One of the biggest ingredients in the skincare world is Retinol (Retin-A, Renova and Differin from the Derm), and everyone thinks they should be using it, but should they? I agree that retinol is a great ingredient for some skins types and skin concerns.  I think where people fall into a trap is: if you read the top magazines, listen to the top derms, and top beauty gurus, they just absolutely swear that there is no better anti-aging ingredient out there (Sunday Riley Good Genes sound familiar?). So therefore, people think they should be on it for the best anti-aging results, even if their skin does not tolerate it well.  So here’s the deal: retinol/Retin-A is NOT for everyone! Most people also think that it’s normal to be peeling, red and irritated on retinols (because “that’s what my friends skin did”) and while that can be true, while your skin is adjusting, you should in no way be living in a constant state of irritation for weeks or months on end hoping for a good result.

I think retinols are good for:

  • Dry skin types who are having some aging concerns (I don’t like vitamin A’s before the age of 30 in general)
  • Mature skin that has some pigment concerns
  • Normal skin types in their mid-30’s who want to be preventative with their skin care.

I think retinols are not good for:

  • Acne skin types (I’ll get more into this later)
  • Sensitive skin
  • Oily skin
  • Skin that is already over-worked/over-peeled/irritated

Vitamin A works differently than other exfoliators.  So to put it plainly: acids, like glycolic and salicylic, work from the top down. They eat/burn away the dead skin cells from the top layer of the skin, working down.  Retinols work from the bottom up. It actually forces your skin to produce new skin cells faster and to shed your old cells faster, which is why your skin peels/sheds.  That’s why its a good anti-ager, it forces newer, smoother, more even toned cells to the surface of your skin faster. And FYI, vitamin A stays in the skin for up to 3 days, so you don’t need to be applying it everyday. I always recommend that you apply retinols every other night (and only at night) on clean skin and before moisturizer.  Also,  when you’re on a vitamin A of any kind, I always recommend being on a scrub as well. You need to use a physical exfoliator to work off that layer of build-up that can occur with a retinol, I recommend a scrub about once or twice a week.

Acne and Retinols: 

Speaking of that layer of build up… that is why I don’t like Retin-A for acne.  It absolutely kills me when I see a young client of mine who has some basic teenage congestion or some whiteheads,  and this young pretty skin, and their Derm puts them on Cetephil and Retin-A…. kills me!!! They come back a month later and their poor faces are red, irritated, peeling, and angry and their acne is only mildly better.  When I try and do extractions, there is this layer of build up/dead skin all over their face, and I literally can’t get the clogging out. Acne does so much better with glycolic and salicylic acids because you need to eat away the build up, the oil, the dead skin cells that are getting trapped in the pores. What you don’t want to do is seal over that pore with dead skin so that they skin cannot get rid of what shouldn’t be in it! I will go into acne more in another post, but I’m NOT a fan of retinol for acne prone skin.


Retin-A drives me crazy… it drives pretty much all estheticians crazy. It is so poorly formulated, damages the skin, causes irritation constantly, and just doesn’t do justice to how good a retinol can be.  Retin-A is just a go-to for Derms, they get tons of free samples of it (along with cetaphil) and basically think that it will work for most skin concerns… it doesn’t!! If you are able to use it every other night, without your skin peeling, being red or irritated, then go for it! I have some clients that swear by it, and their skin shows no sign of irritation or peeling, so if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it….But they are the exception. Most of my clients will come in and its SO obvious that they’ve started Retin-A, their faces are red, shedding and look a little irritated. They then ask me if this is normal, and a bunch of other questions that their doctor should have answered! If your skin can only tolerate Retin-A once a week, you’re really not getting any benefits, but to each their own. I’m not a doctor, and I know that I can’t beat what a doctor is telling you, but this has just been my experience with Retin-A over the course of my career.

In short: 

I like a well formulated retinol, I think it works well for preventative aging, and for mature clients that are looking to step up their anti-aging routine. Dry to normal skin types do best with it, and keeping it to only every other night will give you great results. In my opinion, retinols do not work for acne prone skin, but if they work for you, go for it!

Remember, these are all just my opinions, if you have oily, sensitive skin and you love Retin-A, then no worries! I’m not a doctor, just a well seasoned esthetician looking to help!

Thanks for reading ~ XO Jennifer

My favorite retinol!  ~ Smoothing, plumping, and hydrating, every other night is best

My second favorite retinol! ~ A little more gentle, but still a great anti-ager


One thought on “Retinol… a miracle product?

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