I'm New to Retinol, and This Gentle, Medical-Grade Option Hasn't Made Me Purge

The low-dosage SkinCeuticals formula has skin-soothing ingredients.

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SkinCeuticals retinols


One of my goals for this year was to start using retinol consistently. If you know anything about retinol, you’ve probably heard about the “retinol uglies” — AKA having to undergo weeks of red, dry, pimple-ridden skin before reaping the benefits of the ingredient. The rumor is after going through these skin woes, you’ll be gifted youthful-looking skin that’s free of fine lines, blemishes, and dark spots. But what you may not know (at least I didn’t, until recently) is that going through this process isn’t obligatory; you can skip right past it and be on your way to better skin if you just choose the right retinol — and follow the directions.

The SkinCeuticals Retinol 0.3 is, as I’ve learned, the best pick for retinol newbies. It has a simple ingredient list, which includes 0.3 percent retinol (a lower amount than others on the market) and a few skin-soothing plant extracts, making it powerful enough to help mitigate acne and age-related concerns, but gentle enough to not trigger red, dry, or purging skin. The smaller amount of retinol introduces the ingredient to skin gently, so it can slowly and carefully get conditioned to it.

Skinceuticals Retinol 0.3

Shop now: $70; skinceuticals.com

Full disclosure: I started using this product at the beginning of the year and stopped because the so-called “retinol uglies” were seemingly starting — but this wasn’t the product’s fault. I wasn’t following its directions properly, which is incredibly important when using retinol. The SkinCeuticals tube states to “limit initial use to once or twice a week” before “gradually increasing frequency to every other night.” Only then can you begin using it “every night as tolerated.” I overused it, so I stopped for a few months, waited for my skin barrier to fully recover, and started again, this time following the instructions. 

For an entire month, I used it only on Sunday nights — that’s it. And after applying a pea-size amount and letting it dry, I topped it with a super soothing, hydrating face cream (I used Bioderma’s Sensibio Rich Cream, if you’re curious) to prevent dryness. The following month, I used it twice a week, and the next month, I tried to increase usage to three times a week, but it dried out my skin a little too much, so I cut back again. Now, I’m still using it just twice a week, and I don’t plan on increasing my use until winter passes and my skin isn’t so dry anymore. New York-based board-certified dermatologist Dr. Shari Marchbein previously told InStyle that once there is “no dryness or as you start to tolerate it better, use can be increased to every night."

While I can’t quite tell if it’s helped boost my collagen production just yet — Dr. Marchbein said “it typically takes 12 or more weeks to see more significant changes in skin texture, wrinkle reduction, improvements in pigmentation, pore size, etc” — I’m happy that it seems to keep my breakouts at bay and brightens my complexion. Once my skin becomes conditioned and doesn’t react so intensely to this lower dose, I can move up to SkinCeuticals’ 0.5 version, and eventually the 1.0 tube. In the meantime, I’m in no rush. As they say, patience is a virtue — or in this case, a loophole for the “retinol uglies.”

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