Here's Your Guide to Choosing the Right Retinol for Your Skin Type

Woman applying skincareWoman applying skincare

Retinol is one of those skincare words that tends to fill people with excitement and dread.

Excitement because it’s an ingredient that truly seems to live up to its promises of transforming skin. And dread because due to its efficacy, it’s an ingredient you desperately don’t want to get wrong.

Despite being considered a ‘superstar’ anti-ageing ingredient (aside from SPF - and perhaps a time machine), the confusion around retinol means it's often either underused - or worse - used incorrectly.

The solution? Getting expert advice.

Keep reading to learn about when to start using retinol, the difference between retinol vs retinoid, and which retinol is right for your skin type.

What Is Retinol and What Are the Retinol Skin Benefits?

Retinol is a derivative of Vitamin A and it’s pretty powerful.

Retinol can reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkle depth, while also evening the appearance of irregular skin tone and discolouration resulting from photoageing (i.e. sun damage).

According to National Advanced Skin Technology (AST) Academy Coordinator Sam Allen, almost everyone can benefit from using Vitamin A.

“Retinol will revitalise and re-energise rough, thickened and dull skin and can also assist in strengthening thin, fragile skin,” she says.

“It's also excellent for breakout-prone skin due to its ability to refine and rebalance the skin while smoothing skin texture.”

FYI, Hannah and Jo spoke about why everyone should be using a retinol serum in this episode of the Beauty IQ Uncensored podcast, get it in your ears below!

Retinoid vs Retinol - Is Retinol or Retinoid Better?

You’ve likely heard the terms Vitamin A, retinol and retinoid used to describe 'retinol', but they’re not quite interchangeable.

“The term retinoid is the umbrella term used to describe different Vitamin A compounds that vary in their chemical structure. Retinol is one of the compounds that falls under this category,” explains Allen.

According to the Australasian College of Dermatologists, while you can buy some retinoid products over the counter, the more potent topical retinoids such as tretinoin and isotretinoin are only available on prescription.

Still confused? We talk through everything you need to know about retinol (including all the different forms) in this YouTube video below!

What Age to Start Using Retinol.

When it comes to retinoid use, it’s best to check in with your skin therapist, doctor or dermatologist if you have concerns.

Generally, it’s OK (and often recommended) to start in your 20s.

“It depends on your skin concern but, for example, to assist with problematic skin concerns and the appearance of scarring, you may begin using retinol in your late teens,” says Allen.

“To address early signs of ageing, introducing a retinol in your early 20s is usually recommended.”

You can't really use retinol preemptively to prevent ageing, but starting early can help benefit the skin. That said, it’s never too late to start using a retinoid product.

Best Retinol Serums in Australia for Your Skin Type.

Which retinol product you choose will depend on your skin type.

“Thin, delicate skin may need retinols in lower strengths or in formulations that provide a slower, gentle delivery that is combined with hydrating and soothing ingredients,” says Allen.

“Thicker, more robust skins often respond well to retinols that provide a more pronounced exfoliative action to smooth and refine the skin surface.”

Cosmedix is a trusted cosmeceutical brand that carries several retinol products with varying strengths and supporting ingredients. Let's break down some of our favourite Cosmedix retinol offerings so you can find your perfect match.

Best Retinol for Dry Skin.

Cosmedix Serum 16 Rapid Renewal SerumCosmedix Serum 16 Rapid Renewal Serum

Use: Cosmedix Serum 16 Rapid Renewal Serum

How it works: Still powerful and potent, the hydrating formula gently retexturises skin to leave it looking radiant.

What it does: 

  • Reduces the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles.

  • Improves skin texture and tone.

  • Improves the look of age spots and discolouration.

  • Boosts vital hydration.

Best Retinol for Acne or Oily Skin.

Cosmedix Refine Refinishing TreatmentCosmedix Refine Refinishing Treatment

Use: Cosmedix Refine Refinishing Treatment 4%

How it works: A lightweight retinol treatment, this quickly absorbs into the skin giving powerful results without dehydrating the skin.

“AGP complex is at the heart of this formulation, while L-Proline helps retexturise skin,” says Allen.

What it does: 

  • Reduces the look of fine lines and other signs of ageing.

  • Improves skin texture and colour.

  • Helps problem skin.

  • Has a mattifying effect.

Best Retinol for Sensitive Skin (And Rosacea Skin).

Cosmedix Refine Plus High-Potency Refinishing TreatmentCosmedix Refine Plus High-Potency Refinishing Treatment

Use: Cosmedix Refine Plus Refinishing Treatment 8%

How it works: A high-strength retinol serum packed with potent ingredients including AGP Complex, L-Sodium Lactate, and L-Sodium PCA to smooth, balance, even out and plump up skin.

What it does:

  • Helps with enlarged pores, hyperpigmentation, melasma and sun damage.

  • Reduces the look of fine lines and wrinkles.

  • Improves skin texture and colour.

  • Causes less irritation compared to other retinoids.

  • Detoxifies and mattifies the skin.

Best Retinol for Uneven Skin.

Cosmedix Define Age-Defying TreatmentCosmedix Define Age-Defying Treatment

Use: Cosmedix Define Resurfacing Treatment

How it works: This rich, exfoliating and multitasking cream uses Retinol A, a trans-retinol. This penetrates the skin using fruit acids in a cream base to resurface and hydrate your skin.

What it does:

  • Exfoliates epidermal cells.

  • Assists with resurfacing skin.

  • Assists in calming problematic skin.

How to Use Retinol.

First, a reminder of the main basics when introducing or adding retinol into your routine:

  • Use only at night time.

  • Always apply sunscreen regularly throughout the day.

  • Do not use vitamin A if you are pregnant or breastfeeding - always consult your medical professional before starting any new product or routine.

  • See a doctor or dermatologist to discuss any specific concerns.

Now, if you're a retinol beginner, please do not go straight for the strongest retinol serum.

You will not get results faster. (Far from it, you'll end up with retinol face a.k.a redness, flakiness and irritation.)

A good, general rule to follow is ‘start low and go slow’, but a consultation with your skin therapist, doctor or dermatologist is always best to determine the right strength of retinol for your skin.

If you experience (or want to try and avoid) what’s termed a ‘retinoid response’ - increased skin redness, flaking or sensitivity - Allen recommends following the ‘3,2,1 rule’ which will help your skin build up its tolerance to vitamin A.

The 3, 2, 1 rule involves applying your retinol every third night for two weeks, then every second night for two weeks, before building up to nightly use. If irritation continues, reduce the concentration or the frequency.

And that is your crash course in choosing the right retinol for your skin type!