How to choose the right Retinol strength for your skin?

Retinol is my favourite skinhealth-boosting all star!

However I find most users think that any product labelled Retinol is the same as any other on the shelf. Wrong!


Choosing the right percentage

Retinols come in different strengths (percentage). 0.1%, 0.2%, 0.25%, 0.3%, 0.5% up to 1%. Beginnners or those with sensitive skins should start with the lower strengths. Those with dry or mature complexions can begin from 0.3% to 0.5% and build up slowly. Each 6-12 months slowly move up the ladder until you reach, what I like to call, the retinol goldilocks zone – not too low and not too high. 

Some brands are transparent with their strength on the labels, whilst others are not. So my suggestion is to go with a cosmeceutical brands, sold over the counter (OTC) trusted by dermatologists like Skinceuticals, Medik8 or ZO Skinhealth.


For beginners

If the fear of irritation hinders you from venturing into the retinol woods then I suggest you begin with an OTC retinol like the beginner-friendly Skinceuticals Retinol 0.3 that delivers a steady, even release of retinol to treat mild to moderate fine lines, textural imperfections and discolouration. Those with hyper-sensitive skins may be better off with ZO Skinhealth Retinol Skin Brightener with 0.25% retinol renewal benefits, without compromising the skin’s delicate barrier due to its gentle glide.


For intermediates

Once your skin has adapted, I recommend upping the strength to 0.5% ZO Skinhealth Wrinkle + Texture Repair for those looking to resurface lines and wrinkles, dark spots and acne scars. One step up is Medik8 Crystal Retinal 6 which is available in a series of progressive strengths. Containing Retinaldehyde, a next-gen form of fast acting vitamin A, this stable formula minimises the inflammation and discomfort associated with most retinols.


For Pros

Prescription retinoids like Tretinoin and Differin® are 20 x times more potent than OTC Retinols, contain retinoic acid are prescribed by a dermatologist for acne or severe pitted, indented acne scarring, pigmentation or melasma. The high prescriptive concentration causes cells to turn over faster and deliver quicker results.

Only consider med-grade retinoids if you have a history of using retinols or are looking to treat serious skin conditions. Book an appointment with a dermatologist to get the right prescription for your needs.

Retinol, on the other hand, slowly converts to retinoic acid, taking longer to get from A to B, in comparison to retinoids, but because of this, retinol users often experience less irritation and inflammation response.

Think of it as the race between the Tortoise and the Hare. Retinoids being the Tortoise and Retinol being the Hare. The difference is that they’re both winners in the end; though each at their different pace.


"When using retinol; start low, go slow and be patient".


Discover the selection of my Retinol Heroes



Each month in my ASK ADEELA column in Financial Times How to Spend It - I cover a skincare topic I am usually asked about the most. Drawing from my experience as a practicing Facialist I share my insights and tips to help de-mystify and simplify skincare issues.



Be skin smart.

Words by Adeela Crown.


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