How Often Should You Use Retinol Serum?

Retinol is an ingredient in a lot of today's skincare products. Maybe you've heard some buzz about the benefits of using retinol, but you are not sure where to start. We've researched the details of this fantastic addition to your skincare routine.

Retinol serum can be used every day; however, your skin needs to adjust to it. To avoid skin reactions and sensitivity, start with retinol once a week, and gradually increase the frequency to as often as daily. Consider the following things when you are using retinol, as each of these can impact the frequency of use:

  • product strength
  • product formulation (cream or serum)
  • your skin type

There are some essential things to know about retinol, such as how to apply it, what strengths work best, and possible skin reactions. Keep reading to learn how to get the most out of retinol.

Young woman applying serum to her face, How Often Should You Use Retinol Serum?

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What to expect from retinol

A common reaction when you first start using retinol is to experience some skin irritation. Reactions can vary from mild dryness to redness, to peeling. Some users may even experience an acne flare. Having a reaction can make you want to stop product use, but the long term benefit of retinol outweighs most reactions.

Skin reactions are caused by the increase in skin cell turnover that retinol causes. For mild reactions, the best response is to keep using the product while your skin adjusts, but a severe reaction may require a temporary halt while the skin heals.

The best advice for retinol is to "start low and go slow." This means choosing a low potency product applied once a week and gradually increasing the frequency of application before increasing product potency.

Retinol strength and frequency

Retinol product strength varies from 0.01% up to 1%. Choose a low potency, gentle product when you are starting. You can further buffer the effects of retinol by applying a moisturizer before the retinol or mixing the two products. Retinol serums tend to penetrate more deeply than creams, but if you have oily skin, cream may clog pores and increase breakouts.

We've listed the best retinol choices for your skin type below.

Begin with applying retinol just once a week at bedtime. If your skin is not showing any signs of irritation, increase application by one day each week. Eventually, you can apply retinol every day. If your skin begins to show signs of a reaction, decrease the frequency until your skin settles down.

Remember always to use a sunscreen during the day to protect skin that may be sensitive from retinol. You may hear that retinol makes your skin burn more quickly, but in reality, it is the sensitivity from retinol that is the issue. Retinol is also rendered inactive by sunlight, so sunscreen will help you get the most out of your product.

Adding retinol to your skincare routine is a process. It can take up to a month for your skin to get used to retinol, and up to 12 weeks for you to see changes in your skin. However, the benefits of retinol are worth it! With regular use, your skin will look brighter, younger, and healthier.

What does retinol do to your skin?

Retinol has potent anti-aging benefits.

Some of the issues that retinol can correct include:

  • skin tone and texture
  • fine lines and wrinkles
  • acne
  • pigment changes (age spots and sun spots)

Think of retinol as a liquid facelift. Retinol acts by increasing skin cell turnover and improving collagen production. Skin cell turnover makes the skin look fresher and brighter and reduces fine lines and wrinkles. Improved collagen production plumps the skin back up to reduce wrinkles and give a youthful appearance.

Acne can be improved with retinol because of the increase in skin cell turnover. Retinol helps keep pores unclogged and exfoliated, which reduces breakouts.

How to apply retinol [step-by-step]

  1. Wash your face.
  2. Allow your skin to dry completely. Applying retinol to wet or damp skin will allow it to penetrate more deeply and can cause an increase in skin reactions.
  3. Squeeze a pea-sized amount of retinol onto your fingertips.
  4. Start at your forehead and gently smooth the retinol over your entire face.

Moisturizer can be applied before retinol if you are experiencing dryness or irritation; however, generally, it is applied as a final step after retinol.

Can you use too much retinol?

You can overdo it with retinol if you aren't careful. If you've used it too frequently or the product is too strong, you'll experience irritation, redness, and possibly peeling. If this has happened, there are some techniques to help your skin.

First, stop using the retinol product until the irritation settles down.

Use a very gentle cleanser and avoid any scrubs, exfoliants, or acids like alpha-hydroxy-acid until the irritation is improved.

This cleanser by Cerave is a great gentle cleanser if your skin has become irritated by retinol. Click here to find it on Amazon. 

Apply moisturizer to rehydrate your skin and heal the irritation.

This moisturizing cream by Cerave is healing if you've overdone the retinol. Click here to see it on Amazon.

Once your skin has healed, and you are ready to try retinol again, make sure you are using a low potency product to start and gradually increase the potency as your skin adjusts. Don't forget to start with applying just once a week at bedtime and build up from there.

This low potency retinol is an excellent choice for starting. Click here to find it on Amazon. 

Best retinol serum?

Looking for retinol to target a specific skin issue? Here's our list of product recommendations to meet every need:

Acne-prone skin

Click here to find this product on Amazon.


This serum designed to reduce wrinkles is high potency and packs a punch. It is not a starter product, but once your skin has built up a tolerance, consider a product like this.

Click here to find this high potency serum on Amazon.

Combination retinol

Are you looking for an all in one solution? Applying multiple products can be time-consuming. This great product contains your moisturizer, retinol, and sunscreen with one application.

Click here to find this combination product on Amazon.

Oily skin

Oily skin types will do better with a serum formulation as a cream can clog pores and make acne worse. Serums feel lighter on the skin and are generally water-based.

Click here to find this serum on Amazon.

Sensitive skin

Sensitive skin types can have difficulty finding a gentle product. This retinol cream is designed for sensitive skin.

Click here to find this retinol cream on Amazon.


You don't have to give up the benefits of retinol when following a vegan lifestyle. Here's a perfect retinol cream.

Click here to find this product on Amazon.

Full body

If retinol is so great for your face, why not apply the benefits to the rest of your body? Use this lotion head to toe for all over retinol benefits.

Click here to find the body treatment lotion on Amazon.


The delicate eye area can benefit from retinol, but you'll need a formula specifically designed for the eye area. Check out this serum that's safe for use around the eyes.

Click here to see this eye serum on Amazon.

In conclusion

It's possible to use retinol every day in your skincare routine but add this product slowly. Remember to start with a low potency product once a week and gradually increase the frequency of application before switching to a higher strength product. The benefits you'll see with regular retinol use include smoother, younger-looking, healthy skin.

If you're wondering what the best age to start using retinol is, take a look at our post "At What Age to Use Retinol? The Answer May Surprise You!" or for ideas on another powerful skincare serum, "How to use Vitamin C Serum? [Including When and How Often]".

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