Retinol is a popular skincare ingredient found in many serums, lotions and washes. It is an ingredient that works spectacularly well on men's skin. Some people tend to class it as a cosmetic only for women's skin.

Retinol for men

Retinol is in fact an anti-aging and oil production regulator.  It is also an antioxidant and helps skin cells turn over more quickly which, in turn, makes your skin have a more youthful glow.  It is best used at night or under sunscreen because it increases your skin's sensitivity to the sun. It is typically used in formulas with ceramides, hydrating cleansers, niacinamide, and hyaluronic acid.  To start, you should only use it a couple of times a week. This will ensure that your skin will be okay with it, as it can be a skin irritant at first.  

Retinol is a derivative of vitamin A and is a type of retinoid. Retinol needs to go through a process (two-step oxidation results in conversion of retinol to its active form – retinoic order to become activated. This can be a two or three-step process before it is absorbed into your skin cells.

When you use the right amount of Retinol, you will see an improvement in minimized large pores, wrinkles, lines, brown spots, and sun damage.  It works to allow your skin tone to look smoother and more even.  

Can men use retinol?

What is the difference between Retinol, Retin-A, and Retinoid?

Retinoids are the classification of Retin-A and Retinol.  While Retin-A can only be gotten with a prescription from a dermatologist, Retinol is over the counter.  Both are used to help men's skin maintain a youthful look.  In fact, it is so powerful that doctors recommend if you do nothing else that you can use just Retinol and sunscreen every day to help maintain a youthful appearance.

Benefits of Retinol

  • Reverses the effect of sun damage
  • Clears acne
  • Evens skin tone
  • Improves the texture of your skin
  • Reduces the signs of aging
  • Boosts collagen production

These are the reasons that many people tend to flock to a skincare routine that has Retinol in it. Retinol improves the skin's ability to turnover new skin cells. It helps reduce the amount of oil that is produced by the oil glands in your skin.  Combined, this helps with having a better complexion. It also helps to boost collagen production. This helps with fine lines and wrinkles as well as improves the skin by eliminating the effects of sun damage.  

Side Effects of Retinol

While there are many benefits to using Retinol, there are some side effects of which you should be made aware. This is especially true if you have very sensitive skin.  You shouldn't use Retinol on skin that is suffering from rosacea and eczema because it will increase inflammation. People that have this sort of disease, however, can certainly benefit from Retinol, you simply need to introduce it into your skincare routine more slowly. Perhaps start out using it once a week until it is more tolerable.  

It can also make your skin more sensitive to other products and sunlight. Use caution and see how much your skin can tolerate.  Be patient. If you do have retinol in your skincare routine you should avoid alpha hydroxy acids, toners, astringents, harsh scrub, Vitamin C, and benzoyl peroxide at the same time.  This can irritate and dry out your skin.  You should also stop using it if you plan to have some sort of facial treatment. This goes for other treatments such as waxing, chemical peels, and laser treatments. Try to avoid peak hours of the sun as well. Use sunscreen always.

How to use Retinol

To start seeing benefits of Retinol, you will need some patience. On average, a person with normal skin will not see results for about 6 weeks.  You should use Retinol at night for best results.  It doesn't work well under sunlight, as the sun deactivates it.  In the morning, you should use a light moisturizer without Retinol, and use the Retinol moisturizer at night.  If you have any redness or irritation, you shouldn't use Retinol that day. The same goes for applying a product that has retinol in the area of a sunburn.  You should treat your sunburn and wait until your skin is healed.  

It is very important that you do not use Retinol every night.  It helps skin regeneration so using it every night could cause micro-peeling. Also, since it is pushing new skin cells to the surface, you should use it with a nourishing treatment serum to give the skin an overall better feel and look.  

Ease into Retinol use

Because this is a process of revitalizing the skin from within, you will need to have a process that works for your skin type.  As the new skin cells emerge, the old skin will become flaky.  This typically happens around day 3.  During this time you might want to use an exfoliant to get rid of dead skin cells and skip the Retinol. Getting rid of these dead skin cells will make your face look brighter but it also helps the retinol to work better.  Use Retinol on day four. This will also allow it penetrate your skin better.  

About once a week, you should take a break from retinol and only use a moisturizer, especially one that doesn't have any harsh chemicals.  This allows your skin a much-needed break and calms your skin so that retinol irritation doesn't flare up. If you have any irritation due to using retinol, you should take a break immediately and allow it to heal.  

