If you haven’t heard, retinol is one of the only skincare ingredients that is proven to effectively reverse the signs of aging. (Cue mad googling for where you can buy it now.) It increases collagen production, reducing the appearance of wrinkles and fine lines. It can also treat pigmentation and even out skin tone. It sounds great but it has its drawbacks, so it’s important to know how to use retinol cream properly.

First, retinol is a form of vitamin A—and it’s powerful. Retinoids, the name for Vitamin A products, can cause extreme skin irritation and dry, flaky skin, especially if you use a high concentration retinol cream.

Side Effects of Retinol Cream

They aren’t pretty. Burning, redness, dry, flaky skin. Of course, these won’t happen to everyone and won’t happen to you if you’re careful with how, where and when you apply retinol cream.

So what products should I be using?

The highest concentration of retinol you can get in a non-prescription product is one percent. So don’t think you’re being cautious by choosing a product with 0.5 or even 0.25 percent. Go with a really low concentration. You can buy 0.025 and 0.01 percent formulas.

Avoid layering retinol creams with acne products and always wear sunscreen if you’re using retinoids. Both the acids in acne-fighters and UV rays can cause major irritation when combined with retinol.

Where should I put it?

There are retinoids for your face, under-eye, neck and body. And while it’s tempting to use a retinol cream on your face, we’ve found that it’s just too harsh. We use our low-dose retinol under our eyes and on our necks. We don’t use the same product on both areas. It sounds silly, but it’s important to get the right retinol cream for each specific use.

When should I apply it?

Use retinol at night after you’ve applied your moisturizer, at least at first. This will help you avoid irritation. And only use your retinol cream once a week for a week or two, then try twice a week for a few weeks. Slowly build up your tolerance. It’s better to see results slowly than to go too fast and have to stop using retinoids for months before trying again.

Want a gentler way to stimulate collagen production? Try our Freeze Facial. It’s a combination of cleansing, nourishing and firming techniques that will leave your skin glowing.