So you’ve heard people rave about topical retinoids, you’ve done the research, and you think you’re ready to try them. Perhaps you already know they’re one of the most effective treatments for photoaging and acne that exists, but with all the information out there, you’re still curious as to how they’ll affect you and how long it will take. Well, sit back, relax, and let your type-A personality take over. Here’s exactly what to expect over time as you embark on your new, skin-changing journey. 


The benefits of retinoids are vast (think clearer, brighter, and smoother skin), but long-term use and consistency are key. In the first couple of weeks you might experience some temporary irritation or existing acne coming to the surface faster, but after roughly 6 weeks of consistent use, you’ll start to see noticeable results. By then your skin is on its way to looking its very best, but don’t stop there. By the time you’ve used your retinoids for 6+ months, long-term benefits include tightening and thickening of skin, resulting in a major reduction of fine lines and wrinkles, hyperpigmentation, enlarged pores, and uneven skin tone.  

2-4 Weeks

When you’re first starting your retinoid regimen or if you’re starting a higher strength formulation than you’re used to, add it to your nightly routine every third night to start. Listen to your skin and gradually increase to nightly as your skin familiarizes itself with your retinoid. After washing and drying your face completely, gently massage your retinoid onto your skin and follow with an oil-free  moisturizer, preferably one that’s designed to work with your retinoid ( 

It’s not uncommon to experience slight irritation, sensitivity, or “purging” if you’re skin is prone to acne (AKA existing acne buildup that surfaces faster due to increased cell turnover) as your skin adjusts–this process is called “retinization.” These side effects are often totally temporary and can be greatly minimized with proper care. Be sure to use only a pea to dime-size amount of the retinoid recommended by your provider and don’t skimp on moisturizer afterward. As for breakouts, the acne under the surface was going to appear one way or another, but retinoids help get it out of the way quicker leaving your skin clearer than ever. Be patient and consistent—as your skin clears up, it’ll be worth it. Finally, without sunscreen retinoids can temporarily make your skin more sensitive to the sun (normalizing again after a few months), so don’t skip SPF when going outdoors. This is a great practice anyway as harmful UV rays are the number one cause of photoaging. Protecting your skin from further damage is integral to getting your best results, so just think of SPF as a continuation of your skincare routine.   

4-6 Weeks

Now that your skin has adapted to its new routine for the past few weeks, you can up your retinoid game. Your skin should be clearer, more even, and have a smoother texture at this point. You may even notice a decrease in discoloration. Enjoy these changes, but keep the retinoid party going because the retinoids never stop working. If you’re feeling bold, you can even use your retinoid on your hands, neck, and chest.

8-12 Weeks 

By the 3-month milestone, you should see major changes in your skin’s texture from when you first started. In addition to the changes you can see, the deeper layers of skin are starting to thicken below the surface, resulting in a smoother, brighter, and clearer complexion. By this time your photodamage is lightening up, and the appearance of big pores and fine lines are diminishing, but again, the benefits don’t stop there, so no quitting while you’re ahead!

6+ Months

When using retinoids to reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, the more consistent you are, the better the results will be. By the time you’ve used your retinoid beyond six months, you’ll notice tightening and thickening of the skin and a significant reduction in the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles as well as hyperpigmentation. Even if you don’t see those initial side effects anymore, retinoids work forever and keeping at it will help in the prevention of photoaging. Over time, retinoids boost your skin’s collagen production (that’s the stuff that keeps your skin’s elasticity on point) giving it a natural brightening effect and thickens the deepest layer of skin (that’s where wrinkles form to begin with), so keep on keeping on to achieve and maintain your healthy, naturally glowing skin.

Leave a Reply