5 Most Searched Retinol Questions Answered by a Dermatologist

Celeb-loved dermatologist Dr. Karyn Grossman answers your most asked retinol questions.

By Lily Rose Mar 10, 2024 5:00 PMTags
SHOP 5 Most Searched Retinol Questions main imageE! Illustration / Getty Images

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Retinol is the skincare buzzword on everybody's lips these days. The powerful skincare ingredient can help with a number of skin concerns, such as skin tone, skin texture, dark spots, acne, collagen production, and more. 

But if you know nothing about retinol, then you likely have more than a few retinol questions you want answered. We consulted board-certified cosmetic dermatologist Dr. Karyn Grossman to help address your most commonly searched retinol questions, and boy did we learn a lot about retinol and what it can do to your skin. 

What is retinol used for?

"Retinoids are one of the most studied ingredients in Dermatology and skincare," Dr. Grossman says. 

The skincare ingredient can be used to help treat fine lines, wrinkles, acne, hyperpigmentation, and large pores. They can encourage natural exfoliation by promoting skin cell turnover, and as the Santa Monica-based dermatologist points out, are "potent collagen inducers when used on a regular basis." 

Can retinol help target a skin concern such as acne and hyperpigmentation?

"Retinol, Adapalene, and prescription retinoids, such as Tretinoin, and Tazarotene are the main stays of topical acne treatments," the skincare guru and Harvard fellow shares, explaining that implementing these products can help increase exfoliation of the skin, and help to decrease comedones, blackheads, and whiteheads, which overall decreases acne. "It also helps to reduce pore size," she says. 

But if you're looking to use retinol to treat dark spots, you may need to add a few other products to your lineup. "Since retinoids increase the turnover of skin cells, they decrease hyperpigmentation overall. Retinoids are, however, best used in combination with other ingredients that directly affect pigment production," Dr. Grossman says. 

How long does it take to see the results from using retinol?

While we'd all like a miracle product that works instantly, it might take some time to reveal your retinol results. 

It can take four to six weeks to start to see results from using otc retinol (that's "over the counter" for those not in the know). "Although some patients claim to see results within a shorter period of time, visible results usually take four to six weeks to see," Dr. Grossman says. "Clinical trials around retinoids, especially Tretinoin, look at results three to six months after the patient begins treatment."

How do I use retinol?

"For the best result, retinoids should be used on a regular basis," Dr. Grossman says. "Retinoids should be used in the evening, and I recommend that patients start with a Monday, Wednesday and Friday regimen to allow the skin to slowly acclimate to these powerful products." 

The celeb-loved derm explains that some people, especially those with sensitive skin can experience skin irritation, and that a gradual approach can help prevent those kind of issues.

"Before application, I recommend that patients wash their skin with gentle cleansers, as exfoliating cleansers can strip and damage the barrier, which will decrease the ability of the skin to tolerate retinoids. After cleansing, patients should dry their skin and then apply a very small amount of the retinoid onto the palm," the skin expert explains. 

Dr. Grossman highlights that retinol users should apply "small dabs" onto the forehead, cheeks, nose, and chin, and then blend it all in. 

After the retinoid, our derm reccommends applying a non-occlusive moisturizer to the skin to help improve hydration and to combat dry skin. 

Can retinol be used with other skin care ingredients like vitamin C, or hyaluronic acid?

Dr. Grossman says that "retinoids are often combined with a variety of other ingredients, such as niacinamide to help decrease inflammation, a variety of topical antibiotics to help fight acne, and benzyl peroxide to help people with more severe acne." 

Before you start slathering products willy nilly, Dr. Grossman wants you to consider which products should be used in the morning for protection, and which products should be used in the evening for correction.

"Retinoids are used in the evening for correction," she explains. "We most often layer retinoids with hyaluronic acid-based gels for acne patients or those interested in anti-aging." 

"I prefer that antioxidants such as vitamin C, which are used for protection, are used in the morning and are typically not used at the same application time as retinoids," she says. 

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