How to use Retinols in the Fall Season - Dr. Nikoleta

How to use Retinols in the Fall Season

Happy Fall, my beauties! It’s finally time to bust out your boots, sip your long-awaited Pumpkin Spice Latte, carve your Pumpkins, and just enjoy the comfiest time of the year! But you know what else is best done in the Fall?  

Introducing Retinol to your skin! 

Yes, the Fall is the best time to start (or restart) your Retinol journey. Remember: this secret skin care product is so magical that I’ve included it in my 5-Step Skin Success Framework.  Thus, you absolutely shouldn’t skip out on Retinol

So, maybe you’re a newbie with using Retinol or you’ve used them before but stopped at some point – or maybe you’ve just been thinking about getting into the healthy skin journey that we’re all on – keep reading because this article was written just for YOU! 

Why Fall is the Best Time to Start Using Retinol

If you’ve ever heard of people saying, “Retinols are an absolute no-no during the Summer.” – let me tell you that this is a capital M-Myth. Due to their chemical composition, yes, Retinols could make your skin more Sun-Sensitive during the Summer. However, I’ve continued using Retinols in summer evenings and my skin is better than ever! Bottomline: Retinols are perfectly safe to use (and I recommend you continue to use them) in the Summer.

Despite its exaggeration, however, there is some truth to the myth – Retinols can make your skin drier and a bit more sensitive. Hence, its incompatibility with increased sun intensity during the summer. With that, the Fall’s decreased sun intensity makes this season the perfect time to incorporate Retinols in your skincare routine. You may think, “Why not in Winter, then?” Well, (this depends on where you live but) in general, the wind is drier in the Winter and the heaters are blasted high indoors, unlike during the Fall. This setting is less compatible with Retinol-laden skin as well. Thus, Fall is the best time to transition into using Retinols – by the time the seasons change, your skin would’ve gotten used to Retinol and Retinol use would’ve been strongly integrated in your routine already. 

Retinols Revisited

Before I dive into how to introduce Retinols into your skin care routine, let’s pause for a bit and revisit what Retinols are. People get confused by the numerous names Retinols have (i.e., Retinoid Acids, Retinoids, Retinol, Retinol Esters, Retinyl Palmitate, etc.) at times. 

As mentioned, Retinol is this magical ingredient that’s part of my 5-Step Skin Success Framework. For this, I’ve dedicated an entire episode on Retinol – The Beginner’s Guide to Retinoids. There, I discussed in depth what Retinoids are, how they actually work on your skin, the key factors to consider in determining the best one for your skin, and how to incorporate it in your nighttime routine. 

Retinols are actually vitamin A derivatives and they are the most proven ingredients to help build your collagen, even out your skin tone, reverse signs of aging from the sun or sun damage, and basically help to build a fresher and stronger base in your skin. 

They’re magical, right? So, if you’re really all in on this healthy skin journey with me, for the time of the life that you are in, then don’t think twice about adding Retinols to your skin care routine!  

Consistency Over Intensity

I know you’re excited to incorporate Retinol into your routine – trying to reverse the years and have that healthy aging skin as soon as possible. When it comes to introducing Retinol to your skin, however, consistency is definitely better than intensity. 

Especially in the beginning – when your skin still reacts sensitively – you don’t need to do it every single night. It’s the consistency with the frequency that matters. Simply make sure not to leave huge gaps in between uses. 

I cannot emphasize this enough but do not go for the highest concentration of Retinol right away. Again, consistency over intensity. Using high-concentration Retinol does deliver results faster BUT at a great risk of skin irritation (e.g., scaly patches, burning sensation, etc.). Trust the process instead, my beauty. 

Pick a lower Retinol concentration at first and use it consistently. Allow your skin to take its time in adjusting and converting Retinol to its friendlier form, Retinoic Acid. For this, your skin needs up to 3-6 months of consistent use before improvements become noticeable.  After all, studies show that in the long run, your skin will reap the same long-term anti-aging effects over time whether you use high, moderate, and low-strength Retinols. Just wait and your skin will thank you later.

Currently, I’m using a Retin-A Micropump which is 0.08% – this high of a concentration was something my skin could not tolerate before. Now, I use it all the time. This is proof that our skin does adjust, but you know, it doesn’t have to do all the work at all. You can help your skin adjust by knowing how to buffer your Retinol. 

How to Buffer Your Retinol

Many of you are new to this Retinol journey – you’ve been holding off starting because of your sensitive skin. That’s totally normal. A lot of people out there couldn’t tolerate even the lowest concentration of Retinol on their skin. However, these people are able to use Retinol (YOU can use Retinol) without feeling overwhelmed with the help of Buffering.

