How Long Does It Take For Retinol To Work

Retinol is a popular ingredient in most skincare products and there are retinol creams, gels, ointments, and serums available in the market. It is easily accessible as you can buy most retinol products over the counter.

Retinol is great for reducing fine lines, wrinkles, acne, acne scars, and even hyperpigmentation. But, retinol is not an overnight treatment. It can take weeks or even months to see any visible results with retinol. You can also experience retinol purging which clogs your pores and worsen your breakouts which can last for a couple of weeks.

If you are looking to start incorporating retinol into your skincare routine but unsure if it’s worth the wait, keep reading. You will learn all about the benefits and side effects of using retinol, how it works, and how to use it.  

As with all skincare treatments, be sure to consult a dermatologist. Everyone’s skin is a little different, and what is right for some might not be right for you. 

What Is Retinol?

Retinol is a type of retinoid that is a fat-soluble form of vitamin A. Retinol is typically derived from animal sources such as chicken, liver, eggs, beef, or fish. However, retinol is also derived from plant and vegetable sources such as carrots, sweet potatoes, pumpkin, and squash.

You will find retinol as an ingredient in some cosmetic products but there are topical retinol treatments such as gels, lotions, serums, creams, and ointments. Retinol is available to buy over the counter but it can also be prescribed to you by your dermatologist.

Over-the-counter (OTC) retinol is not as strong as prescription retinol. Your dermatologist may prescribe a higher concentration of retinol for your medication as needed. Retinol typically has a concentration of 0.25% to 1%. Aside from retinol, the other types of retinoids are retinyl esters, retinaldehyde, and retinoic acid.

Benefits Of Using Retinol

Benefits Of Using Retinol

Retinol is a popular OTC treatment as it has many benefits and it is considered by many as a miracle skin ingredient. Retinol is used to treat acne, areas of the skin that has pigmentation, signs of aging, and sun damage.

Acne is a common skin condition that many people have. If you have acne-prone skin and have a mild case of acne, using retinol can reduce pimple visibility, clear up your skin, and unclog the pores which can prevent future acne development.

Retinol can also fight signs of aging such as fine lines and wrinkles. As we age, the body produces less collagen and slows down the cell’s regeneration process which results in the thinning and drying of the skin. This also causes wrinkles and fine lines to appear. Using retinol increases collagen production and quickens skin cell turnover which in turn results in reduced fine lines and wrinkles.

Aside from reducing fine lines, wrinkles, and the appearance of acne, retinol can also improve skin texture and the evenness of your skin tone. If you have hyperpigmentation, increased collagen production caused by using retinol can make your skin brighter, more even-toned, and smoother.

Retinol is definitely safe to use but it is still best to consult your dermatologist before using OTC retinol. Not all of our skin is the same and retinol does have some side effects, especially if you have sensitive skin.

Side Effects Of Using Retinol

Side Effects Of Using Retinol

As we said earlier, retinol is effective in treating skin conditions such as acne, hyperpigmentation, wrinkles, and fine lines. However, it is also possible to experience some side effects when you use retinol.

Your skin might need to adjust to the formula, especially if you are new to using retinol or if you have sensitive skin. Retinol which has a higher concentration can be irritating to the skin. This can cause redness, peeling, and dryness as well as breakouts in some cases, which is known as purging.

Skin purging or retinol purging typically happens to people who use retinol for the first time.  Purging causes clogged pores and worsen your breakout. This typically lasts for a few weeks or even months and is only temporary.

If retinol is new to your skincare routine, make sure not to incorporate it quickly to avoid skin irritation. When using retinol for the first time, use it every three days for a couple of weeks and see how your skin reacts to the formula. If your skin is not reacting negatively and is not irritated, you can start using retinol every other day. Adjust to using it every day if you are not seeing any negative effects on your skin.

Make sure to also start with a pea-sized amount of retinol and use a formula with a lower concentration to give your skin some time to get used to retinol.

These side effects are temporary and your skin should get used to the product if you slowly incorporate it into your skincare routine. If you continue experiencing side effects, make sure to consult your dermatologist so they can give you more effective treatment and advice regarding the use of retinol.

How To Apply Retinol

If you are just starting your retinol journey, make sure to talk to your dermatologist so you know how much concentration of retinol you need. You may need to start at a low concentration if it is your first time adding retinol to your skincare routine.

To apply retinol:

1. Wash your face with a gentle cleanser and pat your face to dry. Make sure your skin is completely dry otherwise, your skin might get irritated after you apply retinol.

2. Take a pea-sized amount of retinol and apply a thin layer to your face. Use gentle upward and outward motions to work the retinol on your face.

3. Let your skin absorb the retinol and make sure your face is dry before applying moisturizer to your face.

How Long Does It Take For Retinol To Work?

How Long Does It Take For Retinol To Work

While retinol is considered a miracle skin ingredient, it does not mean that you will get immediate results. Retinol works wonders but do not expect to get results overnight.

Retinol can take at least several weeks up to 6 months if not longer before you can see any visible results. However, it will still depend on the formula and your skin’s response to retinol.

Your skin may experience a retinol purge, especially if retinol is a new ingredient in your skincare routine. This will cause your pores to clog and breakouts to happen. This can also contribute to the length of time for the retinol to work. This purge stage typically last for two to 6 weeks.

While visible results can take a while to happen, your skin will be exfoliated as you use retinol which will unclog the pores and remove dead skin cells during the process. Wrinkles, fine lines, and hyperpigmentation will also take a significant amount of time before they improve.

If you stay consistent in your skincare routine and retinol application, you will definitely see improvements in your skin.

Who Can Use Retinol?

Retinol products are a great addition to your skincare regimen. But, can you use retinol? You can start using retinol in your 20s and while most skin types can use retinol, you may have a hard time adjusting to the formula if you have sensitive skin. Using a low percentage of OTC retinol can help but it is still best to consult a dermatologist about your skin. Your healthcare provider can also suggest that you use prescription retinoids if you need a stronger formulation.

Having said that, not everyone can use retinol.

If you are a woman who is pregnant or is trying to get pregnant, you should not use retinol or retinoids as they can pose a risk during your pregnancy [1]. Excessive intake of vitamin A is dangerous for pregnant women and can cause malformations in the central nervous system and can even cause spontaneous abortion [2].

As always, consult your healthcare provider about the use of retinol, especially if you are planning to get pregnant or are pregnant to be on the safe side.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

How Do You Know If Your Retinol Is Working?

If used consistently, you should see visible improvements in your skin because retinol exfoliates gently. You will have smoother, more even skin and your breakouts should also improve.

Fine lines, wrinkles, and hyperpigmentation in your skin will take much longer to improve. It will also take several weeks or months before you see any significant changes. 

Just remember that retinol is not an overnight treatment and being patient and consistent is key if you want to see major improvements in your skin. If you experience irritated skin, stop and discuss with your doctor. 

Can I Use Retinol Every Night?

Yes, you can. If your skin is already used to retinol and you are not experiencing any side effects, you can definitely use it every night. 

If you are new to retinol, start slowly and apply retinol every three days for a couple of weeks or until your skin shows no side effects from retinol. After that, you can adjust your application to every other day and then every day.


There is no standard time frame for how long it takes for retinol to work. It can take several weeks up to 6 months for any visible improvements to take place. However, this does not mean your skin is not experiencing change. Your skin will feel smoother, and brighter, and have a more even tone. Fine lines, wrinkles, and hyperpigmentation are skin conditions that take a lot of time to improve.

We hoped this article helped answer your question about skin care with retinol. If you have any questions, let us know how we can help!

Michelle Jackson
Michelle Jackson