There are a few skincare ingredients that every dermatologist swears by and recently, everyones talking about retinol, and for good reason. Were all heard about the benefits of this wonder ingredient, from treating acne to minimising poresit helps with everything. But if used incorrectly, retinol can damage the skin. To know the ins and outs of how to use it, we tapped Dr Madhuri Agarwal, founder and medical director of Mumbai-based Yavana Aesthetics Clinic.What is retinol?It is a derivative of retinoids and falls under the broad category of Vitamin A. It is known to stimulate collagen production and improve the rate of cell turnover, explains Dr Agarwal. Retinol is very easily available in over-the-counter brands as it is a mild formula whereas other derivatives like tretinoin and adapalene are prescription retinoids as they are more potent. These are stronger formulas and should be used after consulting a dermatologist only, she adds.Benefits of using retinolRetinol is considered the gold standard of intrinsic ageing, photo-ageing, and acne treatments. It slows down collagen breakdown, stimulates rapid cell turnover and collagen and elastin formation. In other words, it minimises the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, prevents bouts of breakouts, and reduces the appearance of dark spots due to acne.Side-effects of using retinolIf you have sensitive skin, know that there may be an adjustment phase while using retinol. It can cause rashes, skin breakouts, irritation, and itching, explains Dr Agarwal. It can cause the skin to become more fragile initially which is why you may end up dealing with increased sensitivity, peeling and flaking of skin. Over time and with consistent use, retinol does actually thicken skin.How to use retinol For beginners, I recommend taking the slow and low route. If you have sensitive skin, start with retinyl esters rather than retinol. Pick a low concentration retinol (0.01%) and use a tiny pea size amount twice a week at night. Once your skin has built up sufficient tolerance to the formula, you can gradually increase the frequency to daily application. To minimise the side effects, use a moisturiser as the first and last layer on your skin. Sandwich retinol in the middle and dont forget to apply sunscreen with a minimum of SPF 30 daily. Retinol can make your skin photosensitive.Ingredients to avoid using with retinol Retinols are usually formulated with other ingredients like hyaluronic acid or antioxidants so they are more consumer-friendly.There are some ingredients that you should never pair with retinol and vitamin C is on the list. It is acidic whereas retinol needs alkaline pH. When you team it up with AHAs or BHAs, it can potentially cause skin irritation and when applied with benzoyl peroxide, it can worsen inflammation and redness, explains Dr Agarwal.ConclusionWhether youre a skincare newbie or enthusiast, the golden rule for retinol is the same: Start SLOWLY. Even if you have a very simple routine, the introduction of vitamin A in it can make your skin react. Consult your dermatologist and get all your information in place before diving into your retinol journey.