A Beginners Guide To Retinol

We’ve taken the guesswork out of this mystical skin care ingredient for Retinol beginners everywhere

As a well-seasoned Retinol user, I often get concerned looks from people I know when I hype it up as my absolute favourite skin care ingredient of-all-time.

The image of skin flaking and peeling like no tomorrow is etched in many of our minds, along with the idea of Retinol being something that is both difficult and dangerous.

But the truth about Retinol is, while it does need to be used correctly and with care, it is actually one of the most tested and effective skin care ingredients we have. 

So, to get you started on your own Retinol journey, I’m going to dive into a bit more info about what Retinol is, what it’s good for, and how you can start using it… and hopefully debunk some Retinol myths in the process. 

Alpha-H Liquid Gold Midnight Reboot SerumAlpha-H Liquid Gold Midnight Reboot Serum


First things first, what is Retinol?

One of the most confusing things about Retinol is the many different names for its many different forms.

Technically, Retinol is one of the many different types of Retinoids, which is an umbrella term for Vitamin A derivatives. 

Retinoids tend to be stronger and require a prescription (e.g. Tretinoin), but weaker Retinols, Retinyl Palmitate and Retinaldehyde can all be purchased over the counter or online. 

In terms of what it does - Retinol works by increasing cell turnover and promoting collagen production. Over time, the skin’s structure changes and becomes better at renewing itself and healing. And by “over time” I mean between 3-6 months, so don’t over anticipate immediate results.

Okay then, what is Retinol good for?

Side note: Our Beauty Editor explains all the Retinol benefits for skin in the video below


Sounds good, so how can I start using Retinol?

The first step you need to take when you’re trying to figure out how to start using Retinol is to choose the right strength for your skin type.

Retinyl Palmitate is good for drier sensitive skin, but normal-oily skin can tolerate stronger Vitamin A derivatives such as Retinol and Retinaldehyde

When you begin using Retinol products you should always follow the directions, build up to regular use slowly, listen to your skin (slow down if it is causing flaking), and always follow up with a good moisturiser and an adequate SPF the next day. 

Here is how to use Retinol in your life:

A straightforward Retinol serum we love is the Skinstitut Retinol. It sits at a reasonable price point and contains an intense gel-like formula that makes skin firm and smooth. Generally, it encourages the shedding of dead skin cells to reveal a clearer skin texture over time. This is our pick for normal skin types, as it is effective without being too drying.

The Skinstitut Retinol is a night time treatment that can be applied after cleansing. Apply just a pea sized amount before moisturiser and make sure to apply a sunscreen like the Skinstitut Age Defence SPF50+ the next day, as the skin will become sensitised. Start by applying this just twice a week before working up to alternate nights as tolerated.


For those with maturing and dry skin types we love to recommend the Alpha-H Liquid Gold Midnight Reboot Serum. This powerful formula contains 14% Glycolic Acid and 1% Granactive Retinoid for some powerful exfoliation and moisture boosting. This serum truly accelerates cell turnover like no other, and also contains Collagen, Peptides and Ferulic acid to hydrate, firm and protect the skin.

Women over 50 will love the Alpha-H Liquid Gold Midnight Reboot Serum 50ml, as it expertly works to resurface and reboot the skin. Apply after cleansing at night and make sure to wash off any excess product the next day. We recommend adequate sun protection after using Retinol, so try pairing it with the Alpha-H Protection Plus Daily SPF50+.


Retinol is an extremely effective ingredient when it comes to tackling acne, as it helps to balance sebum production and excess oil. The PCA Skin Intensive Clarity Treatment: 0.5% Pure is the perfect candidate for acne prone and excessively oily skin types. To reduce congestion this formula pairs 0.5% Retinol with Niacinamide and Bakuchiol, so over time your skin is clear and acne scarring is reduced.

