By now, you’ve been told at least 3,000 times that retinol is the single most magical skin-care product ever invented and you must use it immediately lest your face shrivel up in a pit of wrinkles and dark spots and sadness. But has anyone really told you how to use retinoids (the umbrella name for all vitamin-A derivatives, like retinol) correctly? We’re not talkin’ “use as directed,” or “use until irritation occurs, then stop using,” but rather, easy-to-follow directions for how to use retinoids without your skin peeling off? Probably not.

So we’re fixing that today with step-by-step instructions so even the most scared and confused of retinoid beginners can hop on the anti-aging bandwagon without fearing that their faces will flake off. Keep reading to find out exactly how to dab on your favorite Benjamin Button product tonight.

STEP 1: Start with a ridiculously gentle formula.

“But I want these wrinkles gone NOW,” you whine. We know, but trust us when we say that starting with a milder formula will still give you the same results over time. “You absolutely do not need prescription-strength retinoids to get the same effects in collagen production and cell turnover,” says dermatologist and badass Mona Gohara, noting that yes, you’ll probably see results from using an intense, high-dose prescription product a little faster, but, in the process, you could also irritate your skin to pieces (literally).

Instead, Gohara recommends starting with retinaldehyde (like Avene Retrinal .1 Intensive Cream), one of the mildest of all the retinoids, or the very gentle retinyl palmitate (like Exuviance Vespera Bionic Serum), both of which will still produce noticeable results within two or three months, without burning your skin off. But before you run away to slather it all over your face…