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What is the correct way of using retinol?

Dear Dr, I have recently started using retinol on the areas of my face where I suffer from breakouts (as suggested by my therapist). I am still young and don’t really have wrinkles, but I was told that the product will help with forming new cells and healing breakouts. I apply it on those areas once a week at night and during the rest of the week I continue with my usual routine. Is that the correct way of using it? Also, should I be exfoliating with an enzymatic exfoliator if I am using retinol, and if so, is it safe to use a BHA one?


Retinol (better know as vitamin A) is an amazing treatment for mild to moderate acne! It is still one of the first choices of medical management in these cases. Unfortunately it can also create sun sensitivity and a mild rash known as a retinoid reaction and for this reason one has to use it preferably at night and introduce it very slowly. Once your skin has acclimatized to the once a week dosage, you can increase to twice a week. Retinol increases the turnover of epidermal skin cells and a BHA (salicylic acid) peel will assist with resurfacing your skin, cleaning out the sebaceous oil glands and preventing further breakouts. An enzymatic exfoliator contains an organic enzyme such as Cathepsin D, can be used on the days that you are not using your retinol product and I would also not use it for a week after a BHA peel so as to allow your skin barrier to recover. To avoid a sensitivity reaction with your BHA, stop using your retinol 3 days prior to the peel treatment and only use again at least 3 days after your treatment. Any sensitivity reactions are easily managed by stopping active products such as retinols and exfoliant for 3 days and then gradually reintroducing them again. Use a BHA-based cleanser and a non-comedogenic, oil-free organic sunscreen to maintain your skin health and avoid vitamin E in your facial products.

Other articles you may be interested in:
What are the most important anti-ageing ingredients?
How can I treat acne scars?
Bright as a button skincare treats
At what age should I start using anti-ageing products?
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5 Responses

  1. I’m using retinol at the moment. I stopped for a bit, and now that I’ve had a bit of a breakout I’m using it again. What face scrub would you suggest? Would the box say “enzymatic”? Thank you

    1. Hi TJK, if you are using a retinol, you technically don’t have to use a scrub. If however you experience dry patches of skin, we suggest using a very mild/fine exfoliator.

  2. I read somewhere that retinol cream should be applied to a damp, not dry face. Is this true?

    1. Hi NaturalDiva. Opinions vary on whether or not retinol should be applied to damp or dry skin. We suggest consulting a dermatologist to analyze your skin and advise the best course of action for the condition of your skin.

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