What Is Retinol Serum? Here’s an Enlightening Guide for You

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What is retinol serum? Well, a retinol serum is a liquid formula that contains retinol as its active ingredient. While retinol is a natural form of vitamin A that belongs to the retinoid family, it is quite popular for its anti-aging and acne treatment benefits.

Retinol serum is a water-soluble formula: this makes it easy for it to penetrate the skin to revitalize the skin cells and repair the skin from damage. It does this by promoting the production of collagen and elastin in the skin cells. 

Likewise, It also tackles acne to reduce breakouts and the appearance of acne scars on the skin by unclogging the pores and regulating the production of oil in the skin. Additionally, it works for other skin concerns such as uneven skin tone, loose skin, and so on.

Retinol serum is a wonderful and beneficial addition to your skincare routine if you are dealing with premature aging or stubborn aging signs such as wrinkles, and fine lines. Read ahead to find out a detailed outline of all you need to know about it.

What Can Retinol Serum Do for Your Skin? 

The retinol in a retinol serum is a natural form of vitamin A – a fat-soluble vitamin that helps the development of the body in various ways. Vitamin A helps to revitalize the body when it gets damaged, as it is a vitamin that helps with cell reproduction. 

Marisa Garshick, MD, a board-certified dermatologist, says that retinol is a gold standard anti-aging ingredient that works more than treating premature aging. It also helps to rid the skin of acne-causing bacteria and acne scars by regulating sebum(oil) production in the skin.

Another study reveals that retinol can help to reduce the rate of sebum production in the skin, thereby leaving the skin with just about enough oil to keep the skin healthy. 

Additionally, retinol helps to slough the dead rough skin that is sitting on the surface of the skin. This, thereby gives the skin a fresh new look, with an even skin tone and nice texture. 

Retinol reduces the appearance of dark spots and aging signs such as wrinkles and fine lines. The reproduction of new cells in the skin results in the revelation of new, smooth, and healthy skin.

The use of retinol serum will clear off dark spots, discoloration, and acne scars from the skin, as retinol also helps to brighten and give the skin a healthy glow. When you use your retinol serum properly and consistently, your skin begins to blossom.

How Does Retinol Serum Work on Your Skin?

Retinol works on the skin to help rid the skin of debris and impurities. It penetrates the inner layer of the skin to enhance the production of protein fibers that the skin needs for revitalization. 

The production of protein fibers such as elastin and collagen in the body will help to brighten your skin, as well as improve your skin’s elasticity. This helps to reduce the appearance of dark spots and aging signs.

Elastin is a protein fiber that aids the elasticity of your skin, and once the production decreases, your skin will start to lose its elasticity. This causes the skin to become saggy and show signs of aging such as wrinkles, and fine lines. 

Retinol serum works on acne by removing the debris of dead skin cells and oil clogging the pores. Likewise, it reduces the production of oil in the skin and sloughs off dead skin from the surface of the skin to stop further clogging of your pores. 

For aging signs and spots, retinol brightens the skin by encouraging the development of new skin cells after ridding your skin of dead skin cells. This helps in the reduction of black spots and acne scars, as the body reveals brighter and healthier skin.

How to Use Retinol Serum Correctly

As someone with acne-prone skin or someone battling wrinkles and other aging signs, you may be tempted to jumpstart the use of retinol. However, you should fall for that temptation, as you need to learn to properly use your retinol serum without damaging your skin.

Using retinol serum too much or too often can cause a serious risk of side effects. However, there is no need to worry, as this article aims at guiding you through it.

1. Choose the right percentage for your skin

Retinol serum comes in different levels of concentration and the most common percentages are 0.25, 0.3, 0.5, 1%, and 1.5%. As a newbie to the ingredient, go for retinol serums with a low concentration of retinol such as 0.25 and 0.3. 

These two levels of retinol concentration are less likely to cause any form of irritation on your skin. Also, if you have sensitive skin, that is the best option for you. This will give you a chance to enjoy the benefits of using the serum without irritating or damaging your skin in any way.

After using the serum for about two months without experiencing severe side effects or burns, you can move up to a higher percentage.

