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Common Retinol Mistakes you need to stop making

What is Retinol?

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Vitamin A has many derivatives of which one group is known as Retinoid. However, the one that is most suitable for skin is Retinol which falls under the group of Retinoid. There are many types of Retinoids available in the market and they all deliver the same result in the end. The difference is in the strength and potency of each type of Retinoid. Retinol is touted as one of the most tolerable forms of Retinoid and hence it is commonly spotted in OTC products. If you’re a beginner that is scared for life to risk your skin by using Vitamin A, then look out for products with a low concentration of Retinol. However, even with lower concentrations the possibility of irritation and redness can occur. Learn how to get the most out of your Retinol and avoid making these common mistakes and watch your skincare game change for good!

What are the skin concerns it could address?

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But before you dive into an ingredient, let’s understand if you really need to include this ingredient in your skincare. Here are some skin concerns that Retinol could address:

1. Whiteheads and blackheads

Retinol has the power to dissolve dead skin and remove excess oil and eliminate acne-causing bacteria from your skin. It does this by increasing the cell turnover that helps unclog your pores and decrease whiteheads and blackheads on your skin. 

2. Fine lines and Wrinkles

Just as we mentioned, Retinol does increase the cell turnover that stops dead skin from accumulating. This drastically shows younger and smoother looking skin which we all aim for!

3. Sun damage and hyperpigmentation

Sun damage results in deforming and inflaming your skin, which is why you get dark spots due to sun damage. This is because the skin has gathered a pigmented protein called melanin where your skin is damaged. Retinol helps you revive the skin cells that will help you fade the dark spots over a period of time.

4. Acne scars

Once the acne is gone, your skin is left with a wound. To protect that wound, your skin will gather melanin in that area, which gives you that annoying brown mark. With the help of Retinol, your skin will regenerate to fade that mark sooner.

    Learn more about the benefits of Retinol here.

    What are the different forms of Retinoids and which one should you look out for?

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    As we mentioned earlier, Retinol is a form of Retinoid. For OTC products, only Retinol is used since it is less reactive than Retinoid. But the secret is that Retinoids have many forms and they all have different strengths. Let’s walk through each one of them.

    1. Retinyl Esters

    These molecules take about three steps to convert into the final product- Retinoic Acid, once it is absorbed by your skin. This is why it has less intensity. The most common form of Retinyl Ester that you may spot on the ingredient list is Retinyl Palmitate.  You can also consume it in Vitamin supplements.

    2. Retinol

    This one takes only two steps to turn into Retinoic Acid. It first turns into Retinaldehyde and then Retinoic Acid. This one is widely used in OTC since it shows effects in a reasonable period and is comparatively safe to use. It is generally available in different strengths - 0.025, 0.25. 0.5 and 1%. Start with the lowest after patch testing.

    3. Retinaldehyde or Retinal

    This is a strong form of Retinoid since it is converted to Retinoic Acid in just one step. This is generally used only after prescription since it is strong. You don’t really want to play with this without a word with your dermatologist.

    4. Retinoic Acid

    This is the active form of Vitamin A which is best not put on skin directly. 

    There are many other synthetic forms of Retinoid with the advancement in cosmeceuticals. Some of the available forms are Adapalene, Tazarotene, Tretinoin (also known as Retin-A), and Isotretinoin (also known as Accutane). These are all to be used only after consulting a doctor since they are of prescription strength.

    We understand that this could all be overwhelming to process which Retinol product is actually safe to begin with. So here we come to the rescue again. The two products we’d totally dig are Over Dermis Skin Alphabet Vitamin A Serum that has 0.1% Retinol which makes it a good pick for beginners.

    The other star is Neemli Naturals Retinol & Peptide Serum that is paired with Peptide to further help you repair your skin and its barrier. Learn more about Peptides here.

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    What are the mistakes you must avoid?

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    1. Using it in the AM

    Retinol and light do not go hand in hand. Light can interfere with the Retinol activity and make things worse for your skin by causing major irritation and peeling, so it is better to include it in just your PM routine.

    2. Not using sunblock

    Using active ingredients will do good to your skin but only if your post-skincare game is strong. Now that your skin is healing due to your skincare routine, make sure you’re protecting it. Make a point to end your AM routine with a sunblock. The one that we’d recommend is Dr Sheth's Oat And Zinc Mineral Sunscreen that has SPF 53 and protects your skin even from blue light damage.

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    3. Using harsh cleanser

    A cleanser that has grainy particles or a high concentration of chemical exfoliators like AHA, BHA will not do you good if you’re using Retinol at night. The reason being they may disrupt your skin’s pH which will further inflame and dry your skin if you’re using Retinol later.

