At What Age Should You Start Using Retinol? Several Dermatologists Weigh In

Beginning in your 20s will increase your skin's regeneration potential while it's still high.

woman applying serum to face
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Whether you're new to skin care or someone who regularly visits their dermatologist for the latest treatment, you're likely familiar with the term retinol. Besides sunscreen, the vitamin A derivative is one of the best anti-aging products on the market. "Retinol does a lot of things for us," says Dr. Julie Russak, M.D., FAAD, board-certified dermatologist at Russak Dermatology Clinic; the formula strengthens DNA repair and works on the regeneration of the top layer of the skin, which helps remedy common skin care woes, including brown spots, discoloration, fine lines, and wrinkles. Although the product is widely recommended by dermatologists and aestheticians alike, it still manages to mystify plenty of those who are interested in using the anti-aging wonder. If you're worried that you're late to the party—or if you're eager to start, but are unsure if it's too soon—we spoke to several dermatologists, who shared exactly when you should begin using retinol.

When should you start using retinol?

While there's no right or wrong age to begin using retinol, most dermatologists recommend fitting it into your skin care routine during your 20s. The reason? "The production of collagen fibers starts to decline in our 20s," explains Dr. Allison Arthur, MD, FAAD, at Sand Lake Dermatology Center. "Collagen helps to maintain a smooth, plump appearance of the skin. The loss of collagen can lead to wrinkles and sagging. By encouraging our fibroblasts to keep making collagen, retinol can be used to help pre-juventate, or prevent the signs of aging in the skin before they start." Some teens battling recurring acne breakouts are also prescribed a form of retinol, like tazorac or adapalene, but if that wasn't your experience, Dr. Russak notes that starting in your 20s will boost your regeneration potential while it's still high. If you haven't begun using the anti-aging formula yet, some signs that it's a good time to start include active breakouts, brown spots, fine lines around your eyes or mouth, and dull skin.

How do you work retinol into your skin care routine?

One reason people often hesitate before starting a retinol product is because it can cause irritation. For this reason, Dr. Arthur says to start using it slowly. She tells her patients to apply a pea-sized amount only two or three nights at first; then, gradually begin increasing it to every night as tolerated. "I always recommend using a moisturizer with retinol," she says, "and it's important to keep the retinol away from the delicate eye area and lips." Additionally, this ingredient makes your skin more sensitive to the sun, so it's important to wear sunscreen every morning and reapply it throughout the day. If you start to experience irritation, Dr. Rebecca Baxt, a board-certified dermatologist and medical director at Baxt Cosmedical, says to stop usage, moisturize, and restart in a few days once your skin is healed. If the irritation is severe, she says to apply hydrocortisone cream twice daily and use a cold compress to soothe your complexion.

Is it ever too late to start?

If you've surpassed your 20s and are concerned that you've missed your window for reaping the benefits of retinol, don't worry—it's never too late to start. Dr. Arthur says she's had patients who reported noticeable results after starting retinol in their 60s and 70s. She does add, however, that patients who have been using retinol for decades look their best. Additionally, waiting means you lose the advantage of boosting regeneration when you are at your prime and, according to Dr. Russak, "it's always better to do pre-aging than anti-aging."

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