The Beginner’s Guide to Retinol


There are certain ingredients that have achieved star status in the skincare world, and one of them is retinol. Commonly deemed as the gold standard by dermatologists, retinol is a type of retinoid which is derived from vitamin A and is commonly found in its weaker form in skincare products like serums and moisturizers. The umbrella term “retinoid” also includes retinoic acid (also known as Retin-A or tretinoin), which is its prescription-strength counterpart. 

Despite retinol’s stellar skin improving reputation, it can be a confusing and daunting ingredient for many. There are also plenty of retinol products available on the market today, making it hard to choose the right one. Kiehl’s new Retinol Skin-Renewing Daily Micro-Dosing Serum is the latest innovation starring retinol to hit the shelves and is ideal for all skin types and new retinol users. It offers up maximum tolerance and efficacy, coupled with a first-to-market micro-dosing technology, making it a hard-working, but gentle, alternative to traditional retinol formulas. 

With that in mind, we enlisted the help of Dr. Meghan O’Brien, Kiehl’s global consulting dermatologist, to answer the most pressing questions about this hero ingredient. 

What are the benefits of using retinol? 

Retinol is considered a powerhouse ingredient because of its plethora of skin-boosting and anti-aging benefits. It revs up cell turnover and stimulates collagen production, helping tackle fine lines and wrinkles. It also helps improve skin tone and texture, and even clears up clogged pores.

When should I start using retinol?

Don’t save your retinol for when you start seeing those fine lines and wrinkles. “Our skin starts to age beginning in our early 20s and visible signs of aging can be seen in the late 20s,” explains Dr. O’Brien. “Starting a retinol product in the 20s is the ideal time to start for prevention of signs of aging.”

How long does it take before I start seeing results?

Give it at least 12 weeks for your skin to start reaping the benefits of retinol usage. Dr. O’Brien says that it takes 3-6 months to start seeing results with retinoids, although some may notice the benefits sooner. 

What are the potential side effects of using retinol?

“Irritation is the main side effect from retinol use,” says Dr. O’Brien, especially when you first start using it. Generally, there is a three to four week period where the skin adjusts to the ingredient and responds with redness, dryness or peeling as well. “In some cases, there may be a purge effect of acne, although this is more likely to happen with prescription retinoids versus over-the-counter ones.”

While these side effects are common and expected when using retinol, Kiehl’s was focused on alleviating them through their unique Micro-Dose formula. 

Is retinol suitable for all skin types?

While retinol is generally suitable for all skin types, those with sensitive skin or skin conditions like rosacea, eczema or psoriasis should proceed with caution, or speak to their dermatologist. Kiehl’s innovative new Retinol Skin-Renewing Daily Micro-Dose Serum was formulated for all skin types, thanks to its unique formula and delivery system. Tapping into the medical science of “micro dosing,” it delivers retinol in precisely measured doses, minimizing common retinol side effects like irritation and peeling without compromising the benefits. In addition to pure retinol, it also harnesses derm-approved ingredients like ceramides and peptides which not only have soothing and strengthening abilities on their own, but they’re also formula boosters. The peptides help further support and sustain the repairing benefits of the retinol, while the ceramides help build your retinol tolerance and fortify your skin’s barrier while protecting the new cells and minimizing any extra discomfort.

If I have sensitive skin, is retinol a no-go for me? 

Fact: even sensitive skin types can use retinol. It all depends on the formulation and finding one that’s suitable for sensitive skin. “Look for a retinol product that is coupled with ingredients like ceramides which help to support the skin’s barrier function while the retinol does its work,” advises Dr. O’Brien. She recommends using a lower concentration of retinol and pairing it with a rich moisturizer. 

Whats the best way to incorporate retinol into my skincare routine? 

If you’re a retinol newbie, start by slowly incorporating it into your skincare regimen and gradually increase use, which helps build your skin’s tolerance to the ingredient. Begin by using it twice a week, before working your way up to every other day. Kiehl’s Retinol Skin-Renewing Daily Micro-Dose Serum gives you the option for daily use with a safe and gentle formula that’s great for sensitive skin types, retinol pros and first-time users alike. That means you can skip the gradual build-up and get one step closer to smoother, firmer skin. 

Can I use retinol in the morning or should I save it for my nighttime routine?

Dr. O’Brien recommends incorporating retinol into your nighttime routine. How you ask? She advises to start by cleansing your skin with a gentle cleanser, applying retinol and following it up with your moisturizer. Because retinol tends to make your skin more sensitive to the sun, remember to diligently wear sunscreen which offers broad spectrum protection during the day. In addition to face, Kiehl’s Retinol Skin-Renewing Daily Micro-Dose Serum can also be applied to other areas with signs of aging like the back of the hands, your delicate eye area, neck and décolleté. 

Does the percentage of retinol thats in a product matter? 

The percentage of retinol will determine the strength of the product, says Dr. O’Brien. For example, if your skin is on the sensitive side, a lower concentration will be more tolerable. That being said, she believes that a more tolerable formulation is superior to a higher strength retinol. “It allows for daily consistent use of the product, which maximizes the benefits.”

There are so many different retinol formulas out there. How do I choose the right one for me? 

“Considering one’s skin type is very important when choosing a retinol formula,” says Dr. O’Brien. Luckily, today’s retinol formulas offer plenty of options to choose from. 

To learn more about this Kiehl’s new Retinol Skin-Renewing Daily Micro-Dosing Serum, visit or book a consultation appointment to speak with a Kiehl’s representative. 

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