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Retinol is one of the most well-known, powerful and versatile active ingredients in the skincare world. Using a retinol serum or cream can have an impressive variety of benefits, from helping to stimulate collagen production to minimising the appearance of blemishes. However, retinol also has the potential for some unwanted side effects if you introduce your skin to this ingredient without following the directions for use. We created this guide to applying retinol to make sure you know how to help your skin adjust to this ingredient while minimising the chances of redness, discomfort or flaking. We’ll give you an overview of what retinol actually is and answer common questions like ‘how often should you use retinol?’. We’ll also walk through a retinol skincare regime featuring balancing ingredients like hyaluronic acid to help support your skin through the retinisation process.

Introducing retinol into your regime

Before diving into how to apply retinol, what is it? Retinol is a form of vitamin A that falls under the category of ‘retinoids’. Retinol’s ability to work deep within your skin to revamp your complexion is the key to its status as one of the most powerful skincare ingredients. Here are the main ways retinol works within your skin:

  • Speeding up skin cell turnover for fresher and more youthful looking skin
  • Helping manage blemishes by balancing sebum production and sloughing off dead skin cells.
  • Helping to stimulate collagen production to help re-firm the skin.
  • Targeting uneven pigmentation and acne scars.
  • Helping minimise the appearance of both fine lines and wrinkles.

These benefits mean retinol is well suited for people with oily skin, skin prone to mild acne and those with signs of ageing. However, understanding the possible side effects of retinol and how to avoid these is an essential first step before using this ingredient.

How often should you use retinol?

In terms of how often to use retinol, a gradual introduction is key to minimising the likelihood of redness, discomfort or flaking. This is especially important when applying retinol for sensitive skin or dry skin.

We recommend following the 1-2-3 rule: apply retinol once a week for one week, twice a week for two weeks, three times for three weeks, then move towards every second night if there are no side effects happening. If you do experience flaking, redness or sensitivity, simply move back to a lower frequency for a week.

The do's and don'ts for how to apply retinol

The potential side effects of retinol are undesirable but there are two important things to know about them. The first is that these side effects aren’t a sign that your skin isn’t suited to retinol – rather they’re temporary symptoms of the retinisation process and a sign your skin cell turnover is increasing. The second is that following best practice tips on how to apply retinol is a highly efficacious way to help minimise or avoid experiencing any side effects of retinol. 

Here are a few additional do’s and don’ts to keep in mind, along with recommended ingredient combinations:

  • Don’t ignore any side effects, it’s not a race to reach daily application.
  • Don’t apply retinol in the morning because it causes increased sensitivity to the sun.
  • Don’t skip your sunscreen, for the same reason. Daily sunscreen use is paramount during retinol use, if not every day anyway.
  • Do use a hyaluronic acid serum or a moisturiser after retinol application to hydrate the skin.
  • Do apply retinol to cleansed, dry skin to maximise the efficacy of this active.

How to use retinol and vitamin C: these two ingredients can both be highly beneficial for mature skin, but it’s best not to use them at the same time. We recommend applying vitamin C in the morning to make the most of its antioxidant properties during the day, then use retinol while your skin is at its peak renewal phase at night.

How to use hyaluronic acid and retinol: using hyaluronic acid over the top of your retinol serum or cream can help with the adjustment process, especially if you have dry skin.

How to use retinol and ceramides: retinol and ceramides are a great match. We recommend using a ceramide enriched moisturiser after your retinol serum to help support your skin moisture barrier.

Your CeraVe retinol routine

It’s important to know how to integrate retinol into your regime to help your skin adjust to this powerful ingredient. Follow this simple skincare routine, balancing out your retinol serum with hydrating and comforting ingredients as suggested below.

Hydrating cleanser

Start out with a hydrating facial cleanser to help prepare your skin for retinol. Our CeraVe Hydrating Foaming Oil Cleanser  is formulated with squalane oil and triglyceride to provide long lasting hydration. Gently massage product onto wet skin and rinse thoroughly. 

Retinol Serum

Once cleansed and patted dry, apply our Skin Renewing Retinol Serum which has a serum cream texture designed to improve the signs of ageing while supporting the skin’s moisture barrier with 3 essential ceramides. This serum features encapsulated retinol to reduce the potential for sensitisation. A thin layer is enough to allow the retinol, antioxidant chicory root and SK-Influx V to absorb into your skin. 

Hydrating serum

Next, pat on a few drops of our hydrating facial serum. Our CeraVe Hydrating Hyaluronic Acid Serum is developed with dermatologists to help the skin retain hydration and strengthen the skin’s moisture barrier thanks to its combination of hyaluronic acid and ceramides

Night Cream

Finish up your evening routine with our nourishing Skin Renewing Night Cream. Niacinamide and acetyl tetrapeptide-9 comfort the skin to help with the retinol adjustment process overnight. 

SPF moisturiser

The next morning, be sure to apply a facial moisturiser with sun protection. We recommend our CeraVe AM Facial Moisturising Lotion with SPF 15 to help protect your skin from UVA and UVB rays and assist in supporting the skin moisture barrier. Once applied, we recommend to follow with an SPF 50+ sunscreen for added protection.

Now that you know how to use retinol serum, What Ingredients Can You Mix with Ceramides in Skincare?

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