Retinol in Your 20s? These Experts Say Yes

by Allie Flinn


Two months ago, I learned something that made me rethink my entire skincare routine. At the age of 25—coincidentally the age I was at the time—your collagen production starts to slow down. I stared at my computer with my expression frozen like the weary-face emoji. Then, I decided that it was time to take action.

Collagen is the protein in our skin that keeps it firm, plump, and squishy (in a good way). When collagen decreases in your skin, fine lines and wrinkles start to form.

I then went down a relentless Google wormhole researching “retinol in your 20s.” Some articles said it was the best topical you could possibly apply on your skin. However, others told me I should hold off on the anti-aging big guns. Because the side effects of retinol include increased sensitivity to the sun and flakiness, I wanted to make sure I had all the details before embarking on my retinol journey.

So I called up—well, emailed up—two experts in the field: Dr. Kim Nichols, MD, an Avon consulting dermatologist, and Shani Darden, a celebrity esthetician who works with the likes of Chrissy Teigen and Rosie Huntington-Whiteley.

Keep reading to find out the truth about using retinol in your 20s.

What Is Retinol?

“Your skin endures bacteria and environmental pollution daily, which can show signs of premature aging if not protected each day and night,” Dr. Kim Nichols says. Retinol (aka vitamin A) can “help refine the skin and reduce the signs of aging often by environmental factors.” When applied topically, it increases cell turnover.

What Does Retinol Do?

“Retinol minimizes fine lines and wrinkles and diminishes hyperpigmentation, blackheads, and dark spots,” Dr. Nichols says. It increases collagen production in the skin, and helps make skin look tighter and younger, Darden adds.

But retinol doesn’t just help diminish the signs of aging. Nichols says it also helps reduce redness and inflammation, and can help make pimples do a disappearing act.

Should You Start Using Retinol in Your 20s?

“Absolutely!” says Nichols. “Retinol is safe to use for men or women in their 20s to help boost collagen and reduce signs of premature aging, such as creepiness, age spots, and fine lines.” She adds that it also reduces pore size, which translates to smoother skin.

Darden agrees: “That’s when signs of aging (like fine lines) start to appear, so it’s best to ensure you’re on a good skin care routine early.” If you wait until later, it’ll be more difficult and potentially less effective. (She practices what she preaches, as well: She’s been using retinol since she was 23.)

How to Choose the Right Retinol for You

You don’t have to get a prescription for retinol. There are plenty of stellar over-the-counter options available. But it’s important to choose one that works for your skin type, especially if you have sensitive skin. 

“I think it’s important to consult with a skincare professional to determine which retinol is best suited for your skin type,” says Darden. “My Retinol Reform is a gentle yet effective option that’s great for most skin types.” (Not to mention celebs like Jessica Alba are mega fans.)

For sensitive skin, Nichols recommends Avon Anew Clinical Line Eraser with Retinol Treatment since it’s designed to be gentle yet effective. 

How to Add Retinol to Your Routine

  • Start with retinol one night a week, Darden says. From there, gradually build up usage since retinol can be drying. Three nights per week is generally recommended once you’ve built up tolerance.
  • Be sure to apply retinol at night and always follow with moisturizer.
  • Then, note that using more product won’t make it more effective. Nichols says you should only need about a penny-sized drop to cover your entire face.
  • Finally, make sure you’re extra diligent about wearing sunscreen when using retinol. Retinol can cause your skin to be super sensitive to the sun. If you don’t wear sunscreen, you’ll end up causing exactly what you’re trying to prevent.

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