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When Can You Start Using Retinol?

Your better skin journey starts sooner than you think.
September 01, 2023


If you know even a little about retinol, you’ve probably come to realize that it’s a very regimented ingredient. There are rules about how to start using it, how to coordinate proper sun protection with it, whether or not you can wax after use, and so on. But when it comes to when to start using retinol, there’s a lot of conflicting advice about what to do. Here, we’ve gathered all the information you need and reached out to an expert so we can share the facts about when to add retinol to your skin care routine.

When Should You Start Using Retinol?

You don’t hit a certain age and automatically know that adding retinol to your routine is something you’re supposed to do. The truth is, a dermatologist may advise their patients to start using retinol at different ages depending on their skin care concerns. As a result, it’s an ingredient recommended for a wide age range, including those in their 20s. 

Retinol can also be used by those who are younger than you may have expected. We spoke with Dr. Joshua Zeichner, NYC-based board-certified dermatologist and L’Oréal Paris consultant, who shares, “When it comes to retinol, you certainly can start using it at an early age. In fact, prescription strength retinoids are commonly given to teenagers to treat acne.”

“Retinol enhances cell turnover and can prevent skin cells from sticking together within the pores,” he continues. So despite its known anti-aging benefits, you don’t necessarily have to wait until you notice signs of aging to start using retinol.

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How to Add Retinol Into Your Skin Care Routine

Incorporating retinol into your skin care routine will depend on what type of product you’re using. If you’re using a retinol serum, apply it after cleansing and toning and before moisturizing. If your moisturizer contains retinol, use it at the end of your routine and before SPF if it’s daytime. When using a retinol cream at night, that should be your last step.

You’ll also need to allow for an acclimation period with retinol. Always check the instructions on your product (or the brand’s website) for best practices, as usage will vary based on several factors, including what other ingredients the product has been formulated with. If you notice irritation that persists, discontinue use and consult with your dermatologist. 

We also highly recommend consulting with your derm about any retinol product before you add it to your skin care routine, especially if you’re pregnant or trying to become pregnant, as women are discouraged from using retinoids during pregnancy (more research needs to be done to confirm the effects of the ingredient on a developing fetus). 

How to Use Retinol in Your 20s

Your 20s are a great time to start a preventative skin care routine with retinol.“I love when my younger patients in their twenties are using retinol,” says Dr. Zeichner. “Strengthening the skin early in life will give you a stronger foundation on which you will age.”  

Our Favorite Retinol Products for Your 20s

One of our favorite ways to get started with retinol is to use a retinol night cream like the L’Oréal Paris Revitalift Pressed Night Moisturizer with Retinol + Niacinamide. The formula includes retinol and niacinamide to help tighten the look of the skin, and the moisturizer is formulated to help balance the potential drying effects of retinol, leaving your skin feeling deeply hydrated.


How to Use Retinol in Your 30s

If you didn’t jump on the retinol bandwagon as a teen or in your 20s, it definitely isn’t too late to start. While prevention is great, minimizing the look of wrinkles is also a valuable benefit of retinol. In your thirties, you can use a retinoid for improving the appearance of wrinkles by incorporating a retinol serum or moisturizer formulated with retinol into your routine.

Our Favorite Retinol Products for Your 30s

While an over-the-counter retinol cream won’t be as strong as a retinoid you’d be prescribed by the dermatologist, it can still be effective. The L’Oréal Paris Revitalift Triple Power Day Lotion SPF 30 is a perfect example. This moisturizer with SPF is formulated with Pro-Retinol, vitamin C, and hyaluronic acid, 

One of the biggest highlights of the product is that it offers broad-spectrum sun protection, which is key for a daytime moisturizer. As per the Food & Drug Administration (FDA), retinoids are known to increase skin’s sun sensitivity, so skipping sunscreen is a non-starter. Remember to reapply frequently, especially after sweating or swimming.

How to Use Retinol in Your 40s

Don’t stop using retinol when you hit your forties. Instead of completely switching up your routine, we recommend adding to it. Keep using your retinol serum, but make sure your regimen includes a moisturizer with retinol, too. 

Our Favorite Retinol Products for Your 40s

Try the L’Oréal Paris Revitalift Triple Power Anti-Aging Moisturizer Fragrance-Free, which is formulated with Pro-Retinol, vitamin C, and hyaluronic acid — three top anti-aging ingredients that help boost hydration, brighten the skin and improve the skin’s texture. This face cream visibly reduces the appearance of wrinkles and firms and brightens the skin with just one week of continued use.

How to Use Retinol in Your 50s and 60s

Once you enter your 50s and 60s, you should still use retinol. Make sure you’re taking care of not just your face but your neck, too. Your neck is a key spot that can show signs of aging, which is why you won’t want to overlook it (the key is to start early and continue when you are in your 50s and beyond).

Our Favorite Retinol Products for Your 50s and Older

Use a retinol serum like the L’Oréal Paris Revitalift Derm Intensives Night Serum, 0.3% Pure Retinol. This face serum is formulated with a high concentration of pure retinol, and it works to improve the appearance of key signs of aging, including wrinkles. The night serum also smooths and brightens your complexion for a luminous finish. Apply two to three drops to your face, then add one or two drops to your neck and décolleté.

Next: A Beginner's Guide To Retinol

Photographer: Chaunte Vaughn

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