Retinol Rash and Other Retinoid Side Effects On Skin

Retinol Side Effects On Skin

Side Effects of Retinoids Retinol and Tretinoin

Retinoids such as retinol, tretinoin, adapalene and tazarotene are very safe when used properly, however, using retinoids incorrectly can result in irritation and side effects.

Negative effects of retinoids

The 6 most common negative effects of retinoids are:

  1. redness
  2. stinging or burning
  3. itching
  4. inflammation
  5. scaling due to increased desquamation
  6. dryness and roughness

The negative effects of retinoids are most likely to occur when retinoids are:

Allergy to retinol

When you begin retinoids, or use them incorrectly, you may get a retinoid rash or skin irritation that feels like an allergy.

 This is not a true skin allergy to retinol.  Dermatologists call this retinoid dermatitis. 

It is not an immune system mediated allergy, rather it is an irritant reaction.  This means that you should be able to tolerate the retinoid if you lower the amount of retinoid hat gets in the skin. Stop using the retinoid and  wait 4 days until skin is clam.  Then restart following these retinoid instructions.

Retinoids are in a family of Vitamin A compounds that includes retinol. All of them can cause the same retinoid rash as a side effect of using too much retinol/ retinoid too soon.


Symptoms of retinoid rash and unwanted side effects of retinol

  • Stinging- everything even water stings the face
  • Burning- skin feels hot
  • Skin feels uncomfortable and may hurt
  • Pink or red face


How to Minimize Side Effects from Topical Retinoids:

There are many different types of retinoids at different percentages and strengths. The stronger retinoids are more likely to cause side effects such as stinging, burning and a rash.

All skin types should follow the how to use retinoid instructions at this link when starting a new retinoid.

You can avoid most retinoid side effects by using the correct retinoid for your Baumann Skin Type®


Side effect risk depends upon your Baumann Skin Type.

Sensitive skin types are more prone to inflammation and are much more likely to have side effects from retinol. Dry skin types that are not on barrier repair moisturizers are also likely to react poorly to retinoids. Rosacea types should not start retinoids until they have completed at least one month of a hydrating anti-inflammatory skin care routine. Knowing your Baumann Skin Type® and corresponding skin care routine recommendations is the best way to avoid retinoid side effects.

Retinol side effects can be minimized or avoided by using the correct retinoid for your Baumann Skin Type® and using it properly and at the right time in your skin care regimen.

Common and Expected Side Effects When Beginning Topical Retinoids:

Retinoids can cause some inflammation of the skin and increase blood flow to the skin when beginning a retinoid. This results in skin pinkness or redness in some people.

What if I do not have any side effects when I begin retinol? Does that mean it is not working?

If you are not having any side effects to a new retinoid, then you are either:

The side effects of retinoids are bothersome, but it is worth it to push through and adapt to them. 

Why are retinoids so important and worth the hassle of skin irritation? Because they work to control acne and reverse skin aging!  Click here learn more about retinoid science click here.

 If you develop retinoid side effects, they are temporary and do not cause permanent damage to your skin. 

10 Expected side effects from retinoids:

  1. Redness
  2. Inflammation
  3. Sensitivity
  4. Burning
  5. Stinging
  6. Scaling
  7. Peeling
  8. Dryness
  9. Roughness
  10. Purging (acne breakout)

These retinoid side effects are very common- especially the first 2 weeks after beginning a retinoid. They usually begin 3-4 days after applying the retinoid. 

Retinol reactions are usually called a retinol rash, retinoid dermatitis, or a retinol allergy. However, this is not a true allergic reaction to retinol because it is not caused by an immune system reaction, rather it is an irritant dermatitis meaning that it occurs when you use too strong of a dose of retinoids. If you use the retinol consistency and correctly, these retinoid side effects will go away.


Can retinol ruin your skin?

If you do get side effects, don’t worry, retinol does not cause permanent damage to the skin.

How to Treat a Retinol Rash or Retinol Irritation

Use a soothing barrier repair moisturizer until your skin returns to normal.

