6 Ways to Fight the Retinol Uglies!

The Retinol Uglies?  Is that for real? Yes. Yes it is.

If you use a retinol (or retinoid) face cream, serum or gel, then you may have an up-close-and-personal understanding of the Retinol Uglies—the dry, itchy, flaky and often reddened skin that occurs during the initial acclimation period of a new retinol product. This mild skin irritation usually lasts one to two weeks, but also has a tendency to make a comeback during the winter season when skin becomes overly dry.

Have no fear! You don’t have to live with that dry, flaky skin for two weeks—or even two days.

Follow these 6 simple tips to fight the Retinol Uglies and keep your skin beautiful.


1. Switch to a gentle, hydrating cleanser. Retinol-based products work on a number of levels to help keep your skin smooth, soft and free from signs of premature aging. They increase cell turnover and exfoliation. If you are using a facial cleanser with alpha and/or beta hydroxy acids, then you are doubling up on exfoliation and the result? Dry, flaky, itchy or red areas of skin. A gentle cleanser with hyaluronic acid is perfect for both cleansing and hydrating your skin.

2. Apply to thoroughly dry skin. After washing, allow your skin 20 minutes to dry completely. Freshly washed skin has a reduced natural barrier and dampness causes the retinol to absorb faster, both of which increase the chance of redness and irritation. Give your skin that extra time in between to help prevent negative reactions.

3. Use the proper concentration. You can find retinol products that range from very low (0.1%) to very high (1%). If you have never subjected your skin to the effects of a retinol-based skin care regimen, start at a mid-range level (.5%). It may be tempting to start with the highest concentration for the most benefit; however, your face is delicate and should be treated as such. If you have very sensitive skin, you can begin even lower and work your way up as your skin acclimates to the new product. 

Recommended Moisturizers
Obagi Hydrate Luxe | Jan Marini Transformation Face Cream | Obagi Hydrate Facial Moisturizer

4. Use every other night. During the first week or two of use, it is highly recommended to only apply the product every other night to allow your skin a fair amount of time to acclimate. For some, one week may be enough. For others, it may take a little longer. After your skin gets used to the new product, you can move to nightly application.

5. Apply sparingly. A thin, even layer (pea-sized amount) is enough. Remember, your retinol cream or gel is not a moisturizer. If you use it in similar fashion, your skin will soon be screaming for help!

6. Moisturize, moisturize, moisturize! This is absolutely essential to fighting the Retinol Uglies. If you have sensitive skin that reddens easily, apply a thin layer of moisturizer after washing and allow it to absorb completely before applying your retinol skin care product. To prevent excessive dryness, itching or flaking, apply a hydrating moisturizer (one with ceramides and hyaluronic acid is highly recommended) at least 20 minutes after the retinol. Continue to moisturize your skin morning, mid-day and evening for added hydration.

Though most of us fight these negative effects during the first uses of our new retinol products, these tips are equally useful during the winter months when our skin tends to become excessively dry and flaky. You may be inclined to stop the use of your retinol product during the winter, but first try these tips and see how they work for you! Once you stop a retinol skin care regimen (only to start again later), your skin will have to start the acclimation process all over.

Don’t give up. Your beautifully smooth skin is on its way!


December 04, 2014 by Amanda Brown
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