Oily skin types can usually tolerate Retinol quite readily, but we still recommend building up your tolerance to the PCA Skin Intensive Clarity Treatment: 0.5% Pure Retinol Night slowly. Apply a pea sized amount in the evenings after cleansing twice a week and gradually build up to applying it every other night, before applying it nightly (as tolerated). As always, an SPF like the mesoestetic mesoprotech melan 130 pigment control is necessary to protect the skin the next day.


Sensitive skin types need to take baby steps when it comes to adjusting to Vitamin A products. A great place to start is the Medik8 Crystal Retinal 1. This formula contains their lowest strength Retinal designed to be an entry level product. As you become accustomed to this formula you can move up in strengths in the Medik8 Crystal Retinal line.

The Medik8 Crystal Retinal 1 is also the perfect starting point for those still a little scared of Retinol. Apply this lightweight anti-ageing formula after cleansing and before moisturizer. Phase this formula in gradually, using only at night. Start with twice a week for two weeks, before moving up to alternate nights (or as otherwise tolerated. Pair it with a sunscreen like the Medik8 Physical Sunscreen SPF 50+ the following morning.


Boost the natural nutrients in your skin with the Mukti Organics Vitamin Booster Vital A Elixir. This mild, but fast acting formula contains Hydroxypinacolone Retinoate, which is a natural form of Vitamin A that is less likely to irritate the skin. This skin-loving serum also contains Aloe vera, Rosehip oil and Vitamin E to protect and nourish the skin.

The Mukti Organics Vitamin Booster Vital A Elixir 30ml is a groovy, natural retinol serum that is easily tolerated by all skin types. Use this serum in the evening after cleansing your skin. We recommend combining it with the Mukti Organics Age Defiance Night Serum for glowing results. Use every 1-2 nights and follow with SPF the next day. If you’re looking for a natural and vegan option try the Hunter Lab SPF 50+ Facial Sunscreen


Retinol is a great ingredient for the under eye, but it has to be formulated for this delicate area. The Dermalogica Age Reversal Eye Complex is a Retinol based eye cream that also contains Vitamin C and Niacinamide. The combination of these ingredients leave the undereye refreshed and brightened, while the inclusion of Retinol improves cell turnover to tackle fine lines and wrinkles.

The Dermalogica Age Reversal Eye Complex is a Retinol based eye cream that can be applied nightly. Start by using on alternate nights for two weeks before increasing usage. Start from the outer corner of the eye, moving inwards and pat in lightly. Apply after cleansing and before moisturiser. Pair with the Dermalogica PowerBright Pure Light SPF50 the following day.


The Murad Resurgence Retinol Youth Renewal Serum is a powerful serum that contains three types of Retinol to encourage cell turnover, prevent dryness, and boost efficacy. This gel-cream formula sinks into the skin easily and works for a range of skin types. It’s a gentle formula that over time reveals a glowing complexion.

Apply the Murad Resurgence Retinol Youth Renewal Serum 30ml at night after cleansing and before moisturiser. Retinol serums are great at delivering Retinol into the skin effectively. Use regularly and reduce if irritation occurs. Follow with moisturiser and SPF like the Ultra Violette Supreme Screen SPF 50+ Hydrating Facial Sunscreen when using Retinol regularly.


The Dermalogica Active Clearing Retinol Clearing Oil has a unique oil formula that contains both Salicylic acid and Retinol to deal effectively with breakouts. These ingredients are blended with a trio of nourishing oils such as Argan oil, Jojoba oil, and Rosehip oil to keep the skin hydrated and nourished. This formula helps the skin to remain smooth and renewed.

Apply 6-10 drops of the Dermalogica Active Clearing Retinol Clearing Oil to freshly cleansed skin at night. Smooth this serum all over the face and neck. If you have excessively tight or dry skin then follow with a moisturiser, but if you have normal-oily skin this should keep your skin well hydrated. Always follow with an SPF like the Dermalogica Invisible Physical Defense SPF30 50ml.





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