Best Age, Time, Skin Care Order

Best Age, Time, Skin Care Order

Retinol is a form of vitamin A used in skin care products. It is used on the skin to minimize fine lines, wrinkles, and hyperpigmentation (patches of skin darker than the surrounding skin). Retinol is best used at nighttime, after washing and drying your face.

This article will discuss how to start using retinol, its benefits, and side effects. It will also discuss how to properly use retinol with other skincare products.

recep-bg / Getty Images

When to Use Retinol, If You Choose To

Retinol is found in many types of skin care products like serums, lotions, and creams. It is sold over the counter (OTC; without a prescription) at many big-box stores. While it’s easy to find and use retinol, there are a few things to know about using this popular skin care product.

Retinol makes the skin more sensitive to sunlight. Therefore, it should be used at nighttime. It also breaks down in sunlight, so it’s typically found in dark packaging.

Even when retinol is used at night, it’s important to use sun protection during the day. This includes wearing a wide-brimmed hat, applying sunscreen, and wearing sun-protective clothing.

There is no specific age for someone to start using retinol. Generally, starting retinol in the 20s is recommended for purposes of preventing signs of aging. However, it can be used earlier, especially for those with acne.

Which Retinol Is Right for Me?

Finding the right retinol can be tricky. It comes in many forms, including the following:

When looking at labels, it’s generally recommended to start with the lowest retinol concentration and slowly increase over time. This helps to reduce the chance of developing skin irritation.

Retinol Skin Benefits

Retinol is touted for several skin benefits but is primarily known for its ability to treat acne and signs of aging. Potential benefits include:

  • Improves skin texture
  • Helps prevent water loss through the skin that can lead to dryness
  • Improves or prevents the development of fine lines and wrinkles
  • Helps fade dark spots
  • Helps unclog blocked pores and allows topical antibiotics to enter the pores better in people with mild acne
  • Helps unclog pores and promote cell turnover in treating keratosis pilaris, a bumpy skin rash

Application Order: Retinol, With Sunscreen, and More

When building a healthy skin care routine, a specific order should be followed when applying skin care products. The order is recommended so the skin care products can work effectively. Here is the application order:

  1. Wash the face: Wash your face using a gentle cleanser and then dry your skin.
  2. Apply retinol: Any medicine or specialized skin care product like retinol should go on after washing and drying the face. This allows it to get direct contact with the skin.
  3. Apply moisturizers and sunscreen: After retinol has been put on the skin, it’s time for moisturizers and sunscreens.
  4. Makeup: If wearing makeup, put it on last.

Retinol vs. Retinoid

The terms “retinol” and “retinoid” are sometimes used interchangeably by some companies, but these terms mean different things.

Retinoids are a class of vitamin A-based skin products used for acne and other various skin improvements. Retinol is a type of retinoid. Other retinoids include Differin (adapalene), Retin-A (tretinoin), Tazorac (tazarotene), and Aklief (trifarotene).

When to Stop Using Retinol

Retinol is generally considered a safe skin care product, but it can cause some mild to severe side effects. The side effects will depend on the retinol concentration and how frequently it is used. Some of the more common side effects are:

If you experience the above side effects, try using retinol only once every two or three days. When skin conditions improve, slowly increase frequency.

Other, more serious retinol side effects that occur in less than 10% of people are:

  • Blistering
  • Swelling
  • Eczema flare-up (a sensitive skin condition with an itchy rash)
  • Skin discoloration
  • Photosensitivity (skin reaction after exposure to the sun or other ultraviolet radiation sources)


Retinol is a skin care product used for fine lines, wrinkles, dark spots, and acne. It’s found over the counter in many forms and concentrations. When using retinol for the first time, use a low concentration at night and once every couple of days. Slowly increase the strength and frequency over time. This helps to reduce the likelihood of skin irritation.

By Patty Weasler, RN, BSN

Patty is a registered nurse with over a decade of experience in pediatric critical care. Her passion is writing health and wellness content that anyone can understand and use.