    4. Using it on damp skin

    Retinol works best without water so make it a point to pat dry your skin, wait for a few minutes, and then when you feel it is completely dry, apply Retinol.

    5. Applying too much

    There’s a saying that Retinol is like caviar to your skin. You don’t need too much of it. A little is good to see results on your skin. Using it as moisturiser can overwhelm your skin so you use it in little dots. Stick to a pea-sized amount!

    6. Using it every night from the very beginning

    Your skin needs to get used to your skincare routine. It is just like how a grade 5 student does not jump to grade 8 directly. It is all about being gradual with your skin as well. So start with Retinol just twice a week and then build it to thrice a week and slowly towards using it on alternate nights. Using it every day will harm your skin because you’re bringing newness to your skin and not even giving it space to adjust to this newness.

    7. Not being consistent

    While using an active ingredient like Retinol may show you a bit of tightness, peeling, and redness but that will pass by once the skin builds tolerance for it. Many of us, cut off Retinol at this point after seeing the redness and peeling. However, we need to understand that out skin is just adjusting with a new ingredient and once it is familiar with Retinol, it will stop showing redness and peeling. If you stop during this adjusting stage and then start using it again after a few months then your skin will have to go through redness and peeling again. So it only makes sense to be consistent with using Retinol and not dropping it in the middle of the process. Give it at least a year to see the results. Using it during pregnancy: All the forms of Retinoid, including Retinol, have shown adverse effects on the child if used by the mother during pregnancy. It is not recommended to use it during pregnancy.

    8. Applying it too often on your neck

    The skin on your neck and near your eyes is thinner than the rest of your face and body. That is why you see the first signs of ageing around your eyes and neck. So make sure it does not wander near your under eyes and use it less often on your neck.

    9. Not using moisturiser right after

    Retinol can make your skin dry and so you need a good moisturiser to sit on top of it. This step cannot be eliminated since dry skin means an invitation to infection, inflammation, and redness. A moisturiser that we’d pick would be Dear, Klairs Midnight Blue Calming Cream that has calming properties and the ability to strengthen your natural skin barrier.

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    10. Not patch testing

    Every one of us has a unique skin. What fits our bill may not fit the other. So make a point to patch test before using an active ingredient like Retinol and for everything that goes on your face. Patch test always to avoid the purge!

    Learn how to patch test here.

    What is the right way to use Retinol?

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    1. Cleanse

    Make sure you’re taking off the day’s gunk every day from your face before starting your skincare routine. Pick something that will help you gently exfoliate so that your skincare can sink in better. We love Vaunt Daisy Flower+Vit B Face Wash that has Daisy Flower and Calendula Extracts that hydrates your skin and Vitamin B in it keeps away dullness.

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    2. Wait for the skin to be completely dry

    Yes, very important. We can’t stress this enough but your skin needs to dry. Not even one drop of water and not even damp skin. We need it to be dry. So wash your face, pat dry it, and wait for 5 minutes before applying Retinol.

    3. Apply Retinol

    There are pointers to remember before you apply Retinol, folks. Number one is to apply it in tiny drops on your cheeks, chin, forehead, and nose. And yes, tiny drops only.

    4. Number two is don't apply it every night

    If you’ve just begun with it then apply it twice a week. After 2 months, build it to thrice a week. You may experience redness and peeling in this duration but that only means that it is working. Once your skin settles, you can use it every alternate night. Using it every night is a big no-no.

    5. Moisturise

    Retinol activities may use up the moisture in your skin and make it dry. Dry is never good because that means a compromised skin barrier. So make sure to apply a generous amount of moisturiser right after. If you’re of dry skin type, you can apply moisturiser right after washing your face. Apply Retinol over it and then seal it all with another layer of moisturiser on top of it. This moisture sandwich method works well for sensitive skin and beginners too.

    When must you see a dermatologist?

    It is essential to start with the right concentration of Retinol and then build on it as your skin builds tolerance for it. But in case you're unsure of what is the right concentration to start with, given your skin’s nature, please consult a dermatologist before dipping in the Retinol sauce.

    The other situation when you might need to see a dermatologist is when you see an adverse reaction. As we mentioned earlier, it is common to see peeling, dryness, and a bit of redness. But in case, you tried to scratch your skin and you are concerned that the redness has lasted for a long time, see a dermatologist instead of self-medicating or cutting off Retinol.

    Watch our video to avoid making these common retinol application mistakes


    Retinol is hot amongst the skincare junkies and for all the right reasons. We can’t deny that it is a promising ingredient to heal, repair and clear your skin. But this ingredient needs to be used in the right way and one must know of it before including it in your skincare routine. Know all the pros and cons before using this ingredient. We’ve listed all the information that you must know of but if you’re unsure of how to use it and which is the right product for you, see a dermatologist!

    - Divya Salvi

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