Try Retinol for your skin type

It is recommended that you work Retinol into your skin routine at night at least once or twice a week. However, if your skin is very tolerant, you can use it every night to get better and healthier-looking skin.

For dry/sensitive skin types, try to do what is called the sandwich approach. This is where you apply a hydrating serum/moisturizer first, let that settle in, then put the Retinol on top.  You then add moisturizer again on top of that to calm the skin.  What is most important is that you take your time and ease into a new skin routine. You don't want to go all out and apply everything without testing or you might not know what is causing a skin reaction.  Simply add one skincare product at a time to see how your skin reacts.  

Forms of retinol 

Strengths and forms of Retinol

Retinol is not sunlight-friendly.  It usually comes in non-transparent container.  It comes in a variety of different forms such as gel, spray, serum, cream, and lotion.  For more hydration, you will want to stick with the lotions, creams, and serums. However, if your skin tends to be more oily, then you will want to look for sprays and gels.  The heavy creams are best for drier skin types.  Keep in mind this can change with the seasons as well.  You might be dryer, for example in the winter than you are in the summer.  So, you might have to change it up from time to time.

While retinol comes in different forms, it also comes in different strengths as well, over the counter or prescription strength.  When you are first starting out using Retinol you should use products that have a very low percentage of retinol.  This will help your skin adjust. The key to using Retinol is being patient.  Some men's skin tolerate retinol very well, while others will have to be more patient.  It takes some time to see the results as well.  Use over-the-counter options first as the prescription options are very strong and shouldn't be used until you have exhausted all over-the-counter options.  This will prepare your skin for the power of the prescription Retinol.  

Retinol Skin Care Combinations

When looking at Retinol solutions you'll probably notice that they are combined with a lot of other products. Most products have all-in-one or multi-function purposes which can be really helpful with reducing the number of skin care products you use. Formulas containing both vitamin C and Retinol allow you to get both in one lotion or serum.  

Alternatives for Retinol

While Retinol can be a really great addition to a skincare routine, it's not for everyone.  Perhaps you have tried the sandwich technique and your skin just cannot tolerate it. Let's take a look at some Retinol alternatives that might not be so harsh.

Matrixyl 3000

This is a substance that can give Retinol a run for its money.  It is found in various forms, similar to Retinol but tends to be less irritating.  It is made up of two matrikines, which are peptides or protein fragments.  Like Retinol, it targets fine lines and wrinkles by stimulating the collagen found in the skin.  It is considered suitable for all skin types and less irritating than Retinol.

Vitamin C

While Vitamin C doesn't promote skin cell rejuvenation, it does have some qualities that are similar to Retinol.  It helps with fine lines and wrinkles as well as even out the skin tone.  If you have a very blotchy skin, you might want to add Vitamin C to your skincare products/routine.  However, you need to be aware of the type of Vitamin C you are using.  L-ascorbic acid is one that has had quite a bit of research done on it.  This type of vitamin C helps your skin protect itself from free radicals and external stressors. 

When possible you should keep your vitamin C in a dark container and cool, dry area.  Sunlight as well as exposure to air breaks it down.  If you have dark spots, you will need a higher concentration of Vitamin C serum to help combat them.  

Vitamin C in low doses has been shown to help in combination with other substances.  This is why you will quite often see it as an ingredient in many lotions, serums, and creams.  


Bakuchiol is referred to by some as natural Retinol.  It is derived from the Indian Babchi plant and offers some of the same collagen-stimulating properties as Retinol.  It also has some anti-inflammatory properties that help with redness and discoloration.  During trials of people using Bakuchiol and Retinol, it was found that the scientists couldn't tell the difference from the results.  That is how powerful Bakuchiol is.  It's also safer for sensitive skin. 

Rosehip seed oil

Rosehip seed oil is another alternative to Retinol.  This oil is considered to be a synthetic version of Retinol.  However, it has positive properties as well. It helps with discoloration of skin such as stretch marks and scars, they respond well to Rosehip seed oil.  There are a few ways to extract this oil which have an effect on how much trans-retinoic acid remains. Trans-retinoic acid is the active ingredient you want. The best is CO2 extraction but cold-pressed is also a good option.