When Should You Use Retinol Serum: Proper Usage and Precautions

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Being diligent in using your skincare products involves knowing the right time to do so. If you have heard of the side effects that occur as a result of using retinol incorrectly, you know better than to misuse it. So when should you use retinol serum?

Using retinol serum in the morning can result in putting your skin at risk of sunburn. It is a well-known fact that retinol makes the skin extra sensitive to the sun. Therefore, the best time to apply retinol serum to your skin is in your nighttime skincare routine. 

Retinol is famous for its ability to improve the appearance of the skin. It works well to treat skin concerns such as aging, acne, hyperpigmentation, uneven skin tone, and so on.

However, you need to know how to properly use the serum if you are looking to use it to address your skin concerns. Read ahead to find out when and how to use retinol serum on your skin without irritating your skin.

When Should You Use Retinol Serum?

The best time to use retinol is in your nighttime routine. This is because retinol has a reputation for increasing the skin’s sensitivity to ultraviolet radiation from the sun. 

According to board-certified dermatologist Whitney Bowe, MD, “Retinol causes your skin to be more sensitive to the sun and sunlight deactivates retinol, thereby reducing its efficiency on the skin.” Retinol is particularly sensitive to light, which is why it comes in dark packaging.

Dr. Bowe advises to only use retinol products in your nighttime routine, while also diligently protecting your skin from sun damage by using a broad-spectrum SPF 30 or higher every day. 

Board-certified dermatologist Francesca Fusco, MD says that you should always take note of the weather forecast, and be careful about using retinol products while on trips to hot cities. 

“It’s best to stop using retinol products on your skin during the hot season. If you will be staying under direct sunlight, it’s best to not use retinol on your skin” says Dr. Fusco.

To avoid the risk of getting your skin damaged by the sun, it is best to use your retinol serum as part of your nighttime routine.

How Often Should You Use Retinol Serum?

You might want to slow down on using the serum as a first-timer. Retinol is known to be harsh on the skin, therefore start using it slowly. Using it just once or twice weekly will help to introduce your skin to the ingredient. 

Give your skin time to get familiar with the ingredient. This is the only way to incorporate it into your routine without ruining your skin first. Once your skin can tolerate the ingredient, you can work up your usage. 

If your skin is sensitive, take your time in building up frequent usage by increasing the number of times you use it by one every month. You should be able to build up daily usage after six months of using the serum.

When Should You Start Using Retinol Serum?

Jessica Krant, MD, board-certified dermatologist suggests that you start using retinol serum or any other retinol product on your skin in your mid to late 20s.

Another dermatologist, Ellen Marmur, MD says that the best time to start using retinol serum on your skin is in your mid-20s. “Many patients have tried this for years and they swear by it,” she says.

This is because aging signs can start appearing on your skin early. When you begin to notice aging signs such as wrinkles, fine lines, or sunspots, you can utilize the use of retinol serum to get rid of aging signs. 

As you grow older, your skin will begin to lose its elasticity due to the reduced production of collagen and elastin in the skin. The skin becomes saggy and begins to show signs of aging.

Retinol serum will penetrate deep into your skin to accelerate and increase the production of collagen and elastin in the skin. This will help to revitalize your skin to restore your youthful skin glow. 

How to Use Retinol Serum Correctly

Using retinol serum correctly on your skin is the only way to protect your skin from the harsh side effects of using retinol serum on your skin. As mentioned earlier, when you want to start using retinol on your skin, you have to learn when to use, it and how often to use it.  

While you use your retinol at night, always remember to use your sunscreen as a layer of protection on your skin. Doing that will help to keep your skin safe from sunburn and sunspots. Also, ensure that you don’t expose your skin to the sun for too long. 

Below are other things to take note of to help you use your serum correctly.

Use only on dry skin 

Water is known to make the skin permeable to skincare products. When you apply retinol on damp skin, it may penetrate too deep into your skin and irritate your skin. So after washing your skin, allow your skin to dry up completely before applying retinol to it.  

Use pea-sized amount

A little amount of retinol is more than enough to work on your skin to improve its appearance. Using too much retinol can also irritate and burn your skin. To avoid retinol burn, simply use your dropper to pump out a drop of the serum and apply it all over.

Mix it with a moisturizer

If your skin is too sensitive, you can mix your retinol serum with a moisturizer before applying it to your skin. This way, you will be able to enjoy the benefits of using retinol serum without irritating your skin. 

Also, remember to always moisturize your skin 30 minutes after using your retinol serum. This will help to seal in moisture on your skin and prevent your skin from drying up.

Can You Use It With Other Serums?

You can use your retinol serum with other serums. However, it is best to use it with serums that offer hydration to the skin. Using retinol serum with other active skincare ingredients such as vitamin C in the same routine can irritate your skin. 

However, you can use them separately by using one in the morning and the other at night. If you are doing this, use your vitamin C in the morning and retinol at night. These two ingredients are the best combination for anti-aging. You have to be careful while using them. 

You can also use retinol and vitamin C serum by rotating them each day. Do this by using one for a day and the other one the next day.

Hyaluronic acid and retinol serum are the power couple for achieving smooth, supple skin without any risk of side effects. Hyaluronic acid helps to hydrate the skin deeply and to strengthen the skin’s barrier. 

Using hyaluronic acid with retinol will help to lessen the risk of the side effects of retinol on the skin. Ranella Hirsch, MD says these two ingredients are the holy grail in the skincare world.” Using the two ingredients on your skin will speedily improve the texture and tone of your skin.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can you apply retinol serum under your eyes?

Yes, you can. You can apply retinol serum around your eyes. Aging signs first appear on the delicate skin around the eyes. 

Retinol is an over-the-counter product, which makes it safe to use for all parts of the skin. You can use retinol serum on the skin around your eyes to reduce the appearance of wrinkles and aging signs. 

Can you use retinol serum and cream together?

No, you can’t. You can’t and shouldn’t use retinol serum and cream together on your skin. Opt for either one of them.

Using the two products together can over-exfoliate and send your skin into overdrive. This causes your skin to reveal immature skin cells on the surface of your skin. This will result in irritation of your skin.

Can you apply retinol serum to your face every night?

Yes, you can. You can apply retinol serum on your face every night to treat aging or other skin concerns. 

You can only do this if you have been using retinol on your skin before. If you just started using retinol on your skin, it is best to stick to using the serum once or twice weekly for the first month of using it.


The best time to apply your retinol serum on your skin is at night. This is because retinol makes your skin sensitive to ultraviolet radiation. Retinol itself is also sensitive to sunlight. 

Therefore, using it on your skin in the morning puts your skin at risk of getting burned. When you expose your body to sunlight after using retinol, it breaks down the retinol and decreases its efficiency on the skin.

Thanks for reading. 

Visit Serum101 for more guides to assist you in using your skincare products effectively to treat your skin concerns.