Retinol Rules: How to use retinol products properly- Dr Tympanidis explains

Retinol Rules: Dermatologist Dr Penelope Tympanidis explains how to use it properly.

If there’s only one secret to youthful even skin tone, retinol would be it.

It is the only active ingredient that is proven to reset the function of the skin cells, and it can deliver  impressive results – provided it is applied correctly.

And there are many myths and misconceptions about when and how retinol – or Vitamin A -products should be used. It is a tricky ingredient that can initially cause flakey, dry and irritated skin, but these can be minimised if certain rules are followed.

To avoid irritation and unwanted exfoliation, dermatologist, I recommend specific protocols that make the best out of topical use of retinoids.


In order to enjoy the anti-aging benefits of retinoids without the side-effects of redness and flaking, you should follow doctor’s orders. A specialist will prescribe the right type of retinoid for your skin, in the optimal concentration.

It’s important to understand that there are various strengths.

The more potent topical retinoids available on prescription are:

  • Tretinoin
  • Isotretinoin
  • Adapalene
  • Alitretinoin

These are usually used to treat moderate to severe acne.

The retinoids in consumer products range in strength depending on how many conversions they need to go through to become the useable form of retinoic acid.

A common mild one often found in skin care products is retinyl palimate. There is usually very little irritation from this. The strength increases as we move toward tretinoin  – the closer it gets the fewer steps the body has to take to convert it to a useable form.

So the next strongest is retinol and this comes in various concentrations in skin care products usually ranging for 0.5-1%.

Moving to the next level is retinaldehyde or retinal or retinal aldehyde. This is the strongest version of a retinoid available in skin care without a prescription. It works faster than retinol but the end results are similar – it’s just that the weaker versions take a little longer to work their magic boosting collagen, improving hyperpigmentation and evening skin tone. So all of this begs the question- where to start – with the bigs guns or ease into it?


If the skin is not used to a topical retinoid treatment, it is always wise to start with a lower strength or concentration and aim to build the potency gradually over time. If irritation flares up, you can adjust the frequency of use, using it every other day or twice a week etc. Thoroughly moisturising the skin will help ease any discomfort or irritation.


To make the most out of the skin’s own ability to regenerate, I recommend a bespoke regimen of peels using retinoids and other exfoliating agents. The act of skin renewal is enhanced by technology assisted stimulation such as radiofrequency treatments.



Skin needs to be nurtured from the inside as well. I maximise the results of any skin treatment by prescribing the perfect nutritional supplement for each patient’s needs. Vitamin C and E, Omega 3, certain amino acids and probiotics are ideal for giving an extra boost to those tired skin cells.

Yoghurt and kefir are great sources of probiotics and a diet rich in fruits and vegetables as well as oily fish like salmon is a great place to start if you want your skin to look good.

probiotics and skin care


Retinol products encourage cell turnover. This means new, fresh skin cells will be exposed to the elements and they need care. A sunscreen – minimum SPF30 and UVA 4 or 5 star is a must to protect this new skin.


If you’re using a retinol product it is best that it comes in airtight, light proof packaging. Like vitamin C it is unstable and exposure to air and light could make it degrade faster, making it less effective.


Creams containing retinoids should not be used if you are pregnant or breastfeeding.


You can find out more about Dr Tympanidis and the treatments she offers in our Doctor’s Section.