Retinol 101 – what is it and how to properly use it

Retinol is a fabulous ingredient known and loved by consumers who seek youthful skin and occasionally declare war against fine lines and wrinkles. Also known as Vitamin A, Retinol can not only help prevent and somewhat diminish signs of aging but also speed up the healing process of dark spots.


It all sounds dandy so far, but it’s essential to know that Retinol can also cause some lousy irritation on your skin if used incorrectly. Don’t believe me? Keep on reading.


My horror story with Retinol

You may think that by now, I’ve accumulated enough knowledge to stop me from making terrible mistakes when it comes to skincare. Well, that’s not necessarily true. Most of the things I know about my skin today, I’ve learned through mistakes, and gladly I can share those with you so that hopefully, at least one of us can leave unharmed from this story.


I was starting to notice quite a large wrinkle right in-between my eyebrows – if it was not a sure thing that I frown a lot, now it definitely is. Taking into consideration the fact that I turned 26, it seemed like a great moment to introduce an anti-aging product in my routine.


I purchased The Ordinary Grandactive Retinol 2% and was happy to start using it right away. I knew it was a potent formulation, so I was suuuper careful to apply the tiniest amount, only where I needed it – in between my eyebrows and on my smile lines.


The first day passed, second, third, everything seemed ok. On the fourth day, I woke up feeling a bit funny, but I was excited to see how my wrinkle was doing. When I took a closer look in the mirror, I was shocked: my face was red, swollen, and the area around my mouth was full of little whiteheads. What have I done?!


I will not prolong this embarrassing story any longer; the most important part is that it has a happy ending. After two long weeks, my face was back to normal, and I learned exactly what I did wrong.


What are the risks with Retinol?

We have already established that Retinol could help prevent and diminish fine lines and wrinkles and heal your dark spots. Still, the risk of developing contact dermatitis runs high with this ingredient when used incorrectly.


Contact dermatitis is not exclusive to Retinol and can be found in many other cases when allergens or toxic substances are involved. This type of dermatitis can manifest in different ways: dry patches, red itchy skin, little bumps, or whiteheads.


Contact dermatitis is usually treated with the help of topical cortisone treatment and often together with allergy pills. If you develop such an allergy, you should seek professional medical advice, since your doctor is the best chance at getting back to normal ASAP.



I will take as an example the portfolio of Retinols from The Ordinary since it’s so vast and accessible.


Patch test the product

Before you do anything else – and this is valid for any other product that contains strong, active ingredients – patch test the retinol! Apply a small amount of product on a less visible area on your skin and give it 3-4 days to interact and make sure you are not allergic.


Introduce Retinol slowly into your routine

Once you’ve decided to add Retinol to your skincare routine, make sure you do this step gradually. If you’ve never used Retinol before, opt for the product with the least strength – like The Ordinary Retinol -0,2% or maximum 0,5%. Apply a small quantity in the areas you feel it’s necessary 2 to 3 times a week. This way, your skin has plenty of time to adjust and desensitize.

the ordinary retinol 



The Scientific Committee on Consumer Safety published a so-called opinion that discusses many aspects of Vitamin A (Retinol, Retinyl Acetate, Retinyl Palmitate). Not only them, but also every dermatologist out there recommends the use of SPF while on treatment with Retinol. Ideally, this would be a daily habit, but mostly during summer and when using harsher treatments, your skin must stay protected.


Don’t mix Retinol with:

Retinol should not be used along with Vitamin C, Benzoyl Peroxide, and AHA & BHA acids. If your current routine contains any of these products, it’s recommended to stop the use while on Retinol treatment. Generally speaking, any product that can potentially dry or irritate your skin, increases the risks with Retinol.


Hydrate your skin

The best combination you can make with Retinol is a really good moisturizer. This way, your skin is protected, hydrated, and the risks decrease dramatically. You can apply them separately, or you can dilute a few drops of Retinol in your moisturizer.


Unfortunately, my mistake was that I opted for a version of this product that is way too strong for a beginner, and I did not give up my Benzoyl Peroxide. I hope this article is useful and not scary – I believe it’s important to make conscious decisions when it comes to your skincare products and to have all the information available.


If you have questions regarding your skincare routine or other The Ordinary products, you can hit me up at or leave a message in the chatbox – I’d love to chat!


‘Till next time,




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