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The Science and Benefits of Introducing Retinols to Your Nighttime Skincare

Updated: Oct 4, 2023

Retinol is a skincare game-changer, backed by solid scientific evidence. Its ability to stimulate collagen production, promote cell turnover, and keep pores clear makes it a must-have in your nighttime routine. Let's dive into the science behind this powerhouse ingredient and discover how to make the most of it for your skin.

Understanding Retinol: The Science Behind the Magic

Retinols, also known as retinoids or vitamin A derivatives, are renowned for their ability to accelerate the skin's cell turnover rate. This means that they help to renew and replace old, damaged skin cells with new, healthy ones at a faster pace. Here's how retinols achieve this transformation from a 28-day to a 14-day cell turnover cycle:

  • Stimulation of Collagen Production: Retinol stimulates collagen production in your skin. Collagen is responsible for maintaining skin's elasticity and youthful appearance. As we age, collagen production slows down, leading to fine lines and wrinkles. Retinol helps reverse this process by encouraging collagen synthesis.

  • Cell Turnover: One of retinol's remarkable abilities is to accelerate the skin's natural exfoliation process. It promotes the shedding of old, damaged skin cells, which leads to the emergence of fresher, more radiant skin. This cellular turnover also helps fade dark spots and hyper-pigmentation.

  • Exfoliation and Removal of Dead Skin Cells: Retinols have a gentle exfoliating effect on the skin. They help to break down the bonds that hold dead skin cells together, making it easier for these cells to slough off. This exfoliation process reveals the fresh, new skin cells underneath, leading to improved skin texture and a reduction in the appearance of fine lines, wrinkles, and dullness.

  • Increased Cellular Metabolism: Retinols boost the metabolic activity of skin cells, which means that these cells function more efficiently. This heightened cellular metabolism contributes to a faster regeneration of skin cells and, consequently, a shorter cell turnover cycle.

  • Improved Skin Hydration: Retinols can help regulate sebum production, preventing the skin from becoming excessively oily. By maintaining a more balanced level of oil production, the skin's overall health is improved, and conditions such as acne can be better managed.

  • Unclogging Pores: Consistent retinol use can keep your pores clear and minimize their appearance. It does this by preventing the buildup of dead skin cells and oil that can lead to acne and blackheads.


While the benefits of retinol are compelling, it's important to introduce it to your skincare routine gradually to avoid potential irritation. Here's a step-by-step guide:

  • Start with a Low Concentration: Begin with a low-concentration retinol product, typically around 0.25% to 0.3%. This allows your skin to acclimate to the ingredient without overwhelming it.

  • Frequency Matters: Begin by using retinol only a few times a week. As your skin adjusts, gradually increase the frequency to every other night and eventually every night if tolerated.

  • Be Patient: Results won't be immediate. It can take several weeks before you start noticing significant improvements in your skin's texture, tone, and overall appearance.

  • Hydration is Key: Incorporate a hydrating serum into your routine to counteract potential dryness or peeling, which can occur during the adjustment phase. Applying a hydrating serum before retinol is a recommended skincare practice for several important reasons:

    1. Minimizing Dryness and Irritation: Retinol a potent derivative of vitamin A, can have a drying effect on the skin, especially when you're first introducing it into your skincare routine. Applying a hydrating serum before retinol helps to counteract this dryness and reduce the risk of irritation, redness, and peeling.

    2. Maintaining Skin Barrier Function: A healthy skin barrier is essential for maintaining moisture and protecting against environmental stressors. Hydrating serums often contain ingredients like hyaluronic acid, glycerin, or ceramides, which help strengthen the skin barrier. This is important because a strong skin barrier can better withstand the potential side effects of retinol.

    3. Enhancing Retinol Tolerance: By ensuring your skin is adequately hydrated, you can enhance its tolerance to retinol. Well-hydrated skin is less likely to become overly sensitive or irritated when exposed to the exfoliating and renewing effects of retinol.

    4. Optimizing Retinol Absorption: Hydrated skin can absorb skincare products more effectively. When you apply a hydrating serum before retinol, you create a hydrated canvas that may improve the penetration and distribution of the retinol, potentially enhancing its effectiveness.

    5. Balancing the Skin: Retinol can disrupt the skin's natural moisture balance. A hydrating serum helps to maintain this balance, ensuring that your skin remains moisturized and comfortable throughout your retinol journey.

    6. Reducing the Risk of Flakiness: Hydration can minimize the risk of excessive dryness and flakiness that can sometimes occur as a side effect of retinol use. This, in turn, helps maintain a smoother and more even complexion.

    7. Customizing Your Skincare Routine: Incorporating a hydrating serum before retinol allows you to customize your skincare routine to meet the unique needs of your skin. It ensures that you're providing the necessary moisture to complement the effects of retinol.

