November 9, 2016

Retinol: Why You Should be Using One

what is retinol and how to use it my recommended retinol products

Retinol: A topic I’ve been wanting to talk about for awhile now. I mentioned in an earlier post, a few weeks ago, I paid a long overdue visit to my dermatologist. The actual reason for my appointment was to talk about IPL,  something I’ve been wanting to do to get rid of a few dark spots that have been bothering me, but I’ll save that topic for another day.

During my appointment, my dermatologist wanted to go over my full skincare regimen. We spoke about cleansers, AHAs, oils, SPF and everything in between. The one thing my routine was missing was a retinol treatment. Even before I was pregnant (you cannot use if you’re pregnant or nursing), retinol was never really part of my routine. Of course, in typical fashion, I wanted the full rundown as to why I should start using one. During our conversation, she brought in one of her coworkers, a 65 year old woman who started using a retinol 15 years ago: “Do you see Mary? She looks better at 65 than she did at 50. Do you know why? Because she incorporated a retinol into her routine..” Mary agreed and proceeded to show me photos of her 50 year old self and the results were astonishing.

What It Does:

Retinol is considered to be the #1 ingredient to stop aging in its tracks and reverse previous damage. It is actually proven to stimulate collagen production, making your skin appear plumper. It is also proven to minimize the look of pores and uneven pigmentation brought on by sun damage. Basically, a godsend to those who want to reverse past and future damage, preventing wrinkles, color discoloration and helping other issues, such as acne. Because it works to increase cell turnover, initially, retinol can make your skin very delicate. This is one of the main reasons why it’s such a miracle product, but if you don’t use it correctly, it will cause more harm than good.

Some very important things to keep in mind:

When using a retinol, an SPF of 30+ is a MUST.  I cannot stress this enough! As mentioned above, because it essentially sheds new skin, exposing that skin to the sun (even on a cloudy day) is almost like exposing a babies skin to the sun. Don’t even go there.

For this reason, only use it at night. Even when washed off in the morning, your skin is sensitive to the sun, so that’s why the SPF is stressed.

Again, retinol should not be used if you’re pregnant or nursing.

How To Use:

Retinol is not a product you want to jump into head first. It’s something you want to slowly ease into. Your skin may take several weeks getting used to using a retinol treatment and in the beginning, redness and flakiness are normal. Your skin may look slightly worse before it looks better, but again, this is normal. I’m currently using my retinol three nights a week and on those days, I don’t use any other strong products (like P50, but I will use a much milder acid, like Pixi Glow Tonic). I use a tiny, pea sized amount and spread all over my entire face and chest area. I follow up with a super moisturizing night cream, followed by an oil to seal in the moisture.

Below are some retinol products that I recommend (after asking my derm, trying myself or from doing my own research). Once your skin gets accustomed to a retinol, you may want to ask your dermatologist for a prescription for something stronger. In the meantime, some of the best in the market, including a drugstore one:

1. Kate Somerville RetAsphere

2. Peter Thomas Roth Retinol Fusion PM

3. Kate Somerville Dermal Quence Liquid Lift

4. Skinceuticals Retinol 1.0

5. ROC Corrextion Sensitive Night Cream

**Edited to add, since publishing this post, I’ve been using Shani Darden’s Retinol Reform that I wrote about here. It’s gentle, yet extremely effective.




  • Emilia Dobrydney

    Great read–I really want to start using a retinol treatment but want to ask you a bit more about your routine. Based on your recommendation I began using P50 which was amazing for me! Do you use the P50 with the retinol? Also in which order do you apply it? Before or after serum etc.. Thanks in advance and have a beautiful day 🙂

    • Helena

      Hi Emilia!

      P50 is an amazing product, but I don’t like using it with a retinol. They’re both strong products and using together, is just too much for the face. I will use a very mild acid like Pixi Glow Tonic, but nothing stronger.

