In the beauty industry, there are two universally accepted must-have products for your skincare routine. The first is the sunscreen, and the second is retinol. Everything else is pretty much optional.
There are few things you should consider before applying sunscreen, other than which brand do you like best and of course make sure that it is a broad spectrum SPF 30, that goes without saying.
Retinol, on the other hand, is a little more serious business!
This article will explore how your skin reacts to retinol and if it’s ‘safe’ to apply every night. But first, let’s do a refresher on what exactly is retinol, its many benefits, and some of its side effects.
But first . . .
Can you use retinol every night?
Once you build up a tolerance to retinol you can use it every night. However, it is often best to cycle retinol. This means using it 3 – 4 nights a week and then have 3 – 4 nights off. Where you can use AHA’s or BHA instead. There are benefits to cycling retinol
What is Retinol?
Retinol, also known as Vitamin A, is a type of retinoid that stimulates skin cell turnover, treats acne increases collagen production and makes skin look fresh, plump and even.
It is one of the best-known, over-the-counter skincare ingredients on the market. It has a lot of science backing up its claims. Retinol is definitely one of the popular kids in the skincare world so you will see it popping up in everything.
It is an overachiever and gets lots of gold stars from dermatologist and skincare nerds alike. It is fab but it can also burn you like literally cause chemical burns – so you need to be careful and start slowly.
How Does Retinol Work?
Retinol acts in the deep layers of the skin–beneath the epidermis (outer layer of skin)–in the dermis. It is active and meets the Klingman standards – which means that it can penetrate through the dermis layer of skin.
It is in the dermis that all the good skin stuff happens, mainly because there is blood supply and where there is blood there is life. Once your skin cells start their journey to the surface of your skin they get further away from the blood supply.
Cut off from blood and oxygen the skin cells essential die. Once they reach the surface they have morphed into tiny little shields that are joined by a waxy substance called the lipid matrix. These shield-shaped skin cells and the lipid matrix form a microscopic but very tough waterproof layer that protects you from invading bacteria and fungus and also from dying instantly from skin cancer caused by the photon rays from the sun.
Skin – it’s my favourite organ.
So once retinoic acid reaches the dermis it gets to work. Increases elastin and collagen production, which reduces fine lines and wrinkles.
It also makes your skin cells reproduce faster. These new cells then start their journey to the surface of your skin and they push all the old skin cells off faster. This is what causes the peeling skin and irritation that retinol is infamous for.
Simultaneously, retinol exfoliates your skin, which improves texture and tone. Exfoliation is great for oily skin because when you remove dead skin cells, it allows new fresh skin cells to be exposed and regulates sebum production in your pores.
If you have severe acne and related scarring, you’ve probably heard retinol referred to as ‘the wonder drug.’ because it also treats acne scars and the post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation that acne can cause.
Be sure always to apply retinol at night because sunlight will degrade the compounds in retinol which minimize its effectiveness. Retinol also makes your skin more sensitive to UV damage. It is super important to wear SPF 30 sunscreen every day when using retinol.
What’s With The Different Types and Strengths?
We are glad you asked because this is the important to know stuff.
Retinols come in different strenghts and formulations. There is even oral retinol taken in tablet form. You might have heard of it is called Accutane.
There are also retinoic acids (these are the strongest retinoids) they are only avalible on perscription in most countries.
Next comes Retinol this is avalible over the counter (OTC) but it is still strong and if you haven’t used retinol before this is not the vitamin A you are looking for! Go down at least one more level to the retinol esters or The Ordinary granactive retinols.
These will be much more gentle on your skin and are unlikely to cause purging.
Side Effects and Cautions
While the Food and Drug Administration approves retinol, it still has some pretty considerable side effects.
Retinol can be very drying and irritating to the skin and cause ‘purging.’
Purging is the process of skin cell turnover when you shed dead skin cells. It is also loving referred to as the retinol uglies.
Purging is actually a good thing because it reveals the clearer, fresher-looking skin underneath the peeling flakey snowstorm that purging can be.
Those who use retinol may experience dry and irritated skin, redness, itchiness, and peeling skin.
The side effects are temporary and should improve within a few weeks. Your skin just has to get used to the faster cell turn over.
How To Reduce Skin Irritation
- Wait about 30 minutes after washing your face to apply a retinol.
Washing your face can be irritating to your skin even if you use the most gentle, scent-free products. Give your skin some breathing room before you slap on the retinol.
2. Don’t use retinol in conjunction with other exfoliants.
I would also avoid using retinol in conjunction with AHAs and BHAs, or before waxing or laser procedures. For more information about using retinol and AHAs/BHA’s together, check out this article.
3. Protect yourself from the sun.
Your skin will be very sensitive to sunlight after using retinol because a fresh skin layer is exposed. Be sure to apply lots of sunscreen and avoid staying in direct sunlight for too long.
Can You Use Retinol Every Night?
This is a question that isn’t talked about enough in my opinion. Retinol is an active ingredient and it causes your skin to behave in a way it wouldn’t without retinol.
What does that mean?
If you are using retinol for its anti-ageing benefits then you’ll need to keep using it to keep the results it gives. When you apply retinol it stimulates your skin to make more collagen. If you stop using retinol, the changes it makes will slowly reverse.
Its not like if you skip a week your skin will reverse back to pre retinol state. But if you stopped using it for months you will notice fine lines getting deeper and that ‘fresh glow’ may start to dull.
The hyperpigmentation that is not visible when you use retinol may start to appear again.
The effects of retinol accumulate over time.
Because retinol is potent it can cause irritation, dryness and purging. There really is no need to go through the ‘retinol uglies’.
How To Cycle Retinol
- Start slowly, with low strength retinol, I always recommend The Ordinary Retinols if you are new to retinol use.
- Apply your retinol product twice a week, 30 minutes after moisturizer before going to bed.
- If your skin tolerates that ok then start using it 3 times a week and increase it to 4 times per week.
- You can use retinol every night to get maximum results and then cycle one month on retinol and one month off.
- Wear SPF sunscreen 30 every day is very important, but even more so when using retinol.
The reason for cycling retinol and not using every day it forever is because retinol does challenge the skin and giving your skin time to adjust and recover from retinol prolongs the benefits.
When to Consult a Dermatologist
You can do a lot for your skin with over-the-counter retinol and a good home skincare routine, but some skin conditions are going to require professional help.
If you have severe acne or your skin is not getting used to retinol after a couple of weeks, please consult a dermatologist. You may be experiencing contact dermatitis from the retinol.
Everyone’s skin is unique, so you just might need a unique solution. Retinol is not for everybody and is certainly not always a one-stop solution!
Retinol can do wonders for both aging and acne-prone skin. However, you need to be careful about how often you apply it–especially in the early days.
Do not expect results right away good thing take time and listen to what your skin is telling you. Go more gently and slowly than hard and fast.
And wear sunscreen every day.