Retinoids Skincare: All You Need to Know and How to Use Them

Retinoids Skincare: All You Need to Know and How to Use Them

We’re used to layering product after product every morning and night, all of which have different purposes and benefits for our skin. But what if we told you that there’s one product that contains many different benefits for the skin, ranging from anti-aging properties to sebum control and fighting acne?

Yes, you guessed it - that product is retinoid.

Retinoid has been an active ingredient in people’s skincare for decades, and there's a reason why. It can improve skin cell turnover, reduce dark spots, and help with acne.

More and more people are claiming that retinoids are their holy-grail skin care products. From retinoic acid to retinol serum, there are lots of variations you can bring into your skin care routine. (Why not give Misumi's Retinol Intense Repair PM Creme a try?)

In this article, we'll explore all their different properties and functions, as well as give you some tips on how to use them (as well as which products to stay away from while you’re using them).

So, if you’ve been wanting to try retinoids in your skincare, this is the article for you.

What Are Retinoids?

First and foremost, before going into all the practicalities of introducing this product in your skincare regimen, let’s first establish what retinoids are so you get a better understanding of what you’re putting on your face.

Retinoids are derivatives of vitamin A and they have been used as a skincare product for decades now. "Retinoids" is an umbrella term for all the derivatives that fall into the same group, the most famous of which is Retin A, made of tretinoin.

Another famous derivative is retinol, which is also a common product in skincare. There is retinoic acid as well, a type of acid that’s not only good for the skin but is also easily absorbable.

Retinoids skincare products can contain mainly retinoids, but they can also be mixed with other ingredients. This is mostly the case when a retinoid is used in an anti-aging product.

The Retinoid Family: Retinoids, Retinol, and Retin-A

As we’ve already mentioned, retinoid is a general term for all the derivatives of vitamin A that fall under the category of skin care products.

Retinol, on the other hand, has a specific formula and function. When retinol is applied to the skin, your skin enzymes convert it into retinaldehyde first and later into retinoic acid. Due to this slow process of conversion, it’s gentler on the skin than other retinoid products. At the same time, it will take longer to see results after you’ve been using it on a regular basis. Many anti-aging night cream products include this ingredient.

Nevertheless, the results come eventually, so you don’t have to worry about missing out on anything.

Retin-A is most commonly used to treat acne. This tretinoin cream is extremely strong, but also exceptionally effective for many skin issues. Due to its stronger nature on the skin, it does provide faster results. However, at the same time, the risk of getting any of the side effects is greater. If you suffer from severe acne, this product will be best for you.

Both retinol and Retin-A will need careful consideration before you use them on your skin. If you're not sure which one's best for you, speak to a board-certified dermatologist or your doctor.

Benefits of Using Retinoid on Your Skin

There are many benefits you can experience by trying out retinoids. Remember, like all other products, it will take approximately 3-4 months for you to notice any significant improvements on your skin, whether in terms of acne reduction, fine lines, and wrinkles, or uneven skin tone.

Let’s examine all the potential benefits of retinoid usage.


Most people use retinoids in order to treat acne or eliminate it completely. Many people who have been struggling with severe acne for decades are prescribed either topical retinoid cream or Accutane.

Both the oral medication and the topical treatment can drastically reduce the amount of acne you have and minimize irritation. What’s more, they can prevent acne in the future by shrinking pore size, treating excess sebum, and unclogging pores. This means fewer acne scars, too. All of this combined will ensure that the breakouts are minimized and your complexion stays clean and shine-free.

You can use topical retinoids by applying a small amount of the product on a clean face approximately 30 minutes after you’ve washed for optimal results. If you plan on going on Accutane, it’s imperative you visit an experienced dermatologist who will carefully determine the dosage of Accutane and explain to you all the possible side effects.

While we’re on the subject of Accutane, some people may be hesitant to try out even the best retinol creams because their skin will worsen before it gets better. This is technically true – your skin will take some time to get used to the formula. In that period of time, you may experience some uncomfortable side effects.

This period is commonly referred to as ‘purging’ or the ‘detoxification’ of the skin. Although it’s unpleasant for those who’ve suffered from acne for years, it’s completely normal, and every acne patient goes through it.

Eventually, after your skin is used to the new product, your breakouts will start to go away, and new, clear skin will be revealed underneath.

Wrinkles, Fine Lines and Premature Signs of Aging

Now that you know all the benefits of retinoids in terms of acne let’s see how it affects wrinkles. Although these common skin problems aren’t directly related, retinoids can potentially work on both.

Retinoids increase the amount of collagen Retinoids increase the amount of collagen in your skin, which definitely contributes to a decrease in wrinkles and lines. Collagen is produced by fibroblasts, which support the epidermis and create collagen. As we age, our collagen production drops, so it always helps to include products that contain collagen in our skincare routine. Collagen not only keeps the wrinkles at bay, but it also keeps your skin plump, reducing skin aging and giving you a youthful look.