      My routine would be something like this: cleanse (double cleanse if I’m wearing makeup). Pixi Glow Tonic, a spritz of thermal water, a pea size of retinol and then I’ll moisturizer and oil up.

      In the morning, you want to be sure you properly cleanse to remove all retinol and then protect your face and chest with a good sunblock.

      Hope this helps!

      • Emilia Dobrydney

        Thanks so much–it helps a ton 🙂

  • sasa

    Good to know:P

    Shall We Sasa

  • elizabeth

    great information, thank you! i recently purchased the cerave cream with retinol but i’m still researching it and reading reviews before starting. i’m about to be 32 so i figured now is a good time!

    • Holly Eddington

      Just an Fyi for everyone: kate Somerville is the only one on here that does not condone animal testing. If this is important to you, as it is to me, then buy her products! 🙂

  • Jo

    Great post! Any reason you didn’t include neutrogena’s retinol products? I ask because just last week in a newsletter one of the blogs Birdie?recommended their product. Just curious what your thoughts are. Thanks.

    • Helena

      Hi Jo!

      I’ve never tried the Neutrogena one, so I can’t speak for it! BUT, I will say that I’ve never really been a big fan of Neutrogena products. I used them in my early 20s and I remember not being happy with them. Since then, I haven’t really been inclined to try anything new.

  • Miss Pippi

    Thanks for the tips.

  • Monika

    Really want to try the Peter Thomas stuff I have heard a lot of good about it!

  • Allegra

    How long would you recommend to wait after the retinol product before applying the moisturizer?

    Also, if someone’s on a budget, I would like to recommend The Ordinaries products for very affordable but clinically formulated skincare in general, and here, their retinoid in particular.

    • Helena

      Hi Allegra,

      I usually wait about 3-4 minutes between my products.

      And thanks for the rec! I’ll have to look into it!

      • Allegra

        I’m afraid that’s way too short of a time for the retinoid to work :/ You should give it time to work its magic for 20-40 min before diluting its effect by adding your moisturizer. Otherwise you’re just wasting your precious retinol. (So many people are not using actives like retinol properly and therefore, are not seeing the optimal results.)

  • Serensays

    Wow, thanks for this! I’m 28 and starting to really focus on my skin care routine I had no idea about what Retinol was, I’d heard the word but thought it was another “buzzword.”

    This was really insightful!

  • Mila

    I have a Retinol gel from my Dermatologist to manage my adult acne…is this ok to use daily even after I have my acne under control or you suggest a lighter version that you can purchase over the counter?

    • Helena

      Hi Mila!

      I ‘m not sure how strong yours is, so I would definitely ask your derm just to be safe! But retinol creams/gels are used for many things, including getting acne under control. I just don’t want to lead you in the wrong direction since I’m not entirely familiar with what you’re using.


  • Jess

    Helena, thanks so much for this post! I use a retinol now, but my husband and I are going to start to try to get pregnant, so I need to stop using. What was your skincare routine during pregnancy to keep your skin glowing, prevent damage, etc.?

    • Helena

      Hey Jess,

      First off, congrats on deciding to start a family. I know that’s a big move!

      As far as my skincare routine, It was pretty much the same as before I got pregnant (and now) with the exception of retinol. Basically, everything is okay, including acids), except vitamin A/Retinol. As a matter of fact, my skin never looked better than when I was pregnant. Those hormones did wonders for me.

      One thing, sunblock on a daily basis is KEY. I got dark spots and I wonder if I could have prevented them if I was diligent with an SPF of 30 or more.

      • Jess

        Thanks for the tips!

  • Lera

    Hi Helena, you didn’t mention Paula’s Choice. Your derm didn’t say anything about it? I’ve tried it before, and was wondering if you have anything to say about this brand.

    • Helena

      Hey Lera!

      She didn’t – but not because it’s a bad one! There’s just so many out there, hard to cover them all. I can’t speak for it personally as I’ve never tried it.