2. Start slow and upgrade later

As a beginner, learn to chill out and start slowly, as this is the best way to introduce the serum in your skincare routine without irritating your skin. Don’t be in a rush to solve your skin concerns by applying the serum on your skin too much or too often. 

A drop or two of the serum is enough to cover your whole face, therefore, there is no need to apply more. Applying more will only make your skin prone to getting retinol burn.

Dr. Garshick also suggests you start by using it only two or three times weekly till your skin no longer reacts to the product. Once your skin shows tolerance to the product, you can start building up a higher frequency by increasing the number of times you use it in a week. 

Within six months of using the serum, you should be able to use the serum daily. Although this depends on the percentage of retinol in the serum, using a high concentration of retinol, such as 1% or 1.5%, daily can damage your skin.  

3. Use your serum in your nighttime routine

Applying the serum to your nighttime routine is the best way to incorporate it into your skincare regime. Moreover, retinol makes your skin sensitive to the sun, so this is also the best way to avoid sunburn and photoaging.

Asides from that, when the body comes in contact with the sun, it deactivates the retinol in the skin. When this happens, retinol loses its effect on the skin. Using the serum at night will help to prevent all these.

4. Wash your face before applying retinol 

As with other skincare products, you can’t apply your serum on unclean skin. You need to wash your face with soap to remove dirt, makeup buildup, and dead skin cells from the surface of your skin. This is the first and most important step in a skincare routine. 

Using a gentle non-acidic soap, wash your face and rinse the soap off with clean water. Ensure that this is done 30 minutes before applying your serum to your face.

Using an exfoliator or cleanser that contains acid before using retinol will cause the serum to irritate your skin.

5. Always moisturize after

Retinol is an active ingredient that can dry out the skin, therefore, moisturizing your skin after using retinol serum is very important. This is the only way to avoid the drying effect of retinol on your skin and to keep your body hydrated. 

To do this, you have to use a moisturizer that works for your skin type for this purpose. Ensure that your moisturizer is hypoallergenic and doesn’t irritate your skin.

6. Use sunscreen for protection

As mentioned earlier, retinol increases your skin’s sensitivity to ultraviolet radiation. When you wake up in the morning after using the serum the night before, ensure that you apply sunscreen of SPF 30 or higher before going outdoors. 

This is just as important as moisturizing your skin after using retinol. Ensure that you do this before you leave your home every morning, to avoid getting burned by the sun.

How Often Should You Use Retinol Serum?

Start by applying a drop or two of the serum on your face just two times a week. Do this till you see no signs of side effects on your skin, after which, you can increase the usage to a more frequent one. So go with the “2 nights on, 1 night off” technique. 

Keep doing this till you can build up a higher usage frequency, as high as daily usage. 

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the benefits of using retinol serum?

There are several benefits to enjoy when you start using retinol serum on your skin. It helps to clear and prevent the appearance of wrinkles and other aging signs. Also, it exfoliates the skin to brighten and make your skin smooth. 

It also helps to reduce acne breakout by regulating the production of sebum in the skin.  

What are the side effects of retinol serum?

Some of the most common side effects of retinol include dryness of the skin, increased sensitivity to ultraviolet radiation, itchiness, and redness of the skin.

However, if you experience swelling, hive, and painful blisters, you need to contact your dermatologist to check if it is an allergic reaction to the serum.

When should you use retinol serum?

Use your retinol serum at night, as this is the best time to use it without risking sunburns and other environmental damage. 

Retinol is known to increase your skin’s sensitivity to the sun, thereby causing your skin to be prone to sunburn. Additionally, the sun makes retinol less effective in the skin as it deactivates the retinol when it gets in contact with the skin.


Retinol serum is a water-soluble formula that penetrates deeply into the skin to deposit retinol and convert it to retinoic acid. This acid is what works to solve your skin concerns.  

Aside from its powerful anti-aging effect on the skin, it helps to solve other skin concerns such as acne and acne scars, uneven skin tone, discoloration, dark spots, hyperpigmentation, and so on.

Using a retinol serum is a great way to improve your skin’s appearance as it encourages the production of necessary nutrients in the skin cells to repair damage to the skin.

Thanks for reading.

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