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What Is The Best Age To Start Using Retinol? It’s Sooner Than You Think

A common staple of men’s skincare products (particularly for the face) is going to be retinol.

Used commonly in skin care products for the past couple of decades, it can completely revamp your skincare game.

Unlike harsh skincare products of yesteryear, retinol is generally considered to be a pretty safe yet highly effective solution for your skin.

Today we wanted to spend a few minutes talking about this complex ingredient and what it does to your skin when to start applying it regularly.

What Exactly Is Retinol?

Retinol is vitamin A.

An essential vitamin that we often find in many of the foods that we eat including carrots, sweet potatoes, kale, spinach, and all sorts of other stuff that you probably let go expired in your refrigerators vegetable drawer.

Retinol basically a weaker (i.e. less concentrated) version of tretinoin – which is most often used to treat severe cases of acne, skin discoloration, and deep set wrinkles.

Unlike tretinoin that requires a prescription from your family doctor or dermatologist, retinol can be purchased over the counter.

Common Skin Aliments Where Retinol Can Help

When you browse online retailers like Amazon or beauty boutiques like bluemercury, you are greeted with countless options of creams, serums, and gels just a click away.

Most notably you will find retinol in products geared towards the following:

  • Anti-aging
  • Age defense
  • Age fighter
  • Collagen boost
  • Deep wrinkle correction
  • Nighttime repair

Nearly a one-size fits all ingredient, retinol has been marketed to fix fine lines, wrinkles, dark spots, sun spots, and even acne.

So how does it do the job of fixing or these conditions?

In short, cell turnover.

Retinol (Vitamin A) is a vital part of your skins health.

When you lack vitamin A in your daily diet, your skin dries out and any of the above aliments can appear much more severe.

However, when you apply retinol on a repeated basis, you will help your skin with the skin cell shedding process.

But what does this all mean?

Well if you are a man in your 30s, chances are that you might have noticed some fine lines beginning to appear around both your mouth and eye area (trust me, it’s not going to get better with time).

When you adopt a skin care product infused with retinol, it will help to fight the aging process.

Now, I am not here to tell you that you will look 18 years old again…

…sorry bud, the days of being in your high school prime are over – minus the sweet Fast & Furious inspired car and all!

But what I am saying is that it can help to reduce those lines just in time for the 20-year high school reunion.

While this might not seem like a big deal from the onset, but if you are trying to look great for a business meeting or job interview (or heck even a date), regular application of retinol can help you look a bit younger…

…but there’s a catch:

Applying a product with retinol isn’t a 2-day thing.

In order to get the most out of any of those ‘age defying’ products, you do need to use it for a prolonged period of time (think a few weeks at minimum)…

…and this makes complete sense!

According to WebMD, your skin will refresh itself once every 27 days (source) – that’s incredible!

So with that in mind, it takes quite a bit of time to get things going…

When To Apply Retinol

Now a tricky part that trips up a lot of men when it comes to using skin care products are when to apply them.

Retinol is an incredibly potent ingredient.

No offense to the skin care companies there, but they sure as heck don’t make it easy if this should be applied in the morning, noon, or night!

Here’s what you must know to look your best and get the most out of any retinol infused product:

Never apply retinol before you head out the door in the morning.

Only apply retinol in the evening hours.

If you must apply retinol in the morning hours, then you must apply sunscreen (SPF 30+) immediately afterwards.


Unfortunately, with retinol, one of the biggest caveats is its fragility.

When exposed to harmful UV rays, the structure of the chemical breaks down and could actually make your skin worse!

Simply applying it before you hit the sack can make this a non-issue.

Now based on our research, we did find some retinol infused products with SPF protection.

While this does definitely help pull double-duty and save you a healthy chunk of change, we would still recommend for you to apply it separately.

The reason being is that you aren’t technically layering your sunscreen directly on top of a retinol based product – instead it’s still being exposed to UV rays when you go outside on a sunny day.

What To Look For In A Container Selling Retinol

Building off the fragility of retinol and its tendency to break down when exposed to UV rays, retinol should always be purchased in a container that blocks out external light sources.

Therefore, if you see a skin care product containing retinol that’s clear – skip it immediately.

Not only will the product not be nearly as effective on your skin in reversing acne, aging, sun spots, or dark spots, but it may do the opposite and make your problems worse.

Secondly, it would be a complete waste of money – which can be really disheartening after applying it for several weeks.

Something along the lines like this product would be a recommended pick.

Products With Retinol To Avoid

As retinol becomes more and more popular with men, you will inevitably begin to see it pop up in products as a selling ‘feature’.

So, if you see retinol in even the best men’s face cleanser, don’t be a sucker by paying for the premium.

Doing so will yield no positive results for you as you will be simply using the product and washing it down the drain.

Instead, get a product that will rest on your skin before you go to bed.  It will work for more hours and provide better results.

Complimentary Products You Will Want To Have On Hand When Using Retinol

While a night repair cream containing retinol will do wonders for many of the skin aliments we covered so far, adopting a holistic approach to skin care is equally important.

Far too often men will latch onto one facet of the skin care regimen and skip all the rest.

Doing so often leads to less than stellar results coupled by a waste of money.

If you are starting to take your skin seriously, then you will want to make sure that you also consider also the following:

  • Facial cleansers
  • Face creams (moisturizers)
  • Eye creams
  • Exfoliators
  • Sunscreen

Now, I know that sounds like a lot, but hear me out:

Every single one of the products holds their own importance in the skin care regimen.

While it goes beyond the scope of this post a bit, here are the cliff’s notes of the key takeaways:

Facial cleansers – Much better than a bar of soap.  Contains less harsh cleansing agents and will be gentle on your skin while still knocking dirt, grime, and other pollutants away.  You will want to use this daily.

Exfoliators – Think of as being a deeper scrub than a facial cleanser.  Comes in physical or chemical varieties.  Common exfoliators are AHA and BHA – learn about them before you buy one.  Will help to keep your skin regenerating nicely.

Face creams – Like cleansers, needs to be applied daily.  Will help to minimize fine lines and wrinkles.  Adds a splash of hydration to your skin and helps to ensure that the moisture barrier is intact.

Eye creams – Very very similar to face creams (but can’t be substituted).  Anti-aging eye creams for men have a different structure of ingredients to compliment the immensely delicate skin around your eyes.

Sunscreen – When using one designed for your face, it will be much thinner than the stuff you use at the beach.  Will leave no white residue yet still provides ample SPF protection to keep your skin looking great.

Skin Care Is More Than Just An Ingredient

As we eluded to earlier, taking care of your skin is more than just a single application of an anti-aging or acne cream containing retinol.

While a powerful and important ingredient that should be included in the next skin care product you consider, it’s important that you always step back and examine the entire process before mindlessly purchasing products leaving you with more questions than answers.

Adam Williams

As the lead editor of Tools of Men, Adam loves men's grooming products. Particularly of interest is managing facial hair and perfecting the art of the modern man's skincare routine. His work has been featured or quoted in several publications, including New York Magazine, Vice, Sharpologist, MIC, Elite Daily, and more. When Adam isn't working, he enjoys spending time with his two little kids who keep him both on his toes and young at heart.

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