  • sherita Rankins

    Thanks for this helpful info. Even though I have been modeling for years, it wasn’t until I started blogging that I actually started to pay attention to what I use on my skin. As an African American, aging hasn’t really been a concern but it is always good to have something in your arsenal to keep you looking young. Great Info!!

  • Yasmin

    Such a great post Helena! I’ve started using Shani Darden’s Retinol Reform a few weeks ago and it has made a huge difference to my skin already. It’s a lot brighter and my dark spots are fading very quickly. It has 5% Retinol in it but it’s super gentle and I didn’t experience any redness or dryness. Can only recommend it! Xx

    • BrooklynBlonde

      Hi Yasmin!

      I’ve heard so many amazing things about Shani Darden’s Retinol. I might have to give it a try once I rut out of the 15 bottles I currently have..haha!

  • Kendall

    Hi Helena! Have you tried Tretinoin cream at all?

  • nicole sioui

    I’ve tried retinol in the past and turned red and flakey so I didn’t pursue. Do you suggest distancing applications?
    ** ( when wanting to leave a comment someone else’s name, email and website appears in the section… is this a problem on my end or your site? ) I tried deleting but it just reappears. I would hate to be the instigator of a virus.

    • nicole sioui

      It appeared in the camel coat post and a few posts back but wasn’t the same name.

      • Helena

        Hi Nicole!

        The red and flakiness seems to be a normal side effect. Were you using several days in a row? If so, that would definitely do it to you. I would start out slowly and wait till your skin builds up a tolerance.

        And thanks for letting me know about the comment issue! Please let me know if it’s still happening.


  • Brooke finan

    Wanted to ask you which thermal water you use? I’ve tried a few, but would love to hear which one is your go too! No exaggeration when I say, I’ve found your skin care posts to be the most real, and the products you use have become my household favorites. Thanks!

    • Helena

      Hey Brooke!

      Thank you so much! I’m so glad to hear that.

      My favorite is from Caudalie!

  • Jacqueline Simpkins

    I’ve been using Ziana for the last 5 years now. I have acne prone skin so my derma prescribe Ziana. I also use Josie Moran oil and Dr Jart for moisturizer. I don’t breakout as much anymore and my skin texture also improved. I wear less make up now which makes me so happy.



    • Helena

      Hey Kendall!

      I actually HAVE NOT! But it’s next on my list. I have a few I need to use up before I can justify getting a new one, but I definitely want to try it.

  • Mila

    Hi Helena,
    Thank you for the post. I really enjoy reading all your beauty posts and look forward to future ones especially after being pregnant recently and having few hypermigmented spots. I wanted to ask you if you are still using Sunday Riley good genes with retinal creams and P50 and where does it fall into your routine.
    Thank you

    • Helena

      Hey Mila!

      Yes, I LOVE Sunday Riley Good Genes! Basically, on the days that I use retinol, I make sure that’s my only “main” ingredient. So it will be retinol with oils and moisturizers.

      I’ll use P50 and Good Genes on alternating days that I use my retinol!

      Let me know if that answers your question!

  • Pallavi

    Such an informative post! I have always wondered about retinol but never tried it because I wasn’t sure if it was for my skin x

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  • kim

    out of the first four, which is your favorite?

    • Helena

      Hmmm.. that’s a hard one, but I’d probably go with the Peter Thomas Roth and the Skinceuticals.

  • Elizabeth

    Wow, I never really knew that retinol had so many benefits! Thank you so much for sharing this very thorough post about it – it’s very informational! Will definitely do a little more research and ask my doctor about it 🙂 <3

    XO, Elizabeth

  • Nan

    Why bother with retinol, when you can get retin-a?

  • Flor

    Hi i am a long time fan. I took the plunge and just ordered Kate Sommervile 2 in 1 retinol creme. Hpe i get some good results.Thanks for posting recommnedations. These are by far my favorite posts. I love how you explain your routine and what products you trully use.


