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Are There Any Side Effects to Using Retinol?

Unhappy woman touching skin

A derivative of vitamin A, retinol has been clinically proven to be one of the most effective anti-aging ingredients out there, while also performing several other tasks to boost the overall health of the skin.

With all of this in mind, it comes as no surprise that the use of retinol in skin care products is rapidly growing. 

Thinking about giving retinol a try? 

Before you do so, it is so important for you to first be aware of all of the side effects that this potent ingredient can bring, so that you can prevent them and treat them before they end up causing more serious problems. 

Skin Dryness

The most common side effect of retinol, and one that will be experienced by the majority of the people who give this ingredient a try for the first time, is skin dryness. 

Why does this happen? 

It all comes down to the way in which retinol boosts the skin cell turnover rate. 

This is the rate at which your skin naturally sheds its old and dead skin cells, in order for the fresher and newer ones beneath to rise to the surface and replace them. 

By speeding this up, the top layer of your skin will end up shedding much faster than it used to. 

Why is this a problem? 

Because this then thins out your skin’s protective barrier, which is essential when it comes to keeping your skin hydrated. This barrier sits on edge of your skin, and is responsible for preventing water from evaporating out of your skin. 

When this barrier is damaged or weakened in any way, your skin ends up losing significant amounts of moisture, leading to dryness and flakiness. 

Illustration of normal skin versus dry skin

How can you prevent this dryness from developing? 

Try using hyaluronic acid alongside retinol. Hyaluronic acid is a humectant, meaning that it draws moisture from the air to the skin, plumping skin cells up. It is fantastic for keeping the skin hydrated, while also improving the skin’s protective barrier. 

Keeping your skin constantly moisturized is also key. When a moisturizer is applied to the skin, it forms a thin film over the skin’s surface, acting, in a way, just like the skin’s natural barrier. When your own barrier has been weakened, this additional protection can really make a huge difference in preventing dryness. A moisturizer that contains ceramides will be particularly beneficial. 

Itchy Skin

The itchy skin that is commonly experienced when retinol is first used is usually down to the dryness it causes, which is discussed above. 

Your itching will likely be located on the areas of your skin where you used retinol, making it easy to determine whether or not the retinol was the cause of this. 

So, if it was, what can you do to calm the itch? 

Here are a few skin-soothing tips: 

  • Take an oatmeal bath
  • Keep your skin moisturized 
  • Apply cooling ingredients, such as calamine or menthol 
  • Use an anti-itch cream 
  • Apply an aloe vera gel 

Whatever you do, make sure that you do not scratch at your skin! 

Skin Tightness

Are you experiencing skin tightness after starting to use retinol for the first time? 

Don’t get excited, this isn’t a sign that your wrinkles are fading…

Instead, this tightness means that your skin is extremely dry, which, as mentioned above, is one of the most common side effects of retinol. 

Make sure that you follow all of the tips above in order to counter this dryness and bring your skin back to optimum health. 


Unfortunately, retinol and photosensitivity go hand in hand. 

What is photosensitivity?

It is when your skin becomes even more sensitive than usual to the UV rays from the sun. This means that even a small amount of sun exposure can result in burns, rashes and more.

Wondering how retinol causes this? 

Well, as mentioned above, retinol encourages the shedding of the top layer of skin, which would otherwise have given the skin some extra protection from the sun. 

Without this layer, the skin becomes so much more vulnerable to the damaging effects of UV rays. 

Fortunately, there is an easy way around this…

All you need to do is make sure you use retinol at night, rather than in the day. 

This means that your skin won’t need to deal with UV rays after the retinol has been absorbed, and will instead have the whole night to heal its protective layer. 

Plus, retinol itself breaks down when it is exposed to sunlight, meaning that using it during the day would make it far less effective than if you were to use it at night.

Of course, even if you do limit your use of retinol to the evenings, your skin is still going to be slightly more photosensitive for the next few days. 

This makes sunscreen absolutely vital, and while SPF 30 is usually recommended, you may want to opt for something higher since you are dealing with photosensitivity. 

skin protected by sunscreen vector

In addition to sunscreen, here are a few other sun protection measures you can take: 

  • Wear sunglasses to protect the skin around your eyes
  • Wear a wide-brimmed hat to give your face some extra protection
  • Use a UV-protecting umbrella to protect your face, neck, chest and shoulders 
  • Stay in the shade during the hottest hours of the day, usually between 11am and 3pm 

Rapid Breakouts

The idea of rapidly-occurring breakouts all over the face may be enough to put some people off of trying a retinol product, but don’t make that hasty decision just yet.

