Retinol is one of the most effective anti aging ingredients on the market today. It’s a great treatment for fine lines and wrinkles, age spots and dull skin. Like most effective skin care ingredients, it also has drawbacks. Retinol side effects include irritation, redness, dry skin, peeling, and sun sensitivity. You can avoid or reduce these side effects by learning how to use retinol products correctly.
Retinol is a form of Vitamin A called a retinoid. It is a small nutrient that easily penetrates the skin. Once absorbed, it is converted into retinoic acid, which is found in the prescription wrinkle fighter Retin A. It combats aging by increasing cellular turnover, exfoliating, and increasing collagen and elastin production.
Retinol side effects are common when users first start using retinol skin care products. Initial irritation is normal as your skin gets used to the ingredient, but can be avoided by gradually incorporating it into your routine. Retinol causes your skin to peel and flake, but it is not as extreme as a chemical peel. This exfoliating effect is beneficial and a sign of increased cellular turnover and dead skin removal. After a few weeks of daily use, skin flaking will no longer be visible because such a small amount is sloughing off. It can be annoying in the beginning, but don’t pick at the flakes. You can try to remove them by gently scrubbing with a wet washcloth.
Retinol can cause your skin to become extra sensitive to sunlight because it exposes fresh skin. All skin care treatments that exfoliate heavily have this effect because new skin is very delicate. It burns easier, and is also prone to discoloring with sun exposure. Using sunblock daily is essential. Retinol products should be used in evening only. Sunlight reacts with retinol negatively and makes it ineffective. Retinol is also frequently combined with alpha hydroxy acids like glycolic acid in anti aging formulations. These acids increase sun sensitivity even more than retinol, so check your product label for warnings.
Retinol side effects can be very irritating if you start off using too strong of a formulation. You skin can develop red, inflamed, itchy patches, which are not usually serious and won’t leave any permanent damage. If this occurs, stop using all retinoid products and other forms of exfoliation until they heal entirely. Apply a moisturizer regularly, preferably one that contains soothing botanical ingredients like oat, aloe, or chamomile.
Dry skin is one of the retinol side effects that can be negative or beneficial depending on your skin type. If you already have dry skin, it can be very annoying and may cause you to stop using the product. Normal skin types that don’t typically need to moisturize daily may need to start using lotion more frequently or move to something heavier like a cream. Retinol decreases skin oil production, which makes it possibly the best facial treatment for oily skin. Over time, this decrease in oil production can get rid of large pores. Both of these skin complaints are very difficult to treat, making retinol’s drying effect extremely beneficial to people with oily skin.
You can avoid most retinol side effects by starting off with mild products and working your way up to stronger formulations. Most products on the market contain .15%, .5% or 1% retinol. Most strong products list this percentage on the label, but mild product often do not. A retinol cream or lotion is usually a good mild product to start out with. They contain lower concentrations along with moisturizing ingredients to help soothe any irritation that may occur. Start out with applying your retinol lotion or cream every other day, or every third day if you have sensitive skin. Gradually work your way up to daily use before moving up to a stronger formulation. The strongest, most effective product will usually be a retinol serum, but most are too intense for new users. Be careful when using retinol products before and after other strong exfoliation treatments like a glycolic acid peel or microdermabrasion treatment.
Using retinol is a great way to treat both aging and oily skin. You’ll see complete results over time; don’t expect miracles over night. Be sure to use a sunblock daily and be careful about other exfoliating facial treatments. Retinol side effects are usually mild and temporary, and most can be avoided by using the products properly.