    Hi i love your blog! and your style can you make a post about how to style grey jeans, and your favorite brands.
    also you recdntly posted a product you use for your eyelashes can you tell me wich one is it?
    thank you beautiful!

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  • Marissa

    First off, love your blog. But question, what age would you recommend to start using retinol? Also, what sunblock do you recommend? Thanks in advance!

    • BrooklynBlonde

      Hey Marissa,

      Some doctors recommend to teenagers for the purpose of acne, but for aging, I think mid-twenties is a good time to start!

      For sunblock, I love Shiseido Ultimate Sun!

  • Anat V.

    Can you please email me your dermatologist/esthetician details? You have such a lovely skin, thanks for sharing your routine.

    • BrooklynBlonde

      Hey Anat!

      I go to Gramercy Park Dermatology!

  • Laura ingraham

    Shani Darden is the QUEEN of all retinols. She is a skin care guru to Jessica Alba, Marianna Hewitt etc … Her retinol is 5% which seems like a lot but somehow the formula is so gentle and I’m able to use it daily. I cannot sing her praises more – Helena you should definitely invest in her Retinol Reform!

  • Katia

    Helena, I’ve been reading your blog for years, but never left a comment before… Thank you for such a great website and interesting content and I must say that although I love your outfit posts, I can’t get enough of your NYC spots posts and motherhood updates 🙂 I love this topic and I sincerely think that retinol and tretinoin (the medical grade version of retinol) along with C serum are a must in my routine. Have you ever used OBAGI products? I think they are the most effective of all I tried.

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  • Tara

    Thank you for posting this! I’ve found your skincare posts so interesting and as a mid-20’s girl who is currently going through my first bout of “bad” skin, your posts have been very helpful. I own a good amount of night time skin products (Sunday Riley Luna & UFO oils, eye creams up the wazoo, etc.) but don;t exactly know the best way to use everything. Would really love if you did a post or video on your step-by-step routine. Sometimes the amount of products mentioned feels overwhelming to someone like me who doesn’t have a ton of skincare knowledge and still hasn’t found a dermatologist that will do anything other than try to sell me their own skincare line. Thank you!

  • jewel

    Hey Helena,
    Really great and informative post! I just started using retinA prescribed by my dermatologist. I apply my retina after washing my face, serum and moisturizer. You mentioned oil to seal in moisture. I feel like the oil and serum are somewhat similar, so do you use a serum or an oil in place of serum? I’m trying to decide if I should seal with an oil after my retina, serum and moisturizer. Thoughts? Thanks, girl!

  • Veniceblair

    Hii. I follow ur insta. For years I barely came to ur blog. Cuz I saw a post about skin care. I really though u were younger cuz u look good. Cuz the only ppl I know that look really younger than their age are Asian. I have a friend she’s 33 and she looks 18. And many others. I been using skin care products cuz of them. I see that what they do really works so Korean products r the best and also I use some frm here like Lancôme or Estée Lauder or Oils. I was surprised a lot of ppl start taking care of their skin really late I started at 21 cuz I’m scare of wrinkles and looking old. I didn’t even suffered frm acne or anything else but I don’t sleep a lot and get dark circles so I’m always looking for the products best for it. My second target r preventing wrinkles I’m 27now and I’m worry passing 30 will be difficult. U give good advice about retinal I only use retinol products every other day. ppl don’t saturate skin. Everything in excess is bad.

  • Rumah Dijual

    Great read–I really want to start using a retinol treatment but want to ask you a bit more about your routine. Any reason you didn’t include neutrogena’s retinol products? I ask because just last week in a newsletter one of the blogs Birdie?recommended their product. Just curious what your thoughts are. Thanks.

  • gaya hidup

    Really want to try the Peter Thomas stuff I have heard a lot of good about it!
    Gaya Hidup

  • Jessica

    Great article!! A few of the ones you suggested are some of my favorites!! If you’re interested in seeing a few more of my favorites, check out my blog

  • James Frazer Mann

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