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Retinol is a cult skincare ingredient growing in popularity, with many skincare enthusiasts swearing by its efficacy - and the correct percentage of retinol to use is a pressing question for many. In this guide to retinol dosage for skin, we’ll walk you through Kiehl's retinol formulations and how the varied dosages of retinol can be tailored to your unique skin concerns.

Retinol Doses and Their Differences

Retinol is a vitamin A derivative that plays a role in promoting skin turnover and skin regulation. It is structurally similar to vitamin A, but not exactly the same. Due to retinol’s ability to dissolve natural oils in the skin, it can bind to receptors within skin cells and catalyse cellular turnover. Over time, increased cellular turnover can even skin texture and tone amongst other benefits.

But what dose of retinol should you use? It is important to select the right concentration before you start use. Because of its potency, retinol can heighten skin sensitivity which can lead to side effects – termed ‘retinol uglies’ – in the initial weeks. The wrong dosage may impact the effectiveness of the product or side effects. To see whether 0.1 or 0.3 retinol is right for you, we’ve created a streamlined guide to pure retinol application and its dosages.

Why use pure retinol?

There’s a pure retinol formula for every skin goal, with each containing varied strengths. Serums and creams which contain this superhero skincare ingredient are proven to be effective regardless of the percentage used, but micro dose retinol and high dose retinol do have different effects on skin. Retinol also differs in its forms: there’s both pure retinol and enscapsulated retinol to understand. While pure retinol is faster-acting and more powerful, encapsulated retinol formulas release the active ingredient onto your skin’s surface slowly over time.When weighing up encapsulated retinol vs pure retinol, encapsulated retinol is ideal for more sensitive skin types that require both potency and gentleness.

How much retinol to use

Determining how much retinol to use will depend on a few factors. Your skin sensitivity levels, how experienced you are with the ingredient and the concerns you have – such as anti-ageing, breakouts, or dullness – all play into the right retinol dosage for skin. To help reduce the onset of early ageing for example, a micro dose retinol is a gentle and steady option. If you have fine lines and wrinkles already apparent, a higher retinol dosage for skin may be the right choice. 

When it comes to applying your chosen retinol product, start with a freshly cleansed face. Take a pea-sized amount of the formula on your fingertips and apply to the skin, avoiding the sensitive eye area. Strive for upward and outwards motions when applying your pure retinol serum, before finishing with a high-quality moisturiser.

What percentage of retinol should I use?

Regardless whether you’re opting for a low or high dose, pure retinol must be integrated in your skincare regimen gradually. Remember, it’s a delicate process. When starting a retinol routine, it’s recommended to opt for a low dose retinol to ease in. This is because unlike most hydrating or exfoliating ingredients, retinol interacts with skin at a more granular, cellular level. Your skin can become accustomed to increased cellular turnover, but this takes some time. Increasing 0.1 retinol to 0.3 retinol and beyond is possible, but always approach usage as a gradual habit.

Low dose retinol

If it’s your first time introducing retinol to your skincare regimen, we recommend a low dose retinol (between 0.01% - 0.03%) for a gentle initiation. The Kiehl's micro-dose serum is crafted with retinol, ceramides and peptides to create an optimal low dose retinol serum for beginners and those with sensitive skin.

Discover Retinol Skin-Renewing Daily Micro-Dose Serum.

This low dose pure retinol serum is potent, but perfectly suitable for repeated daily use. Made to combat signs of ageing, smooth out skin texture and minimise pores, this carefully crafted formula produces visible retinol benefits in controlled dosages. The additional inclusion of peptides and ceramides promotes a stronger skin barrier. Ideal for retinol beginners and people with sensitive skin, 100% percent of users showed wrinkle reduction with consistent use1.

Micro-Dose Retinol

High dose retinol

But what about the application of high dose retinol? If you’re ready to target specific skin concerns and have already introduced your skin to low dose retinol, you’ll likely have a tolerance for a higher dose. This will result in a faster flow of visible effects. The Kiehl’s Fast Release Wrinkle-Reducing Night Serum uses a 0.3% dosage of retinol, making its our highest concentrate of retinol to target fine lines and wrinkles.

Discover Retinol Fast Release Wrinkle-Reducing Night Serum.

A powerful night serum designed for wrinkles, fine lines, and visibly youthful skin, this serum accelerates skin renewal and decreases the appearance of fine lines in just 5 days. Deeper-set wrinkles are reduced in 2 weeks, with correct usage.

Retinol Night Serum

Skincare routine with pure retinol serum

Let’s delve into a comprehensive pure retinol skincare regimen. Alongside how much retinol to use, the products you use alongside retinol in your skincare routine matter. This is because most concentrations of retinol can cause dry skin, so moisture intake elsewhere should increase. We recommend applying a thicker-textured moisturiser or layer a pure retinol serum between creams. Be on the lookout for nourishing and gentle ingredients like niacinamide or panthenol found in cleansers and serums. These nutrients support skin barrier strength and encourage a calm, comfortable skin feel. Finally, one of the most important pairings with pure retinol is a high-performing sunscreen. Sensitivity to UV radiation increases through retinol use, so applying optimal sun protection ensures your complexion is protected against further skin stress.

Loved our guide to how much retinol to use? Keep reading to learn more about Retinol in skincare.

1Results based on expert grading in a clinical test for subjects showing improvement after 12 weeks of use.


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