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The amount of DMs I get requesting retinol recommendations or tips on how to incorporate your retinoids is only growing by the day. I needed somewhere to direct you all so that your questions can be answered accurately and efficiently! So, I present you “RETINOIDS 101”.

Remember that retinoids are best used in combination with a comprehensive skin care routine! You can read about how to build an effective routine here!


WHAT ARE RETINOIDS? “Retinoid” is an umbrella term encompassing over the counter and prescription topical vitamin A derivatives. There are a few different kinds and they can be finicky little ingredients so it’s important to read this guide before starting. Considered the gold standard of (topical) anti-aging, these ingredients help improve fine lines and wrinkles, pigmentation, acne, and help support our own collagen and deeper dermis layer. There is decades of research and data on retinoids and their benefits are indisputable at this point.

If you’re just here for specific product recommendations, scroll to the end! Discount code included!


These ingredients benefit anyone who wants to prevent aging, treat signs of aging, or even treat and prevent acne. They should not be used by anyone who is pregnant or breastfeeding. If you have very sensitive skin, rosacea or eczema you should not attempt these products without first consulting with your dermatology provider!


Retinoids are known to cause side effects like “peeling” and irritation but there are many things we can do to help avoid that! Even so, a little peeling is completely normal and your skin will adjust! What we don’t want is red, itchy, angry skin from over or improper use. So here is how to correctly add them into your regimen.

  1. Use only a pea-sized amount of retinoid to cover your entire face.
  2. Apply ON TOP of your moisturizer in the beginning.
  3. Start with the lowest strength and increase over time unless specifically prescribed by your dermatology provider.
  4. Use every 3rd night for 2 weeks, if your skin is tolerating the product okay, increase to every other night for 2 weeks and finally every night.
  5. Avoid other actives in your PM routine while your skin is acclimating.
  6. Apply a layer of aquaphor or similar lip product (I linked some favorites at the end) to your lips before applying the retinoid to avoid transfer to the delicate skin. Similarly, you can apply a layer to any sensitive areas like around the nostrils or mouth before applying your retinol.


Face, neck, chest, backs of hands, undereyes and eyelids (avoid getting too close to the lash line), knees… anywhere you’d like to prevent aging! Retinoids can be tough to tolerate in other areas so use only a tiny bit starting once or twice a week. There is also a great body lotion already formulated with retinol that I will link at the end of this post.


Like many other “actives” retinoids must be packaged and formulated effectively in order to maintain efficacy. Trust me this is one of the products you want to take care in choosing a reputable brand. In addition to the way they are formulated, it’s also important that they are in airless, opaque packaging as some retinoids are easily deactivated by light and air. In general you want to avoid retinol products in jars or similar packaging.

HERE ARE SOME GREAT RETINOIDS (of varying concentrations and formulations).

You can click directly on the products to shop.

RETINOIDS 101 | retinol forte treatment serum
lowest strength retinol of the ones I’ve listed

RETINOIDS 101 | skin medica
0.25 % retinol
RETINOIDS 101 | retinol 0.5%
0.5% retinol
my OTC retinoid of choice for ACNE
my OTC retinoid of choice for ACNE
retinol tolerable for sensitive skin types
more tolerable for sensitive skin types
1% retinol cream
1% retinol
RETINOIDS 101 | replenix smoothing body lotion

As always you can use code AMY25 at both Exclusive Beauty Club and Skinstore for 25% off your qualifying purchase!

**Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links. This means that I may earn a small commission when you purchase via these links at no additional cost to you (thank you! It helps me keep things up and running)… As always I ONLY recommend products, goods and services that I stand behind and personally love and use. 



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