You Can Use Retinol Every Day, But It Doesn’t Mean You Should -Here’s Why

Can You Use Retinol Every Day

Retinol is the hottest skincare ingredient that promises better skin in every sense of the word. Sounds easy, right? But in reality, there’s absolutely nothing easy about retinol. The way it works, the way you incorporate it into your routine, the way you modify your whole skincare routine around it, the way you deal with its unpleasant effects -the list goes on. So when something is that difficult right from day 1, can it ever be manageable for a whole 7 days? If so, how? If you’re wondering what would that look like, we’re here to clear the air. And we start with the most important question: can you use retinol every day?

You can use retinol daily once your skin has built enough tolerance for it. But even then, a 7-day frequency may hinder your consistency. And consistency is the most important factor in achieving noticeable results from using retinol. So just because you can use retinol every day, it doesn’t mean you should use retinol every day.

As a vitamin A derivative, retinol is a type of retinoid that mostly comes in face serums and creams with varying concentrations. Some use it for reducing fine lines and dark spots from sun damage. And others use it to treat and prevent acne and congestion.

Either way, retinol is drying and sensitizing for all! And it’s one thing when you consult a dermatologist and let them hold your hand through the whole process. But it’s another thing when you’re using over-the-counter retinol and need to figure things out on your own.

I’ve written dozens of articles about it here including its different types, and how to properly use retinol. And while writing those articles, I always read relevant research. And do you know what the nerds call retinol? A cell regulator! It’s because retinol works by regulating your cell turnover cycle (1).

Retinol takes on this new task and interferes with the process of your skin’s renewal. It redefines or at least aims to redefine the skin turnover cycle and make it faster. In doing so, it boosts new collagen production that hopefully gives you smoother and brighter skin.

So it’s understandable that people want to make use of this ingredient as much as they can and use it every single day. But how you get there starts with where and how you start. Before talking about using retinol for 7 days, let’s go back to day 1.

Starting To Use Retinol

To better understand why you need to slowly incorporate retinol into your routine when you’re just starting out, imagine the scenario below:

You have this brand new car and it has the potential to go as fast as 120 miles per hour. If you want your car to go as fast as that limit, you don’t press the gas pedal all the way in; you shift gears as you go. If you start too fast from the get-go, even if you’ll eventually achieve the desired speed, you’re going to damage your car’s parts, maybe spin off the wheels, and even lose control. That’s why you start from 0 and accelerate gradually until you get to the speed you want. Gradual acceleration gives you control and allows you to manage as you go.

Now coming back to retinol, if you want a smooth transition for your skin and don’t want to deal with retinol’s side effects, you start slowly. This is the reason why we don’t use retinol every single day when we’re just starting out.

We start using it once a week at first for a couple of weeks. And then we gradually take it up to a few times a week. This is where most people are comfortable and able to achieve the desired skin benefits.

So what happens when you want to take it up to 7 days or 7 nights a week after a while?

Increasing Retinol Frequency

Going back to the car scenario, the maximum speed doesn’t necessarily mean the best speed. It’s almost impossible to maintain that speed. It drains your gas tank, and requires extreme attention, to say the least. So there’s a speed you want and there’s a speed you’re comfortable with. The latter means the speed you feel you can maintain for a long time. So you need to know for sure that there aren’t any stoplights where you have to slow down or stop.

Coming back to retinol, once you get to the point where retinol works for your skin without major side effects like peeling or irritation, then you know it’s the frequency you can maintain. For most of us, this translates to using retinol 3 to 5 times a week.

Even if you technically can use it every night or every day, that’s a hard thing to achieve and maintain. Until you get there, the peeling and irritation can be too much to deal with it. And at some point, you’re going to have to stop even if you don’t want to.

And even if you get there, you’ll want to exfoliate every now and then. What happens when you want to do it in your evening routine? You can’t mix your exfoliants with retinol. And maybe you enjoy a vitamin C serum during the day. You can’t exfoliate when using vitamin C either.

By allocating every night for your retinol product, you don’t leave much room for other active ingredients. Similarly, you’ll want to take breaks along the way. Maybe you deal with occasional breakouts or the weather just doesn’t seem to work in your favor.

Most of us cut back on active ingredients during colder months. Continuing to use a harsh active ingredient like retinol will be very difficult. So in sum, make sure your aim is to eventually use retinol as often as your skin is comfortable with.

Consistency Over Frequency

The most important thing to remember when you’re using retinol is to maintain consistency. And frequency doesn’t always mean consistency. You’ll achieve better results when you use retinol a few times a week for a whole year compared to 7 days a week for 3 months.

Retinol takes months, even years to get used to. It’s an unrealistic goal to try and use it every single day or twice a day, especially when you’re new to the ingredient. People keep suggesting this as if it’s something very easy to do. And it makes you wonder if you’re doing it right.

So just focus on finding the frequency where you’re comfortable and maintain that. Your skin is unique. What others do or how often they do it is absolutely irrelevant.

If you think you’re at a point where your skin will be fine even if you use retinol every single day, don’t do it. Instead of increasing frequency, increase the strength of your retinol product. In other words, instead of using a 0.1% retinol serum every day, try using a 0.3% retinol serum 3 times a week.

Currently, I’m using a 0.5% retinol serum 3 times a week. And my skin has never looked better. Because I have rosacea and I don’t let my retinol serum irritate my skin by using it every single day. I’d have to wake up to red skin every morning. And it’s not worth it. I’d just be creating more problems. So remember to focus on consistency instead of frequency.

References:

  1. Zasada, M., & Budzisz, E. (2019). Retinoids: active molecules influencing skin structure formation in cosmetic and dermatological treatments. Postepy dermatologii i alergologii36(4), 392–397. https://doi.org/10.5114/ada.2019.87443
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