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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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
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
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.