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Retinol: The Key Skincare Routine Ingredient You’re Probably Not Using

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Northwestern chapter.

Developing an airtight and well-researched skincare routine is essential to promoting healthy skin and protecting yourself from damage due to sun, aging and harmful products. Many skincare newbies often make the mistake of overdoing their skincare products, layering on a billion different combinations to see immediate results. However, most improvements in the health and appearance of your skin are only realized through time. Retinol is one essential ingredient in promoting skin health, though many have no idea how to apply it correctly.

Retinol is a Vitamin A derivative that provides essential nutrients to your skin to protect against premature aging and acne, while also promoting greater hydration and even skin texture. Retinols come in various forms, with countless brands offering different products to provide unique benefits. Deciding on what product works with your skin is typically a trial-and-error process and landing on the right one takes time. To find the right fit, consider your skin needs and skin type in your buying process. Retinols are particularly great for drier skin types, as they are typically less drying than other serums and spot treatments. 

When trying out a new form of retinol, however, many people have no idea how to properly apply retinoids or retinol, often causing further damage to the skin. Retinols should be applied at night, starting just a few nights a week. The skin takes time to adjust to retinol treatments, so starting out with treatment every night could shock and damage the skin. Limiting retinol interaction with other skincare ingredients is essential, as applying too many ingredients could overwhelm the skin. Research should be done on spot treatments and toners and their interactions with retinol before incorporating them into your routine. 

Additionally, there are some cautions to be aware of when starting a retinol. The skin’s rate of cell turnover is much greater when using retinol. This makes the skin prone to sun damage and burning, so sunscreen should be used daily. Some good retinol treatments that skincare newbies might enjoy include the CeraVe Renewing Retinol Serum or the Paula’s Choice Retinol Treatment. When trying out new skincare products, always purchase a sample or travel-size bottle to patch test and see if the product works for you.

Finally, keep in mind that no one skincare product is going to promote healthy skin. Coordinating with a dermatologist to determine your skin’s needs and tailoring a skincare routine to fit your lifestyle is the most effective way to improve your skin’s health.

Alli Kane

Northwestern '24

Alli is a Senior at Northwestern University studying Neuroscience and Global Health. In her free time, she loves spending time with friends, working out, and exploring the Chicago food scene.