Yes, it’s true that retinol can lead to breakouts, but it isn’t actually the ingredient that causes this to happen…

One of the benefits of retinol is the way in which it can clear out the pores. It does this extremely quickly, encouraging your pores to purge all of the oil, dirt, bacteria and more that has been clogging them up. 

With all of these impurities suddenly being brought to the surface of your skin, breakouts can then occur. 

However, you need to keep in mind that these breakouts were going to happen anyway. The only difference is that the retinol has made it all happen at a much faster rate. 

How long do these breakouts last for? 

It completely depends…

Some people may not experience any breakouts at all, since there wasn’t much within their pores to purge. However, for others, they could last from days to weeks, all depending on how blocked up your pores are. 

Once your pores have been cleared, the breakouts will stop. 

Wondering how you can tell the difference between this temporary purge caused by retinol and plain old acne? 

There is a way…

With acne, pimples tend to develop at different times, meaning that the various pimples on your face will all be at different stages. 

However, with breakouts caused by retinol, this will usually all happen at the same time, meaning that your pimples will look relatively similar.

If you are experiencing a breakout caused by retinol, you have two options: 

  • Wait for it to clear – as mentioned above, the breakouts will clear on their own, so you could just wait for this to happen naturally. Retinol in itself is often used as an anti-acne treatment, so waiting for the breakouts to stop on their own is perfectly acceptable
  • Use a salicylic acid cleanser – this will help to soothe any inflammation and redness within your pores, helping to calm breakouts. This is a much gentler alternative to benzoyl peroxide, another popular acne treatment, making it safe to be used alongside retinol 

Redness and Inflammation

For some, using retinol for the first time can cause the skin to become red and inflamed. 

This may seem confusing, as inflammation is one of the reasons as to why many begin using retinol in the first place. 

So, why is retinol causing this inflammation? 

The exact reasons for this are still unknown, but it could be down to the way in which retinol interferes with the skin’s natural protective barrier. 

Nevertheless, inflammation is something that you want to soothe as quickly as possible. 

If you do experience inflammation when using retinol, give one of these soothing ingredients a try: 

  • Aloe Vera – contains polysaccharides and sterol, both of which are extremely soothing and hydrating 
  • Calendula – contains two compounds, known as rutin and narcissin, that reduce inflammation and combat dryness 
  • Chamomile – extremely calming and has a floral scent 
  • Colloidal Oatmeal – soothes the skin while improving the way in which it can hold on to water

Young pretty woman using aloe vera on skin

Are you experiencing a burning sensation on your skin because of the retinol?

This can be another side effect, and is caused by the inflammation. Use one of the ingredients mentioned above to help calm your skin.

How Long Do the Side Effects Last For?

Learning about the side effects of retinol can definitely be off-putting, but don’t worry, the side effects are only temporary. 

When you first begin to use retinol, all of the many different functions that it does can be a bit of a shock to your skin. 

However, it won’t be long before your skin begins to get used to it, and will then end up being able to tolerate it. 

How long does this take? 

It usually takes around two to three weeks for skin to become accustomed to retinol. 

You can help it out by ensuring that you begin by using the lowest concentration of retinol available. You should also limit your use of retinol to no more than twice a week. 

Wondering which strength of retinol you should be starting with? 

It is hard to say, since everybody’s skin reacts differently to the ingredient. 

The lowest strength that you will find is 0.01%. This might not seem like much, but research shows that even when used at this low concentration, retinol can still be effective when it comes to reducing the visible signs of aging while boosting skin health.

You will also need to make changes to the rest of your skin care routine when you first begin using retinol. 

What changes do you need to make? 

Well, in the first month or so of using retinol, your skin will be classed as sensitive. 

Unless you already had sensitive skin, your skin care routine will need to be overhauled

Here are a few tips: 

  • Switch to a mild and gentle creamy cleanser 
  • Don’t use any masks, peels or exfoliants 
  • Switch to a thicker and more nourishing moisturizer 
  • Use a stronger sunscreen 
  • Avoid waxing or laser treatments 

Once your skin is able to properly tolerate the ingredient, you can then either begin using it more frequently, or move on up to a stronger dose. 

What would the next best dose be? 

If you have started off with 0.01%, you could then try moving up to a product that contains 0.04% to 0.1% retinol. Once you are certain that your skin is able to tolerate this, you can then, if you need to, move on to an even stronger product, such as a 1% retinol product. 

