Should I use retinol every day? Please help…

Should I use retinol every day? Woman applying retinol product in mirror in white bathroom

Curious if you should use retinol every day? We applaud that you’re upping your skincare game. But if your new routine includes retinol, there are a few key things you should know first.

I heard I should start using retinol, but I’m not really sure what it is

If you’re checking out skincare products or looking for advice online (especially for anti-aging!), you’ve probably come across retinol. But what exactly is it? Retinol is actually a form of vitamin A, and it gets put in beauty products a lot. Why? Well, it’s really good at helping soften the appearance of wrinkles, which most of us can appreciate. Retinol speeds up your skin cell turnover—which can lead to fewer blocked pores and clearer, softer-looking skin overall. (What things cause wrinkles, anyway? We talk about that here.)

Another reason retinol is in so many skincare products? Collagen is a protein your body makes, and it’s absolutely crucial to your skin health. By our late 20s, we are already starting to produce less collagen. By the time our early 30s come along, we’re actively losing collagen each year. Enter: retinol. It can help limit collagen breakdown, and help keep your face looking as firm and youthful as possible.

So, should I use retinol every day?

So, if retinol is a good thing, you might be wrestling with the question: should I use retinol every day? After all, if retinol is that effective, then more retinol use should make it extra-effective… right? Well, not so fast. Too much of a good thing isn’t always great, and that’s 100% true with retinol.

Even though retinol has plenty of pros, it also has a few cons. And some of those drawbacks include major skin irritation—especially with overuse. Especially if you’re new to it, using retinol every day can cause all kinds of frustrating symptoms and make you feel like you have a terrible sunburn. If you’re using retinol-containing products too often, you could see:

  • red, irritated, and inflamed skin
  • itchiness
  • peeling or flaking skin
  • excessive sun sensitivity
  • worsened acne
  • mild to extreme dryness

Sound pretty terrible? We couldn’t agree more. And, more importantly, it’s the absolute opposite effect of what you’re trying to achieve in the first place. So if your skin isn’t used to retinol—and you’re just starting to use it or upping your concentration, the answer is no. You should not use retinol every day. You might disrupt the all-important skin barrier that is vital to happy, healthy (and young-looking) skin.

If I shouldn’t use it daily, how often should I use retinol?

While we’d love to give a hard and fast answer here, there’s really not one—unless you’ve been prescribed something by your dermatologist or physician and they’ve given you exact directions. (Follow them!) But for over-the-counter products, even high-end ones?

Everyone’s skin has a different tolerance for retinol, and different products contain different concentrations of retinol. And that’s an important thing to take note of. If your beauty product has very little retinol or it’s not very concentrated, you might not notice any uncomfortable side effects from using it every day of the week. If so, daily use may work for you. But most of us should max out 2 or 3 times per week. Be even more careful if you have a hormonal imbalance that exacerbates skin dryness. In these cases, every day retinol use could be extra traumatic for your skin. (FYI, hormone imbalances that can cause or increase dryness include low estrogen, hypothyroidism, and high cortisol levels, whether from stress or another condition.)

What can I do to limit the effects of retinol on my skin?

Now that you’re anxious to start using your retinol product—and have a recommendation—let’s go over a few things you can do to minimize the irritating effects of retinol. First, know that if you’re using an amount of retinol that your skin can tolerate and/or you’re easing into it, you shouldn’t notice many (or any!) drawbacks. But what’s super important for all of us using retinol is to pay extra-close attention to another skincare product: sunscreen. (Read up! Dr. Nicole talked to our readers about sunscreen, sun protection, and hormones here.) Using any amount of retinol makes your skin more likely to get sunburned.

Another thing you can do? Use the correct amount of retinol to begin with and apply it at the right time. The fact is: most of us use way more product than we need to. Dispense a pea-sized amount. Then, pat it thinly over your face at night—not in the morning. That’s because sunlight can decrease how effective your retinol is.

A few other things that are helpful: always use a moisturizer with your retinol. If your skin is super sensitive, you can try putting moisturizer on first. Otherwise, you can do it after—or even apply them at the same time. Also, if your retinol product says it’s not for the eye area or the lips, please listen! If you can resist the temptation to fall into the “more is better” mindset, we’re confident you’ll get the benefits of retinol without the discomfort.

Hi again! So you’re using retinol, but have you thought about keeping your skin healthy with essential fatty acids? Paramedical master esthetician Kristie talks about essential fatty acids right here on Hormonely. Go check it out!