To make the most of this practice, the order of application for serum and retinol in your skincare routine matters and can impact their effectiveness and your skin's tolerance. Here's the recommended order:

  • Cleanser: Begin your skincare routine with a gentle or active cleanser to remove any makeup, dirt, and impurities from your skin.

  • Toner: If you use a toner, apply it after cleansing to balance the skin's pH and prepare it for the next steps.

  • Serum: Apply your serum before retinol. Serums typically contain active ingredients that target specific skincare concerns, such as hydration, brightening, or antioxidant protection. Applying the serum first allows these active ingredients to penetrate the skin and address your specific concerns effectively.

  • Retinol: After applying your serum, wait a few minutes for it to absorb, and then apply your retinol product. Retinol is a potent active ingredient that encourages skin renewal and collagen production. A pea-sized amount is generally sufficient for your entire face. Apply it to clean, dry skin at night. Applying it after your serum ensures that it comes into direct contact with your skin and can work effectively.

  • Moisturizer: After allowing the retinol to absorb, follow up with a moisturizer. This step helps seal in moisture, prevents excessive dryness, and maintains your skin's barrier function.

  • Night Cream (Optional Routine): Also consider applying a nourishing night cream as a final step to provide additional hydration and support skin repair overnight.

  • Sunscreen (Next Day Morning Routine): Sunscreen is essential when using retinol as it helps protect your skin from UV damage, especially because retinol can increase your skin's sensitivity to the sun.

By applying your serum before retinol, you allow both products to work optimally. The serum addresses specific concerns, while the retinol promotes skin renewal and anti-aging benefits.

Ultimately, the combination of hydrating serum and retinol can provide a balanced approach to skincare, helping you achieve the best results from your retinol while keeping your skin healthy and comfortable. With consistent use and a well-balanced skincare routine, you'll soon be enjoying the radiant, youthful skin you've always desired.


Retinols, while highly effective for many skin concerns, may not be suitable for everyone or should be used with caution in certain situations. Here are instances when you should consider avoiding or being cautious with retinol use:

  1. Pregnant and Breastfeeding: Retinols are generally not recommended during pregnancy and breastfeeding. High doses of vitamin A (retinol) can potentially harm the developing fetus or newborn.

  2. Sensitive or Irritated Skin: If you have sensitive or easily irritated skin, retinol use may exacerbate redness, dryness, and irritation. It's best to start with a lower concentration and use retinols sparingly. Consider a patch test before applying it to your entire face.

  3. Recent Facial Waxing or Hair Removal: Avoid using retinols before and after facial waxing or hair removal procedures, as the skin can be more sensitive and prone to irritation. Facial waxing while on retinol treatment can lead to increased skin sensitivity and the risk of skin damage, including burns and irritation, due to retinol's exfoliating effects on the skin. Wait 7-14 days days until your skin has fully healed before reintroducing retinol.

  4. Sunburn or Windburn: If your skin is sunburned or windburned, it's advisable to avoid retinol until your skin has fully recovered. Applying retinol to compromised skin can increase irritation and prolong the healing process.

  5. Active Skin Infections or Inflammation: If you have active skin infections, such as eczema, psoriasis, or open wounds, it's best to avoid retinol until these conditions are under control. Retinol can worsen inflammation and discomfort in such cases.

  6. Use of Certain Medications: Some medications and topical treatments can interact with retinols, potentially causing adverse effects. Be cautious if you're using medications that make your skin more sensitive or if you're undergoing other dermatological treatments. Consult your dermatologist for personalized advice.

  7. Overexfoliated Skin: If you are already using other exfoliating products like alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) or beta hydroxy acids (BHAs), combining them with retinol can lead to excessive exfoliation and skin irritation. Be mindful of your skincare routine and ensure it is balanced.

  8. Allergic Reactions or Sensitivities: If you have a known allergy or sensitivity to retinol or related ingredients, it's crucial to avoid retinol-containing products.

  9. Youthful Skin with No Specific Concerns: If you have youthful skin without specific concerns like acne, fine lines, or pigmentation, you may not need retinol in your skincare routine. Retinols are typically recommended for addressing specific issues related to aging or skin texture.

If you have any of these concerns we recommend choosing a Retinol Alternative like Bakuchiol Complete by Cosmedix its a deeply hydrating Plant Based Retinol Alternative Serum that helps improve the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, while leaving skin hydrated and healthier-looking. Bakuchiol is known as the gentler Retinol alternative that is helpful for those with pre-existing skin conditions.

Remember always consult with a aesthetic skincare professional or dermatologist before introducing retinol into your routine, especially if you have any underlying skin conditions or concerns. They can provide personalized guidance and recommend the most suitable products and concentrations for your skin type and needs.

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