Retinol For Beginners

So, you have read across social media about Retinols but don’t know what they are? Well, you are not alone. As lovely as the beauty and skincare industry is, its jargons can keep you guessing. But before I break down what is Retinol, let me drum up some excitement.

What if I told you that I have a cream that reduces wrinkles, improves skin colour, fades actinic keratosis spots (scaly spots or patches on the top layer of skin), improves pigmentations, increases collagen production, and speeds up the turnover of skin cells? You will ask me what this wonder cream is and why I haven’t told you about it before?

Say hello to Retinoids! Retinoids are a class of chemical compounds that are derived from vitamin A or are chemically related to it. The retinoid family comprises vitamin A (Retinol) and its natural derivatives such as retinaldehyde, retinoic acid, retinyl esters, and many synthetic derivatives. I know this seems like too much chemistry but trust me, you need this info to figure out what to use for your skin.

Types of Retinoids

Before we deep dive into what type of retinol to use, I will quickly mention the options available in the increasing order of their strength. Starting with retinyl palmitate – the weakest of the retinoids which is followed by retinol – the next strongest and most easily tolerated by all skin types, then comes retinaldehyde – this is even more strong and then adapalene – the strongest over-the-counter option. The most potent variants of retinoids require a dermatologist’s prescription and are called tretinoin or tazarotene. 

We spoke to Dr Charu Sharma Dubey (MBBS, DERMATOLOGY, VENEROLOGY, LEPROLOGY) who has been a dermatologist for over 20 years to understand a little more about retinoid and her recommendations for starters. She explained that while preparations containing retinol, retinaldehyde and retinyl esters are the ones you can get over-the-counter or in your skincare products. However, any preparation containing retinoic acid – the most potent retinoid, is available only on doctor’s prescription. 

You might notice that even within each category of retinoids, the concentration of the retinoid varies and affects the skin differently. Therefore, a 0.5% retinol will be stronger than 0.2% retinol. Dr Charu explains that the retinoid’s potency depends not only on the percentage strength but also on the formulation like a serum, lotion, gel, aqua gel, and cream. She says that when finding a product for yourself, remember that the serums are usually suitable for all skin types, gels are best suited for oily and acne-prone skin and creams for dry and sensitive skin types. 

What Is Retinol, And What Does It Do?

Most websites, blogs, posts, and magazines use retinol as a catchall phrase to refer to all types of retinoids. Since now you know the difference between retinoids and retinol, you can go around and spread that knowledge (and look smug doing it). 

Technically, retinol is used to refer to Vitamin A1. This compound is available for topical application to target a specific region and to serve a particular purpose. 

What Does Retinol Help With:

  • Improving the appearance of pigmentation
  • Stimulates collagen production for better skin texture
  • Reducing wrinkles and fine lines
  • Reducing age spots and photoaging like actinic keratosis
  • Filling out the crater left behind by old acne 
  • Reduces the redness left after the skin has healed from acne
  • Increasing cell turn over for younger-looking skin to come on the surface
  • Even out patchy skin tone
  • Newer derivatives like tazarotene can be helpful in the treatment of psoriasis, an autoimmune skin disease 
  • It also acts as an exfoliant and hence results in brighter looking skin

The list can go on, but you get the gist, there is a reason why many people in the beauty industry consider it a gold standard in skincare. It seems to do it all. 

Great, But Are There Any Cons?

Yes, like the old saying, excess of anything is bad. Same is the case with retinol, excess use or overuse of retinol can irritate the skin, causes it to become sensitive and too flakey. The skin can also become dehydrated and red. 

Another issue that comes with the use of any retinoid is sensitivity to sun exposure. Use of retinol must always be accompanied by sunscreen, and the exfoliating effect and higher cell turnover make the skin more susceptible to sunburn, skin darkening etc. So, whenever you start using retinol or any other type of retinoid, always make sure you wear sunscreen. 

Retinol may not be well tolerated by those with sensitive skin or suffering from rosacea. Also, it is advised not to use any retinoids during pregnancy as it can affect the baby.  Lastly, always avoid the eye area unless you have discussed with the doctor or the product is specifically designed for the eye area with retinol.

So, How To Use Retinol?

Great question. First and foremost, consult a dermatologist. They will be in the best position to tell you what concentration you should use and what to do when your skin reacts. We understand that Covid-19 has made it difficult to connect with a dermatologist, but many provide online consult these days. There are dermatologists like Dr Charu Sharma Dubey, who are available for their patients virtually. 

If you cannot consult a dermatologist right away and want to start using retinol, Dr Charu suggests always go with the lowest concentration of the product and start with a patch test. If your skin tolerates a patch test, begin using it by introducing it into your routine 1- 2 times a week. Depending on how well your skin handles it, you can move it up to every alternate day. 

You could do another thing while introducing any form of retinoids in your routine, use it at night only. The reason being, it will reduce chances of being wiped off or being run off if you sweat or re-apply your make up.

Also, applying retinol at night will limit sun exposure while using retinol and result in reduced sun damage. Moreover, our body is repairing itself, including the skin, at night, this process further helps increase the efficacy of retinol.

No matter what you do, always use sunscreen (yes, even if you are just sitting inside your house and going nowhere). With retinoids making your skin extra sensitive, take every precaution to protect your skin, and sunscreen does that for you.

Dr Charu Dubey’s Recommendations for Beginners

Fixderma Reticuram Serum


Neutrogena Rapid Wrinkle Repair Moisturizer With Retinol


Olay Night Cream: Regenerist Retinol 24 Moisturizer

Sesderma Reti Age Moisturizing Facial Cream


If you are looking for something more potent, then the best option would be to see a dermatologist. 

Community’s Recommendations for Beginners

e’clat Superior Retinol A+ 0.8% Serum with Vitamin E, Ferulic Acid & Hyaluronic Acid 

Pixi Retinol Tonic

Dr. Sheth’s Rosehip and Retinod Power Emulsion (vegan) with 1% Granactive Retinoid, Bakuchiol and Hyaluronic Acid

Fresh Pressed Overnight Boosters with Pure A (Retinol)

Organic Riot Smog Block with Vitamin A Enriched Rosehip, Hyaluronic Acid & Vitamin C Enriched Yuzu

I know this was a long post, but I hope this has at least given you a starting point into the words of Retinols and retinoids. Tell us in comments which particular retinoid you are interested in learning more about, and we will be happy to discuss that, next. 

If you are already using Retinol, Do Share your recommendations for beginner-friendly retinol products with the global beauty community in the comments below!

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