On top of that, retinoids can also stimulate the production of elastin in your skin. Just like the name suggests, elastin gives your skin elasticity, which is incredibly important for preserving a
 youthful appearance. Skin that doesn’t contain enough elastin usually shows signs of aging and creasing, so if you want to avoid all of that, retinol is the way to go.

Besides increasing collagen production and elastin, retinoids also stimulate new blood vessels that keep our skin healthy and glowing. This process can also help hyperpigmentation – it stimulates the healing of dark spots and marks left by previous acne.

If you want to use retinoids for their anti-aging benefits, the application is the same as if you’re using them for acne. Apply a pea-sized amount of the product on your face before you go to bed, approximately 30 minutes after you’ve cleansed your face. Watch your fine lines and wrinkles dramatically improve.

Discoloration and Brightening

Retinoids speed up skin cell turnover and act as a topical exfoliant, so expect fewer age spots, an even skin tone and a bright complexion with regular use.

Antioxidant Benefits

You know by now that retinoids are vitamin A derivatives. What you might not know is that vitamin A is an antioxidant, and antioxidants protect you from free radicals and oxidative stress.

When applied to the skin, antioxidants have the same benefits. Retinoids can protect your skin from environmental stressors and aggressors, as well as other harmful external effects from the sun and pollution.

Large Pores

Yup, retinoids can also help with enlarged pores. Not only can retinoids clear out pores from congestion, but they can also decrease the physical size of pores and smooth the skin. Decreasing pore size will not only look physically appealing but will also protect you from future breakouts.


There is enough evidence to conclude that retinoids help with skin conditions such as psoriasis. They work by slowing down the growth of skin cells which normally occurs at a higher rate. If you’re using retinoids for this skin condition, the same rules of application apply.


This is a rather unusual benefit of using retinoids, but it does work! When all else fails, dermatologists give prescription retinoids to patients with warts. Retinoids, in this case, work by disrupting the growth of the wart’s cells.

Are Retinoids Suitable for all Skin Types?

Now that we’ve covered all areas in which retinoids can help, let’s answer the most asked question regarding retinoids: Are they suitable for all skin types?

The short answer is yes - all skin types can potentially benefit from using different types of retinoids. But whether you're using retinol serum, retinol cream, or another retinol product, every single type will go through that initial phase of irritation, redness, breakouts and dry skin before retinoids start to work.

The particular brand, formula, and type of retinoid you choose will depend on your skin type. Make sure to discuss this with your dermatologist, as they can advise you on which retinol product is best for you.

How to Use Retinoids

From retinol creams to retinoid gels, there are a variety of skin care products you can use to improve your skin. Here are some general tips to make your retinoid adjustment period a lot easier.

When adding retinol products to your skincare routine, it’s important to start slowly. This might be annoying if you’re not a very patient person, but it’s for your own good - trust us! How slowly you add it to your skin depends on how sensitive your skin is to new products. Generally speaking, you should start by applying a thin layer one night a week and then two nights a week. Work it up until you can apply it every other night. Once your skin is used to that frequency, try adding it every night.

As mentioned before, it’s best not to apply retinoids right after you wash your face. Instead, wait for 20 to 30 minutes and then apply the product.

Don’t apply too much product since it can dry out and irritate your face. Avoid the lips and eye area, and make sure you’re wearing protective gloves so that you don’t irritate the skin on your hands.

How to Choose the Best Retinoid Product

When it comes to choosing the best retinoid product on the market, there are a few things you should be wary of in terms of packaging and labeling.

As you’re purchasing the product, make sure that the packaging is tinted and impermeable because retinoids are very sensitive to sunlight.

If you’re looking at the ingredient list, keep in mind that retinoids can appear as many different names since they have so many derivatives. Some of those names include retinyl acetate, retinyl palmitate, retinal and retinoid.

If you’ve never used a retinoid product in your life, start with a low percentage and work your way up. There are many brands that offer a wide range of products with different percentages, so you don’t have to worry about not finding a suitable one.

Do You Need a Prescription for Retinoids?

Whether you need a prescription-strength retinoid depends on which retinoid product you’re on the lookout for. Do you want to try retinoic acid, or will a retinol serum be best?

If you want to purchase topical Tretinoin (retinoic acid), it will require a prescription. It’s much stronger than retinol, and it works faster, with a faster skin cell turnover. Retinoic acid is used to treat acne, psoriasis, and even skin cancer.

Looking for a simple way to reduce fine lines? Retinol is a tamer version of tretinoin, and it doesn’t require a prescription. You can purchase this topical treatment in most pharmacies under many different brands. From retinol creams and moisturizers to retinoid gels, there is a wide range of over-the-counter products you can add to your skin care routine.