Are your retinol side effects not fading? 

This could be a sign that the concentration of retinol you are using is simply too strong for you. Quit using the product for a while, and wait for side effects to subside before trying again with a much lower dose. 

Don’t forget, the severity of the side effects varies greatly between individuals. While some may experience all of the side effects at once, others may experience very little of just one. 

The side effects of retinol may seem worrying, but, once you get through that initial stage, the ingredient will only bring positives to your skin. From a smoother and wrinkle-free texture to a brighter and more vibrant skin tone, it is definitely worth fighting through the side effects to get to the other side. 

Post your comment


  1. Posted by Tam, at Reply

    Love this product!

  2. Posted by Sharon Harding, at Reply

    Retinol may bring positives to your skin such as a smoother and wrinkle-free texture to a brighter and more vibrant skin tone, Good to know!

  3. Posted by Gabrielle, at Reply

    It’s very important to be aware of the effects of retinol. I’m glad you mentioned photosensitivity because as important as sunscreen is, it’s even more important when using retinoids.

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  5. Posted by Barb Carlson, at Reply

    A lot of great information shared here. Thanks!

  6. Posted by Liz Kilcher, at Reply

    great info, thanks much!!!

  7. Posted by Trinity Rosario, at Reply

    I have oily skin. I use acne treatments and it dries it out so I have dried, peeling, oily skin and the acne never goes away! (I’m 44yo)

  8. Posted by Cherie Ann, at Reply

    Great article with an abundance of information. Living in New England, my skin changes through the seasons. Very dry in the winter. Very informative on skin issues. and remedies. BTW…Love your products.

  9. Posted by Lori P, at Reply

    I’d consider giving this a go. Feedback seems generally positive.

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  11. Posted by Lanie, at Reply

    Great article and tips.. thank yo u for sharing this! I suffer from really dry skin in the winter and need some tips.

  12. Posted by Renee Elbel, at Reply

    would love to try it

  13. Posted by Barbara Lima, at Reply

    I do have photo sensitivity. I’m looking forward to this product.

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  15. Posted by Debbie P, at Reply

    I would really love to try this!

  16. Posted by teena sierson, at Reply

    I have very itchy skin so thank for the info

  17. Posted by Janice Cash, at Reply

    Wonderful information. I would love to try this serum especially after understanding what to expect.

  18. Posted by Sandy Mathis, at Reply

    I have used retinol before and I love the way it makes my aging skin look!

  19. Posted by Darlene Taylor, at Reply

    I love your products

  20. Posted by Mary W, at Reply

    I love the results of Retinol. I have never had a problem when using it.

  21. Posted by MARLA, at Reply

    I would love to start using a product with more retinol.

  22. Posted by Belinda Hughes, at Reply

    Very educational

  23. Posted by Barbara Fehmel, at Reply

    This would be a product that I need, I am a wrinkly but I certainly could not afford to buy this lovely product how ever much I wrinkled.

  24. Posted by belinda bell, at Reply

    I would love to try this on my skin

  25. Posted by Susan P., at Reply

    My skin is sensitive already so rather than retinol, I prefer hyaluronic acid as a serum or argan oil.

  26. Posted by Crystal Fuentes, at Reply

    I have done so much recent research on retinol and I’ve decided that this is certainly something I want to try! As I approach 40 years of age it’s all starting to catch up to me… Right on my face and décolleté! I used to think my freckles “beauty spots” were cute, but as I’ve gotten older it appears they’ve all conjoined together to form these little communities of oddly shaped hyperpigmentation spots , and they are not so cute anymore. For so many years I received the complement of “looking younger than my age”, but in the last five years I don’t recall getting that compliment even once . I know that I cannot actually turn back the hands of time, but if there is even the smallest possibility of restoring some youthfullness to my face I know that I would be so appreciative!

  27. Posted by Beth Hern, at Reply

    I definitely could use this for this winter. My skin has been super dry.

  28. Posted by Kim, at Reply

    I didn’t know it dried out your skin. Good to know that moisturizer helps.

  29. Posted by Kim, at Reply

    My face sometimes gets sensitive and dry. So using moisturizer should help.

  30. Posted by Cheryl wong, at Reply

    Thx for the info

  31. Posted by tbivings, at Reply

    I’m glad I read this article because I just started some retinol and I was wondering why at my age my face would get so dry Now I know Thank-you

  32. Posted by Gloria Webber, at Reply

    a lot of good advice here!

