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How to be Proactive & Start Using Retinol in Your 20s

Retinol In Your 20s

This article was written by The Zillennial Zine’s spring editorial intern Megan Pavek. Find her on Instagram at @megan.pavek. If you would like to share an article with The Zillennial, send us an email at

Your mid-to-late twenties can be a daunting time. As the hangovers worsen and your lower back starts to ache for no apparent reason, you begin to realize how important it is to take care of yourself and prioritize your health. The 21-year-old version of you that was able to close down the bar, crush a Domino’s pizza and sleep on the floor without taking your makeup off is now dead and gone. Meanwhile, the 30-year-old version of you with an established career and advanced skin routine is just out of reach, waving to you from the distant future when you finally have your life together. Life can be chaotic – trust me I’ve been there – but now’s the time to be proactive about your skincare. Here’s everything you need to know about starting retinol in your 20s so that your future self can thank you later!

So, What Is Retinol?

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Retinol is a Vitamin A-based product that is used in skin serums, lotions and creams to combat anti-aging. According to the American Academy of Dermatology Association (AAD), retinol is “routinely used to improve uneven skin tone, pigmentation and texture.” This occurs by increasing the turnover of skin cells and boosting collagen production. There are many forms of retinol, including a large number of affordable, over-the-counter options.

Pros and Cons

Pro: This is not another fad skincare routine. Retinol is an OG beauty essential, and chances are your mom uses it, and her mom used it in some form too. Dermatologists have been recommending retinol for years due to the benefits it can have on your skin. The product is worshiped by beauty moguls, the fashion world, celebrities and medical professionals. This has caused many individuals to wonder whether you should be proactive and start using retinol in your 20s, myself included!

Pro: It’s easy to introduce into your existing skin routine, and many skincare lines carry their own retinol products. Chances are the skincare line you’re already using has a retinol product as popular brand names like CeraVe, Kiehls, Neutrogena and Olay all offer a variety of accessible options. Keep in mind that only a professional dermatologist can grant access to a prescription-strength retinol product. This is good news for beginners because the majority of over-the-counter products have a small percentage of retinol. Therefore, over-the-counter products are a great way to experiment and gauge the reaction your skin may have before increasing your retinol usage.

Con: Retinol may not be the best fit for all skin types. AAD advises that individuals with skin allergies, excessive dryness, increased redness, inflammation or moderate to severe acne scarring should consult with a certified dermatologist before using retinol. Additionally, pregnant individuals should not use retinol. Bottom line – if you have very sensitive skin and are worried that retinol may cause a negative reaction, it’s always best to play it safe and consult with your dermatologist first! Other forms of retinoids, alternative products or skin routines may be a better fit for you. 

Con: Usage of the product can cause your skin to be increasingly sensitive to the sun. This is why it’s extremely important to only apply retinol products at night in order to avoid all sunlight. After application, it’s critical to wear sunscreen the following day and wear additional clothing/hats as needed to block the sun. Sun damage can result in skin cancer, and some individuals may decide retinol is not the right fit for them if they are more susceptible to forms of skin cancer. Either way, it’s always important to protect your skin from the sun and get in the habit of applying sunscreen daily.

Tips For Beginners


Replying to @Linsey Brown If you’re wondering how to use Retinol, Dr. Mamina is here to guide you 💙 #askaderm #larocheposay #skincare #fyp

♬ #bettersafethansorry – La Roche Posay

So you’ve decided the pros outweigh the cons and retinol may be a good fit for you, but where should you begin? Many dermatologists take to TikTok to share their best tips and tricks. 

  1. Start low and slow. Dermatologist Mamina Turegano recommends beginners to choose a product that has a low amount of retinol. You can find plenty of products online that range from 0.1 to 1% Use the retinol product anywhere from 1-3 nights a week. To truly go low and slow, individuals can choose a product with one of the lowest amounts of retinol in it, and start using it once a week. It’s important to see how your skin reacts before using a stronger product or increasing usage.
  2. To begin the actual process, Dr. Jenny Liu recommends first washing your face at night with a gentle cleanser. Next, make sure your face is completely dry before applying the retinol. Beginners are recommended to use a pea size drop for the entire face/neck area. Then, apply your moisturizer. Finally, be sure to apply a strong sunscreen the next day when you wake up!
  3. Honor the rule of 3’s. Dr. Shah acknowledges that it’s normal to have some irritation when first using retinol. He advises beginners to use their retinol product every three days for the first month, every other day on the second month, and every day on the third month.
  4. Use the retinol sandwich method. Dr. Adel recommends that beginners try the retinol sandwich method to help calm some of the initial irritation. After cleansing your face, apply a layer of moisturizer first. Then, apply your pea size amount of retinol product. Last, apply one more layer of moisturizer.

Is Retinol a Good Fit For You?

No one knows your body better than you! It’s up to you to decide whether or not it’s worth it to start using retinol in your 20s. Each skin type is very unique and everyone has their own sensitivities. Paired with endless products and methods to choose from, it may take some time to find a skincare routine that works best for you. This is why it’s so important to connect with a dermatologist if you have any questions or concerns before starting a new skin product. If you are someone who prioritizes having younger-looking skin, then starting retinol in your 20s may be the right fit for you. 

Have any thoughts, tips or advice on using retinol in your 20s? Let us know in the comments below!

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