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Skincare 101: How to choose a retinol

By Si Yau Tuong
6th June 2023

We want to help you make good skincare decisions, so here’s part 4 of our Skincare 101 series, with advice on choosing a retinol.

We all know that retinol is the holy grail of anti-ageing ingredients because it helps with all-round skin renewal and most aesthetic practitioners will recommend you use retinol in your routine. But as with all skin care products, there are many of the market to choose from and it can be confusing to decide which is going to work best for you, so here’s our guide.

Understanding retinol strengths:

Retinol – and other ‘retinoids’ such as retinaldehyde – are derived from vitamin A  – and retinol is the one we hear most about. For a deep dive on the other retinoids available, click here to read Alice’s article.

Different products contain varying strengths of this powerhouse ingredient. Selecting the right strength depends on your skin’s reactivity and previous experience with retinol.

If you’re new to retinol or have sensitive skin, it’s best to start with low concentration, such as 0.01% or 0.03%.

Seasoned retinol users can opt for concentrations up to 0.1% or 1% for more intensive results. When choosing a retinol product, make sure to choose one that clearly states the retinol percentage.

It’s very important that you only increase the retinol strength that you are using gradually, to help your skin acclimatise. Start by using your product twice a week at night.  If you’re finding it a little bit irritating (which is normal), you can always buffer it by applying a gentle moisturiser before, and also after the retinol, and only step up how often you are using the product when your skin feels fine with it, and shows no irritation.

How much retinol should you put on your face?

This all depends on the strength of retinol you are using, but less is always more. If you are in doubt, opt for a pea-sized amount to begin with.

The right retinol for you

The texture of retinol is entirely up to you and your skin type. For dry skin, you might prefer a retinol cream or oil. If you have oily skin, a light retinol serum may be better.

Some of our favourite retinols:

Paula’s Choicel 1% Retinol Treatment

A really great product that reduces the signs of ageing, hydrates the skin, and smooths the skin’s surface. It’s a lightweight formula that quickly absorbs into the skin and is made with plant extracts to help calm and soothe stressed skin. £49.50

No7 Pure Retinol 0.3% Night Concentrate

This potent night-time treatment is brilliant to improve the appearance of fine lines, wrinkles, discolouration, blemishes and pores by accelerating cell turnover. 

Brilliant for first-time retinol users, this serum is specially formulated to be kinder to your skin and minimise irritation whilst giving you great results. £34.95

CeraVe Resurfacing Retinol

Great for acne-prone skin, this gentle yet effective resurfacing serum works to refine your skin without compromising its protective barrier. Developed by dermatologists, the CeraVe Resurfacing Retinol contains encapsulated retinol, liquorice root to brighten the skin’s appearance niacinamide and formulated with 3 essential ceramides that all work together to lock in moisture and smooth your skin’s texture, minimise the look of pores and improve the skin’s surface. £21

Starting your retinol journey

Remember, choosing the right retinol is just one piece of the puzzle. It’s essential to establish a well-rounded skincare regimen to truly reap the benefits of this incredible ingredient.

Choosing a retinol doesn’t have to be daunting. You should always start off slow, use a small amount to help your skin become accustomed and only apply the product at night. As retinol makes your skin more sensitive to sun, make sure to wear your SPF every day. To find out more on how to pick the right SPF, click here to read our article.

Find our favourite retinols and retinoids below:

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