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7 SIDE EFFECTS OF RETINOL AND 7 WAYS TO PREVENT THEM

By: Dr. Wang Skincare Education Team

Apr 24, 2018

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  retinol side effects

 

Retinol is one of the best anti-aging ingredients used in skin care. It is a powerful antioxidant, and very effective to boost collagen production, and even out pigmentations, and fade dark spots. It is also effective in treating acne and other breakouts.

Retinol is a derivative of Vitamin A, an essential vitamin seen in colorful fruits and vegetables with a high concentration of beta-carotene. The vegetable with the highest level of Vitamin A is the carrot. Eating too much of carrot will increase the blood beta-carotene level and turn your skin orange. Other food sources of Vitamin A include livers, fish oil, milk, and eggs.

Despite all the associated skin benefits, not everyone can use retinol or other retinol derivatives. Many women complain about how products with retinoid turn their face red, flaky, and itchy.

We want to show you why retinol causes these common side effects. More importantly, here are 7 easy ways to prevent and reduce these side effects.

 

7 COMMON SIDE EFFECTS ASSOCIATED WITH RETINOL

1. DRY SKIN

Retinol can dry out your skin, especially in the winter. Retinol helps to accelerate the turn over of skin cells and leads to rapid shedding of the top layer of the skin cells.

When this happens, skin barrier becomes impaired. A healthy skin barrier is needed to prevent excessive water loss from the deeper layer of the skin cells. Increase water loss would dry out your skin.

 

2. PIMPLES

Although retinol is useful to fight acne, some people can get more breakouts when they first start using retinol. People with prior history of acne should be aware of this potential problem.

If you are someone who experiences a breakout when you first started to use a retinol product, do not abandon the product right away. Consider to continuing the products for a few more weeks, and see if there is any improvement.

Discontinue use only if there are no improvements or worsening of conditions.

 

3. SENSITIVITY TO SUN

As a rule of thumb, retinol has a high tendency to make your skin more sensitive to solar radiation.

As mentioned above, retinol sheds the top layer of skin cells and removes the protected barrier. This will induce a more phototoxic reaction, causing your skin to turn more red and irritated after each sun exposure.

In general, it is best to use a skincare product with retinol at night. This can prevent any potential sun sensitivity. Lastly, remember to wear your sunscreen for protection.

 

4. IT MAY TURN YOU RED

Increase redness is a common experience for many women who use retinol product in the beginning.

It is not clear exactly why skin turns red. It is hypothesized that retinol causes an increase in shedding of the top layer of skin, a slow break down of the skin barrier, which can trigger an underlying inflammation in the skin.

Turning red is one of the sign that your skin is inflamed.

Women with sensitive skin are more likely to get inflammation and redness when they first start using retinol.

 

5. ITCHY SKIN

Shedding of the cells at the outer layer of the skin leads to inflammation and dryness, which can make you feel itchy on the face and neck, common areas where you may use retinol.

 

6. SKIN TIGHTNESS

Your skin may feel tight. It is another common side effect. The sensation of tightness should not be interpreted as your wrinkle is disappearing. In contrast, it only means that your skin is super dry. 

 

7. OTHER SERIOUS ISSUES

There may be more severe issues, including severe itching, redness, burning sensation, and irritation. If you feel like something is not normal, do not hesitate to wash off the product, and if need to seek medical advice from your physician or dermatologist.

Lastly remember, just because you can not tolerate one product with retinol, it does not mean you can never use any products with retinol.

 

7 side effects of retinol

7 WAYS TO PREVENT RETINOL ASSOCIATED SIDE EFFECTS

1. WASH APPROPRIATELY

Always wash and clean the areas thoroughly where you are planning to use retinol. It is recommended to use gentle soap and lukewarm water only.

Do not to use harsh soap or cleanser that can further dry out your skin. Lastly, avoid using any mechanical device to scrub your skin.

 

2. START GRADUALLY

When you are using retinol for the first time, try to titrate the dosage slowly.

This can be done in two ways.

First, use a small amount of the product. For example, you can start out using a small pea-sized of product per each application. Gradually increased the amount of products after 1 to 2 months of usage.

Second, you can start using the product every 2 to 3 nights. If you are able to tolerate the product, you can gradually increase the frequency of application, such as using it every other night and eventually every night.

You can be the judge.  If you are seeing positive results with no or minimal side effects, then increase the dosage amount and frequency of application. You can adjust the pace and amount as you see fits.

The goal of this titration process is to get your skin to tolerate retinol. This is the best way for anyone who wants to use a retinol product, but do not want all the redness, irritation, flaking of the skin. (Yes, it is pretty amazing that our skin has the ability to build up the tolerance and respond to different drugs and chemicals.) 

Consider holding off any exfoliation until you know your skin has become fully adjusted to retinol.

 

3. USING IT NO MORE THAN ONCE A DAY

Do not fall into the trap of overusing any retinol products. It is a common mistake to believe that increased dosage and frequency can speed up the process to make you look younger.

It may expedite the process of removing the wrinkles, but the truth is it can definitely lead to more redness, inflammation, flaking, and shedding. So be patient, and let your skin adjust. Remember it is better to take time.

 

4. DO NOT FORGET YOUR FRIEND, THE SUNSCREEN!

Sunscreen is essential. Daily use of sunscreen can prevent and reverse signs of aging. In this case, retinol can increase sun sensitivity. So you need more protection than ever.

 

5. WATCH OUT FOR THE EYE AREAS.

Many of us want to get rid of the fine lines around the eyes. But watch out, eyelid skin is much thinner than other parts of the face and body. Eyelid skin can be more sensitive.

If you are planning to use it around the eyes, use a smaller amount of product. Avoid applying to close to the eyes.

 

6. TEST IT BEFORE USING

It is important to apply a new product on a small area on your arm before applying it all over your face and other body parts.

The idea is simple. You want to make sure you do not have an allergy or sensitivities to the product.

 

7. INCORPORATE INTO YOU SKINCARE ROUTINE

Consider adding serum or moisturizer to replenish the necessary level of hydration and oil back to your skin will help to mitigate the problem of dryness and skin flaking. You can also use soothing masks every week to take care of your skin.

 7 ways to prevent retinol side effects

FINAL THOUGHTS:

Retinol is one of the most trusted ingredients that can deliver reliable benefits to improve signs of aging. When using it appropriately in a well thought out skin care routine, it can definitely help to reverse signs of aging. Of course, like other potent ingredients, there are side effects. We hope we have given you some good tip to prevent and mitigate them. Let us know any other tips you have in using retinol products.

Next Blog:

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1 comment


  • I have used an OTC retinol wrinkle cream for about 2 1/2 months with no problems. However, all of a sudden my face feels burnt and is very red. What would cause a reaction after all this time?

    Ruth H. on

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