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I feel like we all know retinoids are pretty essential to a PM skincare routine (it's the only class skincare topicals consistently proven to not only prevent signs of ageing but actually reverse them), however they can be hard work for newbies. Today I wanted to run through a few of the common mistakes that people make when starting on retinoids and how to avoid them so you get all of the good stuff with as few of the drawbacks as possible!

This is a rookie error that's really easy to avoid! Anyone can have a reaction to any skincare ingredient but it's probably more likely with a strong active like a retinoid. That makes it super important to patch test the product before smearing it across your face, because a tiny little reaction on your arm or behind your ear is better than a bright red rash across your face... Find out how to patch test your products to ensure they're compatible with your skin here.

Your mantra with starting a retinoid (or even moving up to a higher-strength product) is 'start low, go slow'. I'm not going to jump into percentages here because it can get confusing and products can be marketed in a misleading way but what I will do is share my favourite retinoids for beginners in a dedicated post at a later date. However, a pretty safe bet is to start with an ester like retinyl palmitate once a week. Over the span of a few weeks you can gradually up the regularity if your skin is still happy with it until you're using it every night. Once that product is finished and if your skin is happy and healthy: you're ready to level up and again, you should patch test and build up from once-weekly use.

You might have heard the skincare hack that products should be applied to damp skin to increase absorption and therefore efficacy, but with retinoids (especially if you're a beginner), you probably don't want to do that! To avoid irritation, you're going to want to apply your retinoid to dry skin and if you are particularly sensitive or concerned about using a retinoid: try the sandwich method. Onto cleansed skin you apply a thin layer your moisturiser and once it's set down, use your retinoid then when that's dried down, apply another thin layer of your moisturiser. Buffering the ingredient like this slows down its rate of penetration so you're less likely to experience irritation.

The skin is thinner around the eyes and towards the edges of the nostrils and around the mouth are also common areas of sensitivity, so applying a retinoid directly to these places can lead to nasty surprises for beginners. I recommend using a skin balm around those areas to create a bit of a barrier to stop the product spreading there quite so easily, or around the eyes if you want to build up to getting retinoid benefits in that area: try buffering the product by using your moisturiser underneath a tiny bit of your retinoid (if you feel confident) or just pick up a gentle retinoid eye cream if that sounds like too much effort.

If I had a penny for every time someone asked me if they could use xyz strong active with their retinoid, I'd be pretty well-off by this point... The truth is: I think simpler is better if you're starting on retinoids and whilst a couple of times a week I might use a very mild exfoliant before my cosmetic retinoid (as someone who has been using retinoids nightly for years), I don't think cocktailing lots of different ingredients with a retinoid is a good idea at all, especially not if you're new to this ingredient. Keep things soothing, calming and moisturising to support your skin barrier and stave off any of that potential drying effect!

I'm going to be very careful in my wording here because if a product is causing you discomfort and irritation: you should probably stop using it, but if you're brand new to retinoids a degree of redness, dryness and sensitivity is part of the process of your skin getting used to this ingredient. Burning and itching are not normal but a bit of flaking and your skin feeling dry often are; this process can last anywhere from 2-8 weeks, but if you can push through it then I promise it's worth it! Any negative effects beyond that time frame or anything that's causing you genuine discomfort may be signs that you the product or strength of it isn't right for you.

Do you use a retinoid as part of your skincare routine?

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Read more posts from this series here!


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