Retinoid Basics: How to Choose and Apply the Right Retinol for You


While the skincare industry is loaded with buzzwords like anti-aging, skin-renewing, and pore tightening, there is only one product praised for doing all of the above — the vitamin A family of retinoids, including OTC Retinol or Retinaldehyde, RX Retinoic Acid, Retin-A, and Tretinoin. I recommend a vitamin A topical for every skin type, regardless if your skin is sensitive, dry, oily, or acne-prone.

I want to break down exactly what this vitamin A active ingredient is, how it cares for your skin, and how to use it, so you can choose and apply the right retinoid product for you.

The Basics of Retinoids and How They Are Used

There are several forms of vitamin A topicals, from over-the-counter to prescription strength, that can benefit your skin. For example, Retinol itself is the product of endogenous retinal and retinoic acid synthesis, which are used to treat photo-aged skin and boost collagen production. 

Your epidermis is a retinoid-responsive organ, so vitamin A derivatives like retinol are absorbed naturally when applied straight to the skin. However, retinol can be extremely unstable and easily degrade into biologically inactive forms with exposure to light and air, so it is best used at night and not combined with any actives (like benzoyl peroxide) that could impact its efficacy.

Benefits of Retinoids for Your Skin

Retinoids penetrate deep into your skin, to reach the middle layer known as the dermis. Here retinoids help neutralize free radicals, increase natural production of elastin and collagen, creates a plumping effect that reduce the appearance of wrinkles and fine lines, address acne and even improves pore size. 

On the skin’s surface, retinoids regulate and optimize the skin cell cycle to sweep away dead skin cells to improve photodamage, pigmentation, and overall skin tone and texture. It also works to keep your pores clear of comedones or blemishes, helping reduce visible acne. However, bear in mind that the deep-reaching impacts of retinol means it may take 4 to 12 weeks to see the effects on your skin. 

Why Everyone Should Use a Retinoid

You may have heard that retinoids are not for everyone, especially those with sensitive skin. It is time to debunk that myth once and for all. To put it simply, there is no dermatologist that does not personally use some form of Vitamin A on their skin — it is that good and that important, period.

Everyone can and should incorporate this anti-aging powerhouse ingredient into their skincare routine, even if your skin is ultra-sensitive. It is only a matter of selecting the right product and understanding when (and how) to use it.

Choosing the Right Retinoid Formula for Your Skin

Retinoids can be purchased in varying forms and concentrations. For instance, compared to its prescription-strength counterpart tretinoin, over-the-counter retinol is 10 to 20 times less potent. Depending on the potency of the product you use, retinol can be potentially irritating to the skin, causing redness, dryness, stinging, or flaking — particularly for first-time users or those with more sensitive skin. 

If it is your first time trying retinol, always start with the mildest concentration. I recommend starting with over-the-counter retinol and graduating to prescription-strength Vitamin A. However, retinol formulations vary dramatically depending on the brand. There are both good and bad brands on the market, which can make it tricky as a consumer to select a product that works for you. My best piece of advice is to find a brand with integrity and scientifically-backed products. 

My favorite over-the-counter retinol, and one that I personally use, is Environ Youth EssentiA Vita-Peptide C-Quence. Currently, I use the strongest concentration, which is the Intensive Serum 4 Plus. I couple that with the Antioxidant Defence Crème, and I have also worked my way up to using the stronger strength Defence Crème Plus. Before I apply these Environ products, I start with an RX retinoid to maximize visible benefits with Altreno 0.05% Lotion (a brand name RX retinoid). These products are game-changers (especially if you use the Environ Microneedling Gold Roll-CIT first) that I use in my skin routine every night.


Youth Essentia Vita-Peptide C-Quence Serum 1

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Youth Essentia Antioxidant Defence Creme

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Microneedling Gold Roller

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Concentrated Retinol Serum 3

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Tips for the Best Retinoid Application

If you are new to using retinol or have sensitive skin, always start with the mildest concentration first. Introduce the product one night per week with the smallest quantity, just a half pea size for the entire face. Avoid the areas around the nose, mouth, and eyes, as these are most vulnerable to dryness and irritation. 

As your skin gets used to the product, slowly increase the frequency to nightly, the quantity to a pea size or more, and start applying it all over your face. You will eventually include application around your delicate eyes, but this takes several months or years of use. For the best retinol application, use the product at night-time on clean, dry skin. If your skin is even the slightest bit wet, the likelihood of exacerbating and magnifying the potential side effects of dryness and irritation are exponentially enhanced.

Consult with a Retinoid Skincare Expert

Do you want to start incorporating retinol into your skincare routine? We are here for you. Contact us with any questions. Here's to finding the highest trajectory on your skin journey!