how to choose the right concentration of retinol for you

I can’t imagine I will ever run a marathon (heck, just the thought is enough to give me nightmares), but if I did, I’d start small. Like, really small.

I’d go for ever longer walks for a month before I even attempted a little run. And then, I’d increase the miles slowly, one by one. That way I can get fit without dying in the process.

Using retinol is a lot like that. It’s a long marathon.

I know, it’s frustrating. You want to start big so that you can say goodbye to those wrinkles ASAP, but that’ll just get your skin an irritation. Retinol does wonders, but requires a lot of patience.

You need to take this budding love relationship very slowly and give your skin time to get to know retinol before fireworks can happen. The good news is that even a little retinol can do a lot of good to your skin.

So, what strength do you need and when can you upgrade to the next level?

What Is Retinol And Why Should You Use It?

I could rave about the awesomeness of retinol all day, but I’ll keep it short (and try not to bore you – you’re welcome).

This form of vitamin A can:

  • Boost collagen production, keeping skin firm and elastic
  • Speed up cellular turnover, helping skin renew itself faster
  • Get (slowly) rid of wrinkles
  • Make dark spots disappear (slowly, too)
  • Brighten your complexion
  • Bust acne

Retinol ain’t optional, ladies. But you have to be very careful with it. Powerful weapons like this can backfire and irritate your skin if used too much too soon.

So how much do YOU need?

Related: The Complete Guide To Retinol

Struggling to put together a skincare routine that minimises wrinkles, prevents premature aging, and gives your complexion a youthful glow? Download your FREE “Best Anti-Aging Skincare Routine” to get started (it features product recommendations + right application order):

Beginners: 0.01%-0.03%

I know, why bother putting in so little retinol, you’ve probably wondering? Because retinol is powerful, even that little bit works.

Such low concentrations are great for beginners who have just decided to introduce retinol into their skincare routines. Or for anyone with sensitive skin.

Frankly, if you have sensitive skin, I’d stay at the beginner’s level forever. There’s a small chance your skin won’t be able to tolerate even that little, so let’s not make it even madder by going any higher (yes, sensitive skin is a pain and if you’re worried about it, my scientist friend Cheryl talks you through ‘how to make your skin love retinoids’ inside her online course AgeLock).

Best Picks:

  • Paula’s Choice Skin Balancing Super Antioxidant Concentrate Serum With Retinol ($34.00): 0.03% retinol. Available at Paula’s Choice
  • Paula’s Choice Skin Recovery Super Antioxidant Concentrate Serum with Retinol ($34.00): 0.01% retinol. Available at Paula’s Choice
la roche posay redermic r

Intermediate: 0.04%-0.1%

If you’re stuck with deep wrinkles or dark spots, you need to take your retinol game to the next level after a few weeks.

How many weeks? That depends. If you can’t see any redness, peeling, or any other sign of irritation, it means your skin is now ready to upgrade.

A higher dose brings faster benefits. Prepare to look at the mirror in awe.

Best Picks:


Advanced: 0.5% to 2%

At some point, you’ll probably want to go as far as you can with retinol. You know, use the highest possible dose. That’s 2%. But go there only if you absolutely must.

Remember, the higher the dose, the higher the benefits, but also higher the risk of irritations. Even if your skin can tolerate retinol well by now, there’s always the chance that pushing things too far will cause more problems than it’s worth.

As a rule, up your retinol game when the concentration you’re using isn’t working that well (you know, when you’re not seeing the results you should). If a smaller one is doing wonders for you, don’t let greed mess things up.

Ready to go higher? Check these products out then:

Best Picks:

peter thomas roth retinol infusion pm night serum 01

Packaging Matters

Whatever retinol product you opt for, make sure it doesn’t come in a jar. Retinol is a diva that loses some of its effectiveness every time it’s exposed to light and air. That’s every time you open a jar basically. Only airtight and opaque tubes and bottles will make it happy and keep it working as it should.

The Bottom Line

If you’re serious about anti-aging, sooner or later you’ll have to incorporate retinol into your skincare routine. Do it like if you were training for a marathon. Start small and work you way up slowly. That way, you’ll get all its awesome benefits without the annoying side effects. And if you need a ‘marathon trainer’, which let’s be honest, don’t we all? Check out my scientist friend’s course, AgeLock, inside she’s showing you exactly how to get healthier, younger skin as proven by science. What’s even better is you can start today >