and discomfort.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can you continue using retinol serum while pregnant?

No, you can’t. It is best and advised that pregnant and breastfeeding mothers stay away from retinol. If you have been using retinol on your skin before pregnancy, stop immediately. 

You can contact your dermatologist to discuss the dangers of using retinol for pregnant and breastfeeding mothers. 

When should you start using retinol serum?

You can start using retinol as early as your 20s. Early incorporation of retinol into your skincare routine will help to prevent the development of aging signs on your skin. 

Also, if you are battling acne as a teenager, you can incorporate the use of retinol in your skincare routine. Start using retinol on your skin once you start experiencing skin problems such as acne and premature aging.

Is it safe to use retinol on your skin every day?

Yes, it is. Retinol is safe to use every day on the skin once your skin has gotten used to it. 

However, you might not be able to use it frequently or even at all if you have skin conditions such as eczema, rosacea, or even skin allergies to retinol. If you have any of these conditions, it is best to speak to your dermatologist before trying or incorporating it into your routine.


Using a retinol product on your skin too often can cause your skin to overreact and show signs of side effects. These side effects range from dehydration—which happens to be a mild side effect, to redness, swelling, and so on. 

For first-timers, start gently and slowly as recommended in the article. Also, ensure that you do not force retinol on your skin if your skin can’t take the frequency or percentage of retinol you have chosen for your skin. 

You can use a lower percentage with a low usage frequency of retinol on your skin. It will still work to solve your skin problems even if you don’t use it every day. 

Thanks for reading. 

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