shopping cart (0)
Most of us think we have the basics figured out when it comes to skincare. But did you know that retinol is in the top three dermatologist-dictated rules?

The One Thing Dermatologists Recommend That You’re Probably Not Doing


December 14, 2015

Most of us think we know the basic skincare rules. It’s not that complicated, right? Wash your face (exfoliate!), drink water, use sunscreen, and you’re golden—you’ll look 22 until you’re 52, and beyond.

We consider our readers to be a very well-educated bunch, but what you’re about to learn might surprise even you. In a recent article on RealSelf, dermatologists listed the top ten most important things you can do for your skin, and website users (non-docs) answered a poll that asked them to order, from most to least important, the same ten skincare rules.


These were the top three skincare rules from non-docs:
(1) Don’t smoke
(2) Eat a balanced diet
(3) Drink at least 8 cups of water a day. Sounds about right.

And the expert dermatologists? Their top three looked pretty different:
(1) Wear sunscreen
(2) Don’t smoke
(3) Use retinol

Wait a second: is that retinol in the top three dermatologist-recommended skincare rules?!


Not smoking is a no-brainer, and honestly, sunscreen should be, too. But if you’re completely surprised to see retinol make the top three, you’re not alone: with some help from Charlotte’s Book-approved dermatologists, we’ve put together a quick retinoid refresher to get you up to speed.

If you knew retinol was key but haven’t started yet, let this be your reminder! And if you’re already a retinol user, good for you—there are some tips for the pros here, too.

1. Start ‘Em Young

According to Dr. Joshua Zeichner, a Charlotte’s Book Premiere Provider and Director of Cosmetic and Clinical Research in Dermatology at Mount Sinai Medical Center, “Your mid 20s is a reasonable time to start using topical retinol—it stimulates collagen and increases skin thickness and elasticity. For a young person, using retinol is like making sure the skin’s foundation is as strong as possible, so it can resist wrinkling as much as possible as you age. Over the counter retinol is an excellent place to start. It is less potent than prescription strength retinoids, and also less irritating.

2. Know Your Strength

Over-the-counter retinols are available in a variety of forms and strengths. Recently, we discussed the differences between creams and serums: essentially, if you have oily skin, use a serum; dry, use cream. To further clarify, Dr. Debra Wattenberg, a Charlotte’s Book Premiere Provider who specializes in cosmetic dermatology at her boutique Upper East Side clinic, NY Skin RX, says this: “Retinol is one of the most effective anti-aging ingredients available over the counter. Most retinol creams will contain some moisturizing ingredients like petrolatum or mineral oil. These can be occlusive and may clog pores, but if your skin is dry or sensitive, a cream might be the perfect choice. In contrast, most serums are water-based and tend to contain higher concentrations of the “active” ingredients. Serums are great for oily or acne-prone skin, or for those who prefer to apply a separate moisturizer in addition to their serum.”

3. Do The Right Thing: Follow The Rules

With every product, it’s important to follow the instructions—otherwise they won’t work properly. With retinol, that’s especially true. Says Dr. Debra Wattenberg, “Getting used to using retinol can be challenging. I recommend applying it sparingly (approximately the size of a pea for the entire face) at bedtime to clean skin. Apply your moisturizer directly over the retinol. Start out every other night to help acclimate to the product, as most people get a little dry and irritated when they first begin a retinol cream or serum. It takes approximately 12 weeks to see results, so stick with it. Finally, don’t forget to apply a sunscreen in the morning.”

It’s always a good idea to use sunscreen, but Dr. Mitchell Kline explains that retinol doesn’t directly cause sensitivity to sun, unless overused: “Retinoids degrade in light. But they don’t specifically create light sensitivity except when they are overused and the top skin layer (stratum corneum) is momentarily thinned.” In other words, keep up the sunscreen habit and apply your retinol at night.

4. Easy On The Eyes

The telling, delicate eye area can benefit greatly from a touch of retinol, but take Charlotte’s Book Premiere Provider Dr. Dennis Gross’ advice and use a moisturizer that includes the antioxidant ferulic acid, too: “This powerful combination, which I used in my Ferulic + Retinol Triple Correction Eye Serum, treats the delicate skin around the eye, evens skin tone, improves dark spots and smooths lines and wrinkles. Ferulic acid is amazing for brightening, and it’s a powerful antioxidant. It also aids in the fight against free radicals.” For more advice from Dr. Dennis Gross on when (and how) to start your anti-aging regimen, read this. 

5. Nature Calls

Some people find classic retinol a little too tough on their sensitive skin, and in that case, we recommend using something like Om Aroma & Co Carrot Rose Serum, which nourishes and rejuvenates the skin thanks to vitamin A and beta-carotene in the carrot seeds. This serum is a glow-booster our editorial team absolutely loves. Or, try something that features the naturally vitamin A-rich cacay nut oil. Florivera Firming Face Oil is rich in natural antioxidants, plus it’s infused with our favorite, cacay seed oil, which reduces wrinkles and regenerates the skin.


READ THIS NEXT—she uses retinol!
Charlotte Talks To: O Magazine’s Beauty Director Val Monroe

CURIOUS about our experts? They’re the best.
Learn more about Dr. Debra Wattenberg, Dr. Dennis Gross, Dr. Mitchell Kline, and Dr. Joshua Zeichner

Show Comments +

Get your
Weekly Fix
of Honest Beauty
from Real Experts

By clicking this link you accept our web terms of use, privacy, and cookie policy.


find a specialist in your city.

On The Regular