Tips to Reduce Retinol Side Effects

by Linda Robison

While retinol side effects are usually temporary, they can be pretty severe and uncomfortable for some women. This is a major reason why some people (like myself) avoiding using any type of retinol product, which is a shame, because retinol continues to be one of the best and effective anti-aging skin care ingredient on the market. 

Here we'll show you a few simple tips to get through the "break-in" period, so you can reap all the wonderful benefits of retinol without the irritating hassle.

We finally have a powerful anti-aging cream that can easily be obtained without a doctor's visit, prescription, or without spending a lot of money.

But, many of us can’t use it long enough to obtain the benefits (which take about 12 weeks for over-the-counter retinol) due to uncomfortable side effects.

If you can get through the first few weeks, the side effects (which include redness, irritation, flaking, peeling, breakouts, and increased sun sensitivity) usually subside.

How to minimize retinol irritation

Start Slowly

The most common suggestion for avoiding retinol side effects is to start slowly and allow a few days rest in between applications. 

For example, start out by applying it only once a week at night before bedtime. Then after a few weeks increase treatment to twice a week – make sure to allow 2-4 days rest in-between.

If there is no sign of irritation, then increase to three times a week or as often as directed on the label.

Of course, this is just a suggested schedule, since everyone is different your schedule may be different.

But, how do you know when it’s ok to increase usage? Nobody really knows. You just have to take it slowly and see how your skin reacts.

Start with Mild Retinol Creams

The biggest issue I’ve found with retinol creams is not knowing how much actual retinol is in the product…i.e. the strength of the product.

Some studies indicate that over-the-counter retinol products are about 20% less potent than their prescription cousin.

However, what does that mean to me as a consumer? I still don't know what percentage my brand of retinol cream or serum contains - unless it stated on the label.

This can be all pretty confusing to me, so I prefer to use creams that state the actual amount of retinol right on the label.

My current favorite is the Green Cream Retinol, which comes in several strengths.

Be Gentle

Don’t rub or scrub your face or use harsh exfoliating products during the first few months of treatment.

Consider switching to a mild cleanser like Cetaphil.

And, double-check the other facial products you use. Many companies include small amounts of retinol in various moisturizers and cleansers.

Finally, keep your skin hydrated.

If it begins to feel dry consider applying an extra rich moisturizer or apply a little oil on top of your night-time moisturizer before going to bed.

Oils like emu oil or even simple olive oil can help keep skin soft and prevent peeling.

Over-the-counter vs. prescription retinol

While the most intense side effects usually occur with prescription retinoids like ( tretinoin and tazarotenen), over-the-counter retinol or retinaldehyde products can still cause mild/ minor irritation for many people with skin sensitivities.

This is especially true during the first few weeks of treatment.

Retinol side effects are not necessarily serious, but once you experience irritation it’s almost impossible to continue with treatment. If your side effects cause much discomfort, you should see a doctor. 

For best results, take it slow during the first 4 weeks of retinol treatment. The final results are well worth it.  :-)