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How To Start Using Retinol If You've Never Tried It Before

Don't be intimidated!
PHOTO: Getty Images/iStockphoto

The only thing we hear about as often as retinoids are its intimidating side effects. Once you start using this potent ingredient, it starts a process called "retinization" on your skin, which takes the form of redness, peeling, and dryness. Definitely not the most enticing thing ever, but powering through it will reap you benefits like smoother skin and fewer breakouts eventually. But to soften the blow, you may want to start with retinoid's gentler little sister—retinol.

Retinol, like retinoid, is also a vitamin A derivative that gives the same anti-aging and anti-acne perks. It just works slower, hence why it's considered gentler. Whereas retinoids are strictly by prescription, you can easily get retinol over the counter. While retinol-infused products usually have ingredients to minimize irritation already, you'll most likely still experience its side effects—especially if you have sensitive skin. Ahead, we list ways to make the process more tolerable, especially if you're a retinol newbie:

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  1. Begin with a small percentage.

    Retinoids, even retinols, are no joke for a first-timer. So when looking for your entry-level product, go for something with as little as 0.1 percent to 0.5 percent retinol. It may not sound like a lot, but it could be for your skin! Once you adjust to this concentration, you can move on to stronger formulations like one percent, two percent, and so on.


    First Aid Beauty Skin Lab Retinol Serum .25% Pure Concentrate, P3,808, Sephora


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  2. Don't use it every day.

    As tempting it is to use retinol daily for faster results, it's not the best choice for avoiding side effects. We suggest using it every three nights first. Keep this up for a few weeks, slowly building up your tolerance until you can handle putting it on every other night or every night.

  3. Use it only at night.

    Since retinol is a potent exfoliant, it makes your skin more sensitive to sun damage. That's why aside from doing the tips above, it should belong exclusively to your nighttime routine. This way, you're minimizing irritation by exposing your skin only to UV rays in the day, and then retinol at night. With that said, once you start using the ingredient, always wear sunscreen!


    Biore UV Perfect Milk SPF 50 PA++++, P455, Lazada


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  4. Try diluting it.

    Limiting direct contact with retinol can make it more tolerable while you're starting out. For one, intead of putting on the retinol product directly onto your face, you can create a milder cocktail by mixing it with your moisturizer or night cream. You can also switch your usual skincare order and apply your moisturizer first, let it dry a little, and then layer your retinol product on top. You can layer even more moisturizer over that if you need to!

  5. Combine it with gentle products.

    The last thing you want is more irritation, so try to stick to a chill regimen while building your tolerance to retinol. Stick to the basics: A gentle, pH balanced cleanser, a basic moisturizer without too many active ingredients, and in the daytime, a broad spectrum SPF. Avoid using your retinol alongside actives like vitamin C, AHAs, and BHAs for the meantime, too, but if you have to, use them in the daytime when you're not using retinol.


    Sebamed Clear Face Antibacterial Cleansing Foam, P838, Watsons


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    Cetaphil Rich Hydrating Night Cream, P649, SM Beauty