List of the 3 best soothing creams to treat a retinol rash:

  1. Zerafite Soothing and Calming Moisturizer- Repairs the barrier. Contains niacinamide and argan oil. Best for dry skin.
  2. Derma Made Nia-genic Lotion.-Contains soothing niacinamide and peptides. Best for combination skin or normal skin.
  3. SkinCeuticals Phyto Corrective Gel- Contains cucumber extract. Best for oily skin types.

What to do if your skin gets irritated from retinoids?

Ok - so you used the wrong retinol, or you used it incorrectly and your skin burns, stings and is bright red. Now what do you do?

First of all- don’t panic. The retinol did not permanently damage your skin.

To treat retinol side effects, you just need to soothe skin, repair the skin barrier and calm inflammation with anti-redness ingredients like argan oil, niacinamide and cucumber.

Retinoid dermatitis treatment involves using anti-inflammatory soothing ingredients, repairing your skin barrier and taking a break from the retinoid for 3 – 4 days. Use a skin care routine that is gentle and filled with anti-inflammatory ingredients. Stay out of the sun until the inflammation improves because you do not want the inflammation to lead to uneven pigmentation.

How To Treat A Retinol Reaction:

Stop the retinoid and use a soothing cleanser, a soothing barrier repair moisturizer, or a soothing oil like argan oil for 3-4 days. Avoid any hydroxyacids such as glycolic acid. Avoid soaps and cleansers that foam. Do not exfoliate.

Will hydrocortisone help a retinol burn?

We do not recommend steroids like hydrocortisone because they can cause rebound irritation when stopped. Steroids on the face can also cause a perioral dermatitis rash around the mouth. Instead choose a soothing barrier repair moisturizer or an anti-inflammatory oil with soothing ingredients like argan oil, green tea, and centella asiatica.

Natural way to treat a retinol rash?

If you want a natural option to treat a retinol burn, try aloe directly from an aloe plant or chamomile tea bags that have been steeped in warm water and cooled. A natural cucumber mask can also soothe skin. 

What to do for a retinol allergy?

Retinol allergy is very rare. The redness, burning, stinging, rash and red face from retinol is an irritate reaction- not a true allergy. This means that you should be able to tolerate a much lower dose when used with the correct skincare regimen for your skin type. We know that after experiencing unpleasant side effects from retinol, it is hard to make yourself restart- but- the efficacy of retinoids for acne, wrinkles and dark spots on the skin makes it worth it to try again.

What to do for a retinol burn on the neck?

Retinol is used as an antiaging treatment on the neck as well as the face. Neck skin is more sensitive than facial skin. So start very slowly and use every 3rd- 4th night in the beginning. If you get a retinol burn on the neck, stop using the retinol immediately. Apply a soothing oil or soothing barrier repair moisturizer. Do not wear and clothing that rubs the neck area and avoid sun exposure. Do not use any exfoliants. The neck burn should improve in 4- 7 days.

How to restart retinol after recovering from retinol irritation

 If you are having side effects from retinol or prescription Retin A or retinoids, stop for 4 days and restart following these rules:

Make sure you are using the correct skin care routine in the right routine step order for your Baumann Skin Type

How To Prevent Retinol Side Effects

Besides choosing the best retinoid and using it properly, here are some other tips to avoid retinol burns and rashes. Remember that side effects are increased or decreased according to the type of cleanser and moisturizer you choose to use with the retinoid.

  • Avoid over exfoliation
  • Don’t use exfoliants like facial scrubs, hydroxy acids, or facial brushes
  • Be careful kissing someone with a rough beard or prickly facial hair
  • Rough clothing like wool can irritate retinol treated skin
  • Stop using retinol for 4 days before getting hair removal with wax
  • Use cooler wax- it is the heat that is the problem
  • Choose laser but tell them you are on a retinoid
  • Consider threading
  • If you get facials or peels, tell your aesthetician that you are on retinol
  • Chemical peels can burn skin if you are using retinol
  • Do not get a peel if you have flaking or redness from retinol
  • Stop retinol 3 days before dermaplaning
  • Stop using retinol 2 days before going to a dry environment 
  • Stop 2 nights before an airline flight over 6 hours
  • Use a barrier repair moisturizer on the flight 
  • Use a barrier repair moisturizer for 1-3 days in the dry climate if you have been using retinol until