How to start using Retinol

So, retinol, right?

For years I’ve been preaching with the choir that retinol is the way to go if you’re serious about taking care of your skin, yet I haven’t been successful at using it myself.

What is retinol and why use it, you ask? It’s a form of vitamin A that is both a potent anti oxidant and a cell-communicating ingredient. You should have an idea by now that anti oxidants fight the damage that occurs through our everyday lives, but cell communicators are really great inventions.

They have the ability to interact with receptor cells, giving them messages like ‘hey collagen cells, time to shape up your production levels, this is no holiday’ or ‘what’s up keratin cells, better stop hanging around the walls of these pores because you’re stretching them and if that carries on too long we won’t be able to reverse the damage’ or ‘hey gangster bad cells, get out now or we’ll bust your knee caps’.

I’ve tried a full-on regime with tiny bits of retinol derivatives in the entire range, and I’ve tried one way-too-strong 2% Retinol serum – both were equally unsuccessful. There was itching, redness, coarse patches, dryness, the works – neither suited me.

Third time lucky, hopefully – I think I’ve found the right retinol for me. I’m starting on Dermaceutic Activ Retinol 0.5% very slowly – so slowly that I can’t even give you feedback yet because I’ve only used it twice. I had a chat with Sonette Donker from Skin ID Clinic, and she walked me through the right way to start using retinol. So here we go.

Dermaceutic 0.5% Retinol
Dermaceutic Activ Retinol 0.5%

1. Start with a low dose of retinol

I’m one of the first people to hammer on about active ingredients and that there should be enough of them in your products to actually have an effect. Retinol, however, is an ingredient that’s effective at very low percentages – you should start between 0.3% – 0.5% and you can eventually work your way up to 1%. You probably won’t need to go higher than that except if you have serious skin issues like deep scarring.

2. Soothe

Give your retinol serum a couple of minutes to sink in, and then follow with a soothing serum or a moisturiser with soothing ingredients. It will not interfere with the retinol, but it will minimise your skin’s negative reaction (redness, dryness, itching, tightness) so you’ll be able to tolerate it much easier.

While we’re at it, I’d make sure that whatever you’re applying over it does not have any known irritants like fragrance, alcohol etc.

3. Start gradually

I gave my skin a full week after the first use to check if there’s going to be any reaction. Since there wasn’t, I’ll now be using it twice a week for a couple of weeks, and then three times a week. Theoretically you can carry on increasing until you’re using it twice a day, every day, but that seems like overkill to me. I’ll see whether I stick with every second night or whether I’ll want to try using it every night – I don’t see myself using it during the day as well.

If you don’t start gradually you should be prepared for a retinization reaction – redness, peeling, dryness, itching and possibly scabbing. If you don’t mind that, there’s no damage in going all-out – I’m just not down with looking red and crusty.

If this all sounds a little scary, that’s not the point of it at all. With the Dermaceutic 0.5% Retinol I haven’t felt any stinging or burning, and there has been no side effects. I’ll update you in a month or so when I’ve worked my way up to using it 2-3 times a week.

Have a look at Sonette’s clinic here and to find a Dermaceutic stockist you can email

Dermaceutic Activ Retinol 0.5% retails for R700 and 1.0% retails for R770.

C x




  1. Apr 23, 2015 / 8:48 AM

    I have not tried Retinol yet. But when i do i will be sure to take your advice. Thank you for this informative post.

  2. Helga
    Apr 25, 2015 / 1:01 PM

    Wow this is so helpful! Ek is mal oor jou blog en jou goeie sin vir humor! Maak altyd my dag 🙂

    • Chantelle Bester
      Apr 27, 2015 / 11:28 AM

      Baie dankie Helga!

  3. Apr 26, 2015 / 7:31 AM

    I’ve been using 0.5% for year and have recently moved to a 1% serum (both Paula’s Choice) and haven’t had any reactions from doing it the way you describe. I always use a pump of regular serum afterwards and usually a Moisturiser for sensitive or reactive skin. Hoping to look 40 when I’m 60…haha 😀

    • Chantelle Bester
      Apr 27, 2015 / 11:27 AM

      Sounds like you’ve got it all under control over there! Good to know, I’ll see if I can work my way up to 1%.

      • Nkuli
        Apr 21, 2016 / 8:55 AM

        Will it be wise to put a few drops of Retinol into the Shea Butter ?

        • Chantelle Bester
          Apr 21, 2016 / 9:57 AM

          Hi Nkuli, I wouldn’t recommend that – you’d lose too much potency. Dermalogica’s retinol serum is sold with a barrier cream to start you off gently, otherwise any light lotion would work if you want to dilute it. Most skins will tolerate it fine if you start on 0.5% and only apply once or twice a week initially though.

  4. JoAnn Brown
    Sep 6, 2018 / 9:51 PM

    Sounds like a miracle, but how much is R770 and R700? and where can I buy it?

    • Chantelle Bester
      Jan 6, 2020 / 4:04 AM

      Hi Joann! I’m not sure what currency you need it converted to – the ‘R’ refers to South African Rands (ZAR). A quick google search should help you locate stockists in your area. Hope that helps!

  5. Maria
    Jul 30, 2019 / 9:48 AM

    I just used this and I used it for 3 nights in a row! Hence to say I now have red, burning sensation like a sunburn around my eyes and eyelilds. I wish the lady that sold it to me told me that this could happen. I would have gone sparingly and less often.
    Still I hope it works.

    • Chantelle Bester
      Jan 6, 2020 / 4:22 AM

      Hi Maria – it will still work, it’s just MUCH less pleasant for you. I hope you’ve found your groove and that you now have healthy, glowing skin!

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