What percentage of retinol should I use?

Retinol is a research-backed, proven anti-ageing ingredient. Everybody can benefit from using it, but what strength should you use? Put simply: how much retinol your skin needs depends on your skin type and concerns, as well as your skin’s tolerance for it. You can work out your skin’s tolerance by experimenting with different strengths and frequencies of usage and seeing how it responds.

How much retinol to use?

Paula’s Choice Skincare offers a range of retinol products in a variety of strengths and textures to meet the needs of different skin types and concerns. To get the best results, retinol should be used with other anti-ageing products that contain rejuvenating and replenishing ingredients, antioxidants and restorative ingredients such as niacinamide. While retinol is an anti-ageing superstar, improving the appearance of ageing skin requires more than just one solution.


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Low-strength retinol – 0.01% to 0.03%

If you have never used retinol before, or have dry and sensitive skin, use a lower-strength retinol. You will see brilliant results when applied once or twice daily.

Lowest-strength retinol results?

It may seem surprising, but even small percentages of retinol can benefit your skin. Percentages of 0.01% retinol or greater are proven to be effective at improving multiple signs of ageing, reducing pore size and improving the overall health of your skin. Paula's Choice Skincare retinol products also a contain a blend of beneficial ingredients, such as antioxidants, peptides and emollients for even better results. Research also shows that lower percentages of retinol combined with other antioxidants help your skin to fight against environmental pollution when worn during the day with a broad-spectrum sun protection. (Always use SPF 30 or higher during the daytime).

These are Paula's Choice products which have low percentages of retinol. Depending on your skin's response and/or concern, you can alternate or layer them with products that contain a higher percentage of retinol. They are also ideal for combining with our boosters or treatments.

Skin Recovery Serum

Moderate-strength retinol – 0.03% to 0.3%

If you experience skin concerns like uneven skin tone or texture and a visible loss of firmness, try adding a stronger product to your routine: around 0.2% retinol is ideal. Start by using it for two or three nights every week, then build usage to see how your skin responds.

Moderate-retinol strength results?

Moderate percentages of retinol (0.03% to 0.3%) give you faster results than lower percentages. Research shows that retinol concentrations of 0.03% and greater could counteract the visible effects of environmental damage and visible thinning of skin. A controlled clinical trial published in March 2015 further confirmed results from the older studies, showing that 0.1% retinol improves multiple signs of ageing in eight weeks, with cumulative results over the course of a year. The increase in collagen and hyaluronic acid was especially noted.

Paula's Choice has several formulas with moderate percentages of retinol, with options for both the face and body.

Skin Balancing Serum

Resist Anti-Aging Retinol Serum

Clinical Ceramide-Enriched Moisturiser

Resist Intensive Repair Cream

High-strength retinol – 0.3%-1%

Those with stubborn skin concerns, like deep wrinkles and pronounced uneven skin tone may want to consider a high percentage retinol cream, serum or treatment. But what percentage of retinol is effective? Look for formulations with a percentage between 0.3% and 1%, with retinol 1% being the strongest option. Our strongest products are Clinical 1% Retinol Treatment and 1% Retinol Booster.

High-strength retinol results?

Higher percentages of retinol will provide quick results for skincare concerns that may not have responded to lower percentages.

These are the Paula’s Choice Skincare products that contain a higher percentage of retinol.

Clinical 1% Retinol Treatment

Resist 1% Retinol Booster

Clinical 0.3% Retinol + 2% Bakuchiol Treatment

How often should you use retinol?

The frequency that you apply retinol depends on the product you are using and how experienced your skin is with this ingredient. If you are using a low-strength formula, you can start using it once or twice daily. When using moderate and high-strength retinol, it is best to be a little more cautious. We recommend introducing these products to your skincare routine no more than three times per week and monitoring how your skin responds. If you experience no adverse reaction, you can increase use to every other day and then every day. As with many other skincare products, you may need to experiment to find the best usage for your skin.

Can you use glycolic or salicylic acid with retinol?

There is a common misconception that you can’t combine retinol with an AHA (glycolic acid) or BHA (salicylic acid) exfoliant. In actual fact, research showed that the anti-ageing benefits of retinol are boosted when you combine it with an AHA (glycolic acid) or BHA (salicylic acid) exfoliant in the right amounts.

Tip: As both retinol and AHAs or BHA are active ingredients, keep an eye on how your skin reacts when used together. You may need to experiment to find the right balance for your skin.

Choose the right retinol product for your skin’s needs

Armed with this knowledge of the strength of retinol you should use for your skin type and concerns, there's nothing stopping you from getting great results. But do not forget to protect your skin from UV damage every day with an SPF higher than 30, even when it’s cloudy.

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