How to Apply Retinoids

Posted by Macy Sengsavang on

Retinoids are a derivative from Vitamin A that renews the skin to help treat skin conditions like acne, fine lines, wrinkles, and sun-damaged skin. They are not sold over the counter because they’re prescription and stronger than retinol. Retinoids are often used to describe prescription strength products like Tretinoin and Tazarotene, which is why it’s important to know how to correctly use them. The incorrect way of using retinoids can cause over-exfoliation and irritation on the skin and we don’t want this to happen to anyone! A lot of people get confused when it comes to retinoids because most are unsure when or how to apply it, but don’t worry we’re here to help.

Here are some things to know:  

  • Retinoids and retinol are different forms of vitamin A. Retinoids are stronger and prescribed, meanwhile, retinol is weaker and sold over the counter. 
  • Retinoids should be applied at night rather than morning because your skin will become more sensitive to UV rays and sunlight. Wear SPF everyday!
  • Don’t apply retinoids immediately! Wait some time before applying retinoids after cleansing and moisturizing. 

How to Apply Retin-A (the brand name for a prescription retinoid)

Evening/Night Routine

Step 1: Cleanse your skin

Step 2: Moisturize your skin

Step 3: Wait a couple hours

Step 4: Apply Retin-A (pea-sized amount)


Step 1: Cleanse your skin

Step 2: Wait 20 minutes

Step 3: Apply Retin-A (pea-sized amount)

Step 4: Wait another 20 minutes to ensure that retinoid has been fully absorbed

Step 5: Apply moisturizer 

It’s important to remember that results won’t be immediate and it will take time to see noticeable changes. Irritation may appear because your skin is adapting to the retinoic acid (if discomfort continues, consider switching to a lower strength or decrease application of retinoid to once a week). Speak to your dermatologist if you have any questions or concerns!

To learn and get more details about applying retinoids, watch Dr. Shirazi’s YouTube video below!


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Dr. Azadeh Shirazi, MD is a Board-Certified Dermatologist.

Specializing in medical, surgical, and cosmetic dermatology, Dr. Shirazi received her undergraduate and medical degrees from the University Of Kentucky College of Medicine. After doing a Research Fellowship at Harvard Medical School at the Wellman Center for Photomedicine, she completed her residency training in Dermatology and Cutaneous Surgery at the prestigious Mayo Clinic in addition to completing her training in dermatology and cosmetic surgery at the University of California San Diego.

She has received multiple research scholarships from iconic institutions including Harvard University and the University Of Texas Southwestern Medical Center and has several peer-reviewed publications to her name.