How To Start Using Retinol

Retinol Tips for First-Timers

Welcome, retinol first-timers! 

When you’ve seen the results of retinol first-hand, you just want to share it with others. For skincare enthusiasts, meeting someone who’s interested in trying retinol can give us the same feeling we get when someone says they haven’t seen the best movie ever, or heard a band that you know they’ll love. Retinol can be a game-changer for your skin and offers an exciting solution to rejuvenate skin for a more youthful appearance. But retinol is powerful, and it’s important to learn all you can before diving in, to maximize results and avoid irritating your skin. Let’s get you started with what you need to know.

5 important tips for first-time retinol users

  1. Start small and dilute.

Retinol is powerful. The best results appear when you give your skin time to get used to a formulation, in the same way that some foods are an acquired taste. You might notice some redness or irritation when you begin, so take a step back if you notice your skin seems unhappy. 

A woman applies a skincare serum to her skin, representing first-time retinol use and how to apply retinol to your face.Here are some tips for introducing retinol:

  • Begin with a retinol product with a lower concentration like SkinMedica’s Retinol Complex 0.5.
  • Start with a small, pea-sized amount once a week, graduating to every few days, until your skin isn’t feeling irritated when you use the product.
  • Start using retinol at nighttime, so that it can work while you sleep and it won’t interact with your other skincare products. This will also give you a chance to gauge how your skin reacts.
  • Ask your skin specialist or a Cosmetic Surgery Clinic Beauty Nurse® about other tricks, like moisturizers you can blend your retinol with or skin regimens that help maximize the results a retinoid can offer.


  1. Start early.

You can start using retinol as early as your mid-twenties, when you begin to notice the first signs of aging like smile lines or crow’s feet. Early retinol use can help you get ahead of lines and wrinkles, and can brighten your complexion. 

  1. Avoid irritants.

If you’re a first-timer, you’ll want to take a look at your skincare routine or book a consultation with a skin specialist to make sure retinol plays nicely with the other ingredients in your skincare routine. Strong exfoliants or peels, and alpha or beta hydroxy acids can cause irritation or skin upset when used in combination with retinol. When you have your next skin consultation, ask us about timing; we may recommend using products like vitamin C in the morning, and your retinol product at night to avoid using too many active ingredients at once.

  1. Choose wisely

Choosing medical-grade, premium skincare that’s recommended by skin care specialists will help you find a retinol that really works. Beware of products that are diluted, and favour those backed by science or recommended by experts. Professionally recommended retinol products may cost more than the usual drugstore suspects, but you’ll ensure that you’re getting a concentration that’s effective for your skin and will avoid irritation or damage.

  1. Protect your skin.

We hope you’re layering on a broad-spectrum, high-SPF sunscreen every day anyway, but it’s especially important to wear sunscreen and protect your skin when using retinol. Retinol makes your skin more sensitive to sunlight and more prone to sun damage. Our online store offers some great TIZO® sunscreens that are free of chemical sunscreen filters and protect your skin with a soft, elegant finish.

Book a skincare consultation

Looking for more tips or recommendations on a personalized skin care regimen? Contact us to book a skincare consultation; we’d love to design a retinol introduction that’s perfect for your skin type.


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The talented, experienced plastic surgeons at our Kitchener-Waterloo clinic have the advanced training to create exceptional, natural-looking results that meet the individual needs of our patients. The collaborative nature of our practice benefits patients in many ways.

Dr. Robert Shenker Dr. Stephanie Ma
The Cosmetic Surgery Clinic