Skin Care Blogs

Retinol by Decade: The Formulas for Your 20s, 30s, 40s and Beyond

It’s one of the most celebrated, studied and transformative skin care ingredients in the world (we’re clearly fans), but not all retinol is created alike. Your years around the sun should be a determining factor in what makes your perfect retinol — the formula you love in your 20s isn’t necessarily the one you should be using in your 40s or 50s.

What is Retinol?

A part of the retinoid family, retinol is a derivative of vitamin A, a powerhouse nutrient known for its skin-improving properties. “It’s been shown over and over again to reduce fine lines and wrinkles and improve tone and texture by increasing cell turnover and stimulating collagen production,” says board-certified dermatologist Dr. Ashley Magovern, MD, medical director of Dermstore. This rapid turnover is also great for blemish-prone skin, since it helps unclog pores, making way for clearer-looking skin.

Retinol in your 20s

While you’re likely not experiencing significant signs of aging, retinol is key when it comes to prevention — not to mention banishing breakouts and smoothing uneven texture. And consistency is important, so your 20s is a great time to get into the habit of using it regularly. “Try not to start and stop for long periods of time, try to get into a rhythm that works, at least 2-3 times per week,” according to Dr. Magovern. As for the formula, you’ll want to start with something on the gentler side, as retinol can be irritating. “Murad Retinol Youth Serum is really easy to use and may be a great one to start in your 20’s.”

Retinol in your 30s and 40s

Whether you’ve been consistently using retinol for a decade or more or just getting started, this is when you want to use a stronger formula. “Once you start noticing more pigmentation, sun damage and fine lines and wrinkles in your 30’s and 40’s, it may be a good time to use a product like SkinCeuticals Retinol 0.3 and start titrating up. Dr. Dennis Gross Advanced Retinol + Ferulic Overnight Wrinkle Treatment has lactic in it as well which is perfect for treating dullness, pigmentation and sun damage,” Dr. Magovern says.

Retinol in your 50s and beyond.

This is when you bring in the A-team, according to Dr. Magovern. “If you’re trying to reverse deeper lines and wrinkles, then I would try to use some of the more potent over the counter products like Medik8 Crystal Retinal 10 Serum (you may need to taper up to this strength, but that should be your goal), and then use it consistently, forever,” she says. Unlike traditional retinOl, Medik8’s serum is formulated with retinAl, aka retinaldehyde; an incredibly potent, next-generation form of vitamin A and the strongest retinoid available without a prescription.

Beauty exists at any age, and though aging is inevitable, retinol can certainly help slow down the clock.

Beauty Editor

Teresa Greenfeld

Teresa Greenfeld has worked in fashion and beauty for over 15 years as a writer, editor and content strategist. She has been privileged to work at Carbon38 as a Senior Editor, at as the Fashion and Beauty Director, and has amassed a resume that includes Vogue, Allure and Elle magazines. Her passions include back-to-back sheet masks, reading peer-reviewed papers on skin care, and obsessive sunscreen application. Though born in Manhattan, she currently lives in LA, and will always consider herself a New Yorker at heart.