So, what does it mean to Buffer your Retinol? Simply, it’s the act of applying moisturizer before applying Retinol to dilute the Retinol and minimize its effects. You could also mix together a small amount of moisturizer and Retinol and then apply it on your skin. Either way, Buffering is a reliable method to help your skin adjust and help YOU in becoming consistent. 

Don’t worry, you’re not wasting Retinol by doing this. You’ll be doing your skin a greater service by using Retinol with a buffer for 20 years versus not using Retinol at all for that period of time. With the fact that our skin adjusts, however, you probably won’t have to use a buffer for that long. 

Whether you’re a newbie or you have sensitive skin, if you’re Buffering, then you need to know all about Retinol percentages and the best products to set you up on this journey. Don’t worry, I have a guide on them at Read up, my beauties!

Retinol for Beginners

Drugstore skincare products’ content labels are sometimes confusing – especially when it comes to ingredient percentages. When you see percentages of 0.25, 0.5, or 1, these are the percentage forms of Retinols that are available to scientists and chemists who make Retinol products. When the values of the percentages are around these, then they usually pertain to the actual percentage of Retinol present in the product.

When you see the word “complex”, however, whatever number (e.g., 1.5%, 2.5%, etc.) is on the label, that’s probably not the actual ingredient percentage for Retinol. See, a “Retinol complex” could contain vitamin B3 and other ingredients along with the Retinol itself. Let’s take for example a product by a brand called No7. The label says “advanced retinol 1.5% complex” – a quick Google search would tell you that the product actually only contains 0.3% Retinol. The rest of the complex is made of Peptide (which boosts Collagen) and other Retinol soothers; all these sum up to 1.5%. 

Basically, when you see “complex”, it’s best to check the actual ingredients label at the back of the product – look for the actual Retinol percentage in the ingredients. Do not confuse the amount of complexes with the amount of active Retinol ingredient.

As I mentioned, I use a Retinol product with 0.08% which is on the higher end of the Retinol concentration range. For beginners who should start with a lower concentration, one product that I recommend for you is the Olay Regenerist Retinol 24 Max night face moisturizer. Here are its Pros and Cons:


  • Contains Vitamin B3 which minimizes irritations (your skin wouldn’t feel burned or irritated with this particular Retinol product)
  • Moisturizes skin and is very smooth and creamy (pro tip: use it on the neck, arms, and the back of your hand too)
  • Low concentration (GREAT for beginners and those with sensitive skin


  • It’s in a jar instead of a tube (this makes it susceptible to losing its efficacy over time due to exposure to sunlight and air)

Overall, people do well with the Olay Regenerist mostly due to its pre-Buffered nature (since it has moisturizer mixed in it) – making it a good entry product for those looking to start or restart their Retinol journey. Even if you decide to start with another product, however, what’s important is you do start incorporating Retinol to your skincare routine. As our goal is to reverse skin aging and the sun damage that’s accumulated over the years – the sooner you start, the better. 

Play the Long Game

Whether your hesitance around Retinol comes from prior experiences or stories of other people’s experiences with Retinol – I’m giving you the go signal (as your go-to Dermatologist) – to start with something. It doesn’t matter if you start with the lowest concentration and Buffer your Retinol. Anything is better than nothing. Most of all start now, in the Fall when you still have that head start from the harsh winter air and hot summer days. 

By the time Fall is over, you will have graduated from being a Retinol newbie to using a higher Retinol percentage. This is as long as you keep at it – months’ worth of consistency will show you, really, the wonders Retinol can do to your skin. Now, take my advice because it was written with the goal of helping you build a stronger foundation for your skin’s future!

Would you love more in-depth skincare advice from your go-to board-certified Dermatologist? I’m now accepting waitlist applications for the first round of The Healthy Skin Blueprint

Also, if you forget to apply your sunscreen in the morning, or totally forget to wash your face and apply Retinol and night cream at night, text “PODCAST” to 480-530-8187 to get skincare routine reminders and healthy skin affirmations directly from me.

If you enjoyed this episode, be sure to let me know on Instagram! You can tag me, @drnikoleta, with a screenshot of the episode and your greatest takeaways. I’d also really appreciate it if you would subscribe and leave a five-star rating on Apple Podcasts — that helps us share the podcast with more people like you who are looking to achieve the skin of their dreams! 

Until next time, Step Out with Confidence® and go reverse the years and sun damage on your precious skin! 

Dr. Nikoleta


I am a board-certified dermatologist, CEO and Founder of Healthy Skin Blueprint, an acclaimed podcast host, best-selling author, and nationally recognized skin, hair, and nails expert. Welcome to the Skin Talk with Dr. Nikoleta blog.


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