An Age-By-Age Guide To Using Retinol

Everything you need to know (and more) about this popular skincare ingredient.

If you ask any dermatologist, aesthetician or skincare junkie what their favourite skincare ingredient is, there’s a pretty high chance it’ll be retinol—and for good reason. Part of the larger retinoid family, this Vitamin A derivative is known as the gold standard for its anti-ageing properties as it speeds up your cell turnover rate to exfoliate the top layer of your skin.

“Retinol and other Vitamin A-based products can help treat and prevent acne and acne scarring, reduce hyperpigmentation and blemishes, reduce fine lines and wrinkles, and improve the glow and texture of the skin,” says Dr. Benjamin Barankin, a Toronto dermatologist and Medical Director of Toronto Dermatology Centre.

One drawback to retinol? Its quickened cell turnover process can also lead to a fair amount of dryness, flakiness and irritation, which can turn people off of using this anti-ageing ingredient. With this in mind, Biossance produced a powerful, yet gentle, Squalane + Retinol Night Serum that is ideal for both novices and more experienced users. Alongside retinol and retinal (a more potent retinoid), its key ingredient is squalane, a soothing, plant-based emollient that is proven to effectively deliver the retinoids while simultaneously providing moisture and minimizing the dryness and irritation that can happen when you first try this powerful ingredient. Its blend of rosemary and saffron also provides antioxidant protection and help support overall skin health and aging.

While anti-ageing skincare products used to be viewed or even reserved solely for those in their 40s and up, taking care of your skin proactively, starting as early as your 20s, is becoming increasingly common and even recommended by dermatologists. Using products, such as Biossance’s Squalane + Retinol Night Serum, gives you the preventative power to keep fine lines and wrinkles at bay for longer before they even appear. To sum it up: It’s never too early or too late to start using retinol and taking care of your skin.

We connected with Dr. Benjamin Barankin to get his best retinol tips for every age and stage.

If you’re in your 20s

First of all, kudos on being proactive and setting positive skincare habits early. Whether you’re trying to treat acne, pigmentation, texture or proactively get rid of any fine lines, Barankin recommends taking it lower and slower early on in the process. “Pick up the lowest concentration product and use it two nights per week, and increase the frequency by 1 night per week each month,” he says. “Once you can tolerate it nightly, increase the concentration of the retinol and repeat.”

For those with sensitive skin or well-controlled rosacea or eczema, start even slower at once a week at a low dosage and work your way up. If you have oily skin, which is more common at a younger age, Barankin also recommends starting with a mid-level retinol (0.025% – 0.04) and working up to a higher strength (0.1%) over top of a moisturizer.

If you’re in your 30s

If you’ve just started your retinol journey, make sure to follow the beginner notes above. If you’ve already been using retinol for a few years, you’ve probably developed a good tolerance at this point in your skincare journey. If you feel your results have plateaued, try increasing your dosage or frequency as needed (don’t skimp out on the moisture and sunscreen). If you feel your skin is thriving, maintain the routine you currently have.

“The higher the concentration you can ultimately tolerate, the better the results you’ll have,” says Barankin. “For your 20s and 30s, it’s important to work your way up with a retinol as the plan is to use them for life.”

If you’re in your 40s

For both our retinol novices and pros in their 40s, hydration and sun protection are more important than ever. While dermatologists recommend wearing sunscreen (another anti-ageing gold standard) every day and at every age, it becomes even more important at this stage because retinol will make you, even more, sun sensitive and vulnerable to burning. Plus: UV rays have a drying effect on the skin and may make you more prone to irritation.

“In your 40s onwards, we’re starting to get drier, and so applying a moisturizer first before the retinol will make more sense,” says Barankin. “If you get too dry or red or peeling or irritated from retinol, simply take a break for two to three nights, moisturize only, and then resume using it. Our skin will typically get used to the products over time.”

If you’re in your 50s and beyond

If retinol’s been a part of your skincare routine since your 20s and 30s, you’re a superstar and we can all learn from you. According to Barankin, at this point, your skin has probably “retinized” and you’re already able to tolerate higher concentrations of retinol and are able to increase your potency (with a lot of moisturizer and sun protection, of course).

For those in their 50s or 60s and just starting their retinol journeys, it’s important to be extra gentle with your skin because, as you know, it is going to be a bit thinner, dryer, and more sensitive than it was in your 20s or 30s. Make sure to always wear SPF and to start with the lowest potency of retinol paired with “more and/or thicker moisturizer, cream or balm.” From there, you can slowly work your way up as needed.

Note: Your skin may be even dryer during the winter, so either double up on the moisture or take breaks when needed.


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