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How to use your retinal serum the right way

When it comes to improving the feel, texture and tone of your skin, nothing quite compares to the wonders of retinal. But just as you wouldn’t use a new gadget without reading the instructions first, it pays to understand how best to use a retinal serum before applying it to your skin.

How to use retinal serum


First things first, what is retinal? Retinal is a member of the retinoid family, and a close relation to the more commonly known retinol. Both are forms of vitamin A, but retinal has one up on retinol, as it works at a faster rate with reduced risk of irritation.


So, what does retinal serum do?A serum with active levels of retinal can bring a number of benefits to the skin. Retinal works to bring fresher, clearer skin to the surface – visibly reducing fine lines and dark marks in the process. Think of it as sending your skin to the dry cleaners, removing stains and restoring its radiance. There are perks when it comes to the structure of your skin too, helping to visibly plump and smooth the skin for a firmer complexion.


When to use retinal serum


Not sure when to use your retinal serum in your routine? The answer is during your night-time routine only. Retinal can become an irritant when exposed to sunlight, and the ingredient can also make your skin more sensitive to UV. In short, it’s a night owl, not a morning person, or it can become tetchy.


The evening also gives retinal the perfect opportunity to work at its optimum. During the day our skin is exposed to numerous different external stressors – things like pollution, cigarette smoke and UV rays. At night, it doesn’t have so much to contend with, making it the best time for your skin to rest, repair and recuperate. Think of it like this: it’s much harder to read a book while jostling on a busy, bustling train carriage than it is when sitting alone in a quiet room.


In terms of your routine, retinal slots in between your exfoliant and moisturiser step. If you don’t use a liquid exfoliant, proceed straight from cleansing to your retinal serum and finish with a moisturiser.


How to use retinal serum


To fully reap the benefits of your retinal serum, it pays to stick to a few golden rules.


Introduce slowly


Although retinal won’t irk most skin, that doesn’t mean all skin will tolerate regular application straight away. Retinal speeds up cell turnover, and skin can take time to adjust to this new, faster way of working. Think of it like this, you wouldn’t go for one jog and expect to be hitting super fast speeds straight away. It takes time, and training, to work your way up.


For this reason, the best way to apply your retinal serum is just a couple of times a week to begin with. As with all new ingredients, it’s best to leave a 48 hour gap between applications to check your skin is happy before proceeding. Gradually build up to nightly use of your retinal serum, listening to your skin as you go. Everyone’s skin is different, and therefore not everyone will respond to ingredients in the same way. It could be that once every other night, or even just a couple of times a week, is enough for you.


Only apply in the evening


Retinal itself can become an irritant when exposed to sunlight, and the ingredient can also make your skin more sensitive to UV. For this reason, it should only ever be applied at night. There are added benefits for choosing this time of day too. During the day our skin is exposed to numerous different external stressors – things like pollution, cigarette smoke and UV rays. At night, it doesn’t have so much to contend with, making it the best time for your skin to rest, repair and recuperate. Think of it like this: it’s much harder to read a book while jostling on a busy, bustling train carriage than it is when sitting alone in a quiet room.


Be vigilant about SPF


It is really important to wear a high-factor sunscreen the morning after you have used a retinal serum. But you’re doing that already, right? If you're really serious about having great skin, you should be applying SPF every day without fail – regardless of which serums you have been using.


UV rays, which come from the sun, are responsible for the majority of premature ageing. They speed up the deterioration of collagen as if it were an ice cream left outside on a hot day and bring hyperpigmentation to the surface like dark underwear worn beneath a pale dress. Investing in a retinal serum is pointless if you’re not also using SPF, as you’ll merely be undoing all your good work by causing new skin problems. Lose-lose.


Always apply to clean skin


Sitting in traffic is frustrating, right? Your serums experience the same kind of jams and delays if trying to penetrate through a blockade of makeup, pollution and daily grime. This is why proper cleansing is so important, clearing the way for your serums and moisturisers to access the skin effectively and efficiently. All of your skincare will work harder when it's working together.