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Retinol 101 + Where to Apply it in Your Skincare Routine

This post is sponsored by Neutrogena. As always all opinions are 100% my own.

If you follow me on IG, you may have seen this graphic I posted on the order of applying your skincare products. You guys loved it for making your skincare routines a little easier—there’s even a corresponding blog post on layering your skincare that breaks it all down even further.

But I did get questions about specific products and where they would go in your routine especially when it comes to retinol. So today we’re going to talk about the differences between retinoid and retinol and where you’d apply it in your routine.

So a quick refresher first.

Retinoid vs Retinol.

Retinoid is a family of skincare ingredients that are considered the gold standard of skincare by dermatologists and beauty experts the world over. Retinoid is a multitasking, power product that can do oh, so many things: help with fine lines and wrinkles, smooth the skin’s texture, fade discoloration and dark spots, help curb acne, and more. There are certain types of retinoids that you can only get with a prescription depending on where you live in the world.

Retinol is a type of retinoid. You can typically find these in your over the counter skincare products. Retinol is typically not as aggressive as prescription retinoids which can be beneficial to those who are new to using the ingredient. My motto for trying over the counter actives is to take it easy first and then assess if you can increase the strength. I’m not a fan of going ham with a higher potency first—you can wind up causing more harm than help and may even wind up having TWO problems. Womp womp.

Retinol also comes in a variety of price points. I just saw a 24-day regimen for nearly $600. Now don’t go clicking off this blog post—I GOT YOU. Keep reading because I’ll tell you more about a drugstore option from Neutrogena that is way easier on the pockets. WAY EASIER. I’m talking like $25.

So retinol sounds pretty good so far, right? Now let’s talk about WHERE it goes in your skincare routine.

Quick guide to retinol. Find out more at

Where to put Retinol in Your Routine.

Retinol can come in many forms which is why you don’t see a separate category for it on my Layering Skincare chart. You’ll see retinol serum, retinol moisturizer, retinol treatment cream, retinol eye cream, etc. Depending on the form it takes is where you’ll apply it in your routine with some exceptions. So if your retinol is a serum, it goes in the serum step. If it’s a moisturizer, it goes in the moisturizer step. So on and so forth. When using prescription retinoids, some like to apply moisturizer first and then the retinoid. The moisturizer acts as a sort of buffer to lessen some of the irritation that can come from some prescription retinoids.

Neutrogena Rapid Wrinkle Repair Regenerating Cream.

Neutrogena Rapid Wrinkle Repair Regenerating Cream is a retinol moisturizer that promises smoother skin in one day, and younger looking skin in just a week. With consistent use, this moisturizer also fades the look of fine lines and wrinkles, and also plumps the skin with moisture-rich replenishers. It feels really soft and luxurious on the skin as you blend it in. As it is a retinol moisturizer, it will help you get closer to smoother, brighter skin but it does it in a non-irritating way.

How are they able to make retinol non-irritating?

On a call with Neutrogena’s R&D team and other skincare experts, I learned that it’s possible to increase retinol activity without increasing retinol percentage—this means you can get bomb results like more even-toned, smoother, glowing skin without the extra irritation. Neutrogena Rapid Wrinkle Repair Regenerating Cream also contains a blend of emollients that deliver retinol slowly into the skin to mitigate irritation. This is great especially for someone like me who recently tried a prescription retinoid and decided the irritation wasn’t worth the reward. I wanted to make the pores on my cheeks that have become more noticeable now with age a little less apparent, but I don’t think they’re severe enough for me to go through the trials (dryness, irritation, flaking) of prescription retinoid right now—especially since yours truly needs to be on camera for work. It may be a slower walk around the block, but I won’t have to worry about the bee stings and sweat…lol.

There’s also the issue of how much retinol should be in the products you use. While we grew up understanding that getting a 100 on an exam is better than an 85, turns out more isn’t always better when it comes to retinol. What’s most important is that the retinol in the product is fully active in the skin and going where it needs to go to work. It’s also important that your retinol product is stabilized. If your retinol product isn’t stabilized, you may not be getting the amazing benefits it claims to provide and it’ll be like throwing your hard-earned coins directly into the trash.

More info I picked up from the call was learning that Neutrogena was the first company to master the tango of stabilizing retinol. Neutrogena retinol products are guaranteed to remain stable at shelf and will deliver the retinol where it needs to go in the skin to be effective. AND they have receipts of the efficacy of their retinol via years of clinical studies. You can check out one of the year-long studies here.

I apply my retinol products at night, but as you should always be wearing sunscreen during the day anyway, you especially want to make sure you do so when using an active ingredient like retinol. Unless you like undoing all your handiwork. Gurl, DO NOT self-sabotage.

And yes, you need to be wearing sunscreen. Year-round. Even when it’s cloudy. Even when it’s raining. Even if you’re just going out “real quick.” Sun exposure is cumulative so those quick 10 min walks outside add up. Also UV rays can penetrate windows, so you want to make sure you wear it when indoors if you’re sitting by the window working from home (or lounging—no judgement).

So that’s that! If you have any questions about retinol, leave ’em below! For more info and to buy the Neutrogena Rapid Wrinkle Repair Regenerating Cream click here.

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