by Alexandra Nicole Nuralam

The Beginner’s Guide To Retinol

Plus, our favourite retinol picks.

Image via @itsa.skinthing

Retinol is and has always been a part of the skincare conversation—yet it’s a skincare ingredient that still manages to confuse, and is often misused or underutilised. If you’re a skincare junkie, you’ll know that retinol has the potential to irritate your skin—think redness, flaking and breakouts, but incorporating it into your skincare routine for the first time needn’t be such so scary. We’ve demystified the star ingredient for you; all your questions on retinol—maybe more—answered. Here:

What exactly is retinol?

The ingredient is derived from vitamin A and is found in many skincare products these days. Retinol stimulates the skin to give us a more vibrant, lifted and energised look. It has the ability to speed up cell turnover and encourage collagen production, which makes it a go-to for those who want to get rid of acnehyperpigmentation, fine lines and wrinkles.

What’s the difference between retinol, retinoid and Retin-A?

Basically, retinol is just a specific type of retinoid. It’s usually found in skincare products, given that it is a weaker form, while retinoids usually refer to stronger, prescription-level medication like tretinoin (the generic name for Retin-A), tazarotene, and adapalene. Retin-A is a prescription product that is more potent and slightly more effective at diminishing lines and fighting acne.

Can I use retinol during the day?

Most of the time, experts would recommend using in the evening after cleansing, as it can break down in sunlight. It’s also imperative to wear a high-SPF broad-spectrum sunscreen daily, as retinol can make the skin sensitive to the sun’s rays. The risk for sunburn is also high, so you should avoid peak hours of sun and wear a broad-brim hat when outdoors.

How do I incorporate retinol into my skincare routine?

Generally speaking, you can start using a pea-sized amount once weekly, slowly building up to every other night. Apply your retinol to the entire face and neck. Wait a few minutes and apply a small amount of moisturizer. Use the retinol serum for two nights on, one night off, alternating with an AHA or BHA serum and a nourishing serum.

It’s also important to keep in mind the different concentrations when looking at retinol. The best place to start? 0.3% — a relatively low but effective dose. It’s enough to give a good effect but also not enough to irritate the skin. If you’re still worried or have very sensitive skin, do a patch test first. You can pat some product under your ear for at least 24-48 hours.

If you find your skin isn’t responding to 0.3%, then it might be worth slowly increasing your dose, but it’s important to monitor your skin and to stop if you experience a reaction, such as burning or stinging. And if you’re using retinol regularly as part of your routine, it may be time to amp up the hydration. Feel free to use an overnight mask. The more hydration, the better.


Sunday Riley A+ High-Dose Retinoid Serum, SGD128
Medik8 Crystal Retinal 3 Serum, SGD79
Peter Thomas Roth Pro Strength Retinoid Peptide Serum, SGD169
Dr Dennis Gross Ferulic + Retinol Wrinkle Recovery Overnight Serum, SGD132
Paula’s Choice 1% Retinol Booster, SGD71
The Inkey List Retinol Serum, SGD20