  33. Posted by Bev Sayers, at Reply

    I hear a lot about retinol, collagen and peptides. They must be very important. Would love to try Vine.Vera products. (PS I love my red win too)

  34. Posted by Kathy Pierce, at Reply

    I have used retinol and I believe it helps>

  35. Posted by patricia caradonna, at Reply

    The benefits outweigh the side effects,

  36. Posted by Jen L, at Reply

    Thanks for the info! I learned so much!

  37. Posted by Louise Smith, at Reply

    I would like to have rejuvenated skin.

  38. Posted by Patty wright, at Reply

    I am 60 and need all the help I can get.

  39. Posted by Rebecca Foughty, at Reply

    i have never tried anything like this but I would love to give it a try!

  40. Posted by Melanni C., at Reply

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  41. Posted by Antonina Chetcuti, at Reply

    I would surely like to try the serum Thanks

  42. Posted by Colleen M, at Reply

    I am looking forward to trying this.

  43. Posted by Sarah Kirk, at Reply

    I have a combination photosensitive, oily, itchy skin. I usually have a hard time finding retinol creams that don’t leave me feeling greasy or breaking out.

  44. Posted by Anonymous, at Reply

    This product sounds great . I can’t wait to use it.

  45. Posted by Elizabeth Richardson, at Reply

    I am looking forward to trying this product

  46. Posted by Christyk, at Reply

    wow looks awesome!

  47. Posted by Lisa, at Reply

    I have dry skin and this seems great.

  48. Posted by Anissa, at Reply

    Very interesting read. I have been thinking about using retinol for a while and this article provided very useful information, thanks!

  49. Posted by Alexis, at Reply

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  51. Posted by JANEEN, at Reply

    Would love to try your products they sound awesome

  52. Posted by Beatrice P, at Reply

    I would love to try retinol. My skin has been so dry this winter and using the right cream is important.

  53. Posted by Denise Liberty, at Reply

    Thanks for the info

  54. Posted by Keyra, at Reply

    I love my new purchased Vita Vera products and I’m dying to use them. I love the face mask and the scrub cause they really leave all your skin like a baby’s and rejuvenate it at the same time.

  55. Posted by Bridget Calfee, at Reply

    I hope I get to try this soon

  56. Posted by Tracey L, at Reply

    I recently started to use retinol. I as most have experienced dry skin. I am definitely going to try to add a moisturizer with hyaluronic acid along with it. Thanks for the great info!

  57. Posted by Candace Bond, at Reply

    I would love to give this product a try!

  58. Posted by irina, at Reply

    I like retinol

  59. Posted by Michael Woods, at Reply

    I would love to try this.

  60. Posted by Ivelisse Woods, at Reply

    This product would be perfect for me

  61. Posted by Kimbre Music, at Reply

    Didn’t know hyaluronic acid was used for that!! I have heard it come up in conversation though and always wondered about it.

  62. Posted by Jennifer, at Reply

    Such good information

  63. Posted by Lorna Triche, at Reply

    Very informative article.

  64. Posted by Jamie Johnson, at Reply

    Great read! Retinol can be life changing when used properly. I learned the hard way a little goes a long way, and ALWAYS wear sunscreen when using retinol! It can be a lifesaver, trust me!

  65. Posted by DeAnna, at Reply

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  67. Posted by DeAnna, at Reply

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  68. Posted by Brenda Disimone, at Reply

    Thanks for the informative article !

  69. Posted by Nancy, at Reply

    I have dry & itchy skin. Thanks!

  70. Posted by Judith Lise Mellon, at Reply

    I thought it was wine i guess not😆

  71. Posted by Dana Rodriguez, at Reply

    I curious about this. Graet article!

  72. Posted by Dana Rodriguez, at Reply

    I curious about this. Great article!

  73. Posted by Zoey, at Reply

    This is one of the best and most informative breakdowns I’ve ever read about retinol’s effects on the skin. I really learned a lot!

  74. Posted by Paula Pennachio, at Reply

    I would love to try this

  75. Posted by Lyndsey Rullman, at Reply

    Great information! I didn’t know a lot of this actually.

  76. Posted by Julie Barrett, at Reply

    This is such a great, informative post. I have super sensitive and acne prone skin so this info is very helpful for me.

  77. Posted by Hannah jemina Abaring, at Reply

    I want this but I don’t have money.