It's always worth asking a medical doctor which over-the-counter retinols are best. For example, will your skin be better suited for a retinol cream, or would a lightweight serum be best? Make sure to discuss all the potential side effects with them. You and your doctor can make a plan on how to avoid them when using other products.

Which Products Should You Avoid While Using Retinoids?

With their anti-aging and acne-fighting properties, the benefits of retinoids are quite appealing. However, some people are put off by how careful you need to be if you’re planning on introducing them as an integral part of your skin care routine.

Here is a list of products you should avoid at all costs while using retinoids. These will not only lessen the effects of the retinoids themselves, but they can also lead to some very troubling side effects and cross-reactions. Knowledge is power, so keep this list in mind while using retinoids.

Astringents and Toners

Since retinoids are notorious for drying out your skin, you should avoid any additional products which tend to have the same effect. Some people might get away with using toners in the morning, but it’s generally not recommended to use them if you’re prone to dry skin. This is because toners can be drying for those who have normal and dry skin.

Unless you’ve been prescribed a specific toner by your dermatologist, it’s a good idea to stay away from them while you’re using retinoids.

Benzoyl Peroxide

Benzoyl peroxide is an incredible ingredient on its own. It has the ability to kill off harmful acne-causing bacteria without risking antibiotic resistance. However, when combined with retinoids, it can be a problem for most people. Not only can it dry out your skin, but it can also cause the retinoid to oxidize, which is definitely not what you should aim for. The process of oxidization makes the product less effective, so you’ll be wasting your time and money.

Exfoliators, Exfoliating Products, and Harsh Treatments

This category includes abrasive exfoliating products and harsh skin treatments such as chemical peels and microdermabrasion.

Exfoliators are amazing for rejuvenating the skin. However, if you use too many of them at the same time, you risk burning your face and removing your skin barrier, allowing bacteria and pollutants to enter the skin.

Retinoids, as we’ve established, have the ability to shed off skin layers and reveal healthy skin from underneath. But if you add a new product on top of that, you risk all kinds of trouble.

Exfoliants you should avoid include acids such as AHA and BHA, harsh scrubs, abrasive face masks, fruit acids, lactic acid, and crystals. This is especially true if you already have sensitive skin.

Retinoids and SPF – Why You Should Use SPF Daily

Those who have read about retinoids are well aware of the fact that dermatologists urge their patients to use sunscreen whenever they leave the house to avoid sun damage. Although you should always wear sunscreen, this is especially true if you're on harsher acne treatments such as retinoids.

Why is this? Retinoids get rid of dead skin cells, which helps the skin, but it also makes it more open to damage from the sun. Abrasive treatments such as chemical peels and acids like AHA and BHA have the same effect.

This is why it’s best to use retinol products at night, right before you go to bed. That way, you can avoid direct exposure to the sun as soon as you put them on. Luckily, many retinol products come in the form of a night cream.

Use sun protection with at least SPF 30 while you’re on a retinoid treatment and keep reapplying layers of SPF if you’re outside for a longer period of time. Make sure you stay away from direct sun exposure (although this isn’t always an option) and wear protective clothing such as a cap when you go out. Try to stay indoors from 10 am and 4 pm, but if you must be outside while the sun is out, sit in the shade or wear sun-protective clothing.

Side-Effects of Using Retinoids

Despite all the incredible benefits that come with using retinoids on a regular basis, there are some side effects you should be aware of before using them in your skincare routine.

Here are the most common skin problems you might experience:

  • Irritation
  • Dryness
  • Changes in skin tone
  • Redness
  • Blistering
  • Crusting
  • Swelling
  • Increased sun sensitivity
  • Burning
  • Peeling
  • Tingling
  • Itching
  • Worsening of acne

Although this seems like quite a long list, most people only experience a few of the side effects mentioned. If you’re visiting a board-certified dermatologist in order to get your retinoid prescription, they will definitely warn you about all these effects and give you helpful tips, just like those mentioned in this article.

Introduce retinoids gradually, use a proper moisturizer, apply SPF on a regular basis, and be wary of all the products you put on your skin. This way, you’re minimizing the chances of experiencing any nasty side effects.

Retinoid use also might affect waxing treatments. As we mentioned, retinoids cause sensitive skin, so you should avoid waxing while you’re on them. This will help keep unnecessary skin peeling to a minimum.

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Final Thoughts

Using retinoids might seem like a daunting task, but if you keep our advice in mind, you'll be fine, and your treatment will be successful. It might feel like a lot to take in, but trust that once you start to implement all these tips, it will come naturally to you.

Have faith in the process and trust that you will experience all the skin benefits retinoids have in store.

This information is meant to supplement, not replace advice from your doctor or healthcare provider and is not meant to cover all possible uses, precautions, interactions or adverse effects. This information may not fit your specific health circumstances, and its goal is to offer a general view of the subject. In case you are suffering from a severe case of acne, you should consult with a dermatologist or a certified medical professional.

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