The Beginner’s Guide To Retinoids
The Beginner’s Guide To Retinoids

It’s hard to name a beauty expert who hasn’t raved about the wonders of retinoids – aka retinol. Dermatologists often refer to retinoids as the gold-standard in anti-ageing, and with very good reason. But while you may have heard of retinoids, it’s still quite tricky to know where to actually begin with this skincare superhero – so let us break it down for you.

All about retinoids.

First thing’s first, let's discuss what a retinoid is and how it works. Retinoid is the umbrella term for vitamin A derivatives, including retinol – arguably the most well-known and popular member of the family. Other examples of retinoid ingredients include: tretinoin, a prescription-grade retinoid used for both anti-ageing and acne; adapalene, a gentler prescription-grade retinoid used predominantly for acne; retinal/retinaldehyde, an oxidised form of retinol; tazarotene, a prescription-grade retinoid used to treat acne and specific skin conditions; and retinyl esters, a very mild and stable retinoid. 


Whichever deriviative you opt for, they all convert to retinoic acid at some stage, which is the most potent and active component. All retinoids help to speed up cell turnover, which is the rate at which your skin sheds dead cells. As you age, this process naturally slows down, and when these dead cells start to pile up, your skin can look dull, making wrinkles appear more pronounced. Retinoids kick cell turnover into gear, allowing for fresh, radiant cells to surface, creating a smooth, renewed appearance and reducing the look of lines, wrinkles and pores.


Take a gentle approach to retinol with Smart.
Whatever your age and skin goals, it’s so important to start with a gentle retinoid formula. Opting for the strongest retinol or retinoid you can find may do more harm than good, as the potency of the formula will likely cause irritation. Slow and steady wins the race, so you can rest assured that Clinique Smart Clinical Repair™ Wrinkle Correcting Serum is a good starting point. What sets our bestselling, laser-focused serum apart is its gentle formula, which delivers anti-ageing benefits with minimal irritation. Concentrated with advanced anti-ageing technologies, it combines a potent retinoid with hyaluronic acid and our CL1870 Peptide Complex™ to visibly repair, resurface and re-plump wrinkles, with 84% saying deeper wrinkles look reduced*.
When to start using retinoids.
The best time to start using retinoids? There’s no set time frame, however the general consensus among skincare experts is to introduce a retinoid serum in your mid-20s to early 30s. While there’s no rush, a gentle retinoid formula can be used as a preventative measure or to tackle early signs of ageing such as fine lines and reduced elasticity. It’s also never too late to start – even if you have deeper wrinkles, you’ll still reap the benefits of a great retinoid. Case in point? After four weeks using Smart Clinical Repair™ Wrinkle-Correcting Serum, 82% saw a reduction in the look of lines like forehead, nasolabial and marionette**.
How to avoid retinoid side effects.
You may have heard stories about 'the retinol purge' and other side effects, but don’t be discouraged. When you start using retinoids, your skin will go through an adjustment period called retinisation as it adapts to the increased rate of cell renewal. This can result in irritation, redness and skin peeling, alongside breakouts, which can last for a few weeks while your skin acclimatises. Using a gentler retinoid like Clinique Smart Clinical Repair™ Wrinkle Correcting Serum reduces the likelihood and severity of side effects, but if you do experience any, a great moisturiser is your best friend. Our pick? NEW Clinique Smart Clinical Repair™ Wrinkle Correcting Cream helps strengthen, soothe and nourish skin, making it the perfect partner to your serum. It’s available in two textures – an oil-free lightweight cream for all skin types and a rich cream with shea butter, ideal for those with drier skin. If you have particularly sensitive skin, we suggest introducing Smart serum every other night, before gradually increasing to nightly, then twice daily use.
Why do you need to use SPF with retinol?
When you start using a retinoid or retinol serum, daily SPF is non-negotiable. As retinoids stimulate cell renewal, they can make your skin a little more sensitive to UV rays and sun damage – which can accellerate visible signs of ageing. Protect your skin with our bestselling Superdefense™ City Block SPF 50 Daily Energy + Face Protector, which combines mineral and chemical sunscreens in a weightless formula that’s ideal under makeup. Simply apply it after your serum and moisturiser, or streamline your routine with an anti-ageing moisturiser with SPF, like Clinique Smart Clinical Repair™ SPF 30 Wrinkle Correcting Cream.
How to use retinoids and retinol.
Step 1: Apply your go-to Clinique cleanser as usual.
Step 2: Gently exfoliate with Clarifying Lotion. If your skin is very sensitive, you may wish to apply your Clarifying Lotion and Smart serum on alternating days to begin with.
Step 3: Massage one to two pumps of Smart Clinical Repair serum all over your face and neck, avoiding the delicate eye area.
Step 4: Follow with Smart Clinical Repair Wrinkle-Correcting Cream and Eye Cream.
Step 5: In the AM, finish with a lightweight SPF.
If you need more help creating an effective anti-ageing routine, book in for a Clinical Consultation – a series of four 1:1 sessions over 12 weeks, led by one of our dermatologist-educated experts.
Be patient.
Last but not least: be patient. While you may see some immediate benefits, it takes time and consistency to see results with retinoids, but once you do, you’ll be glad you stuck it out.
*Consumer testing on 358 women after 10 days.
***Consumer testing on 349, 343, 342 women respectively, after 4 weeks of product use.

Want to know more about anti-ageing skincare? Book in for a 1:1 Skin School consultation with one of our expert Consultants today. 

Updated by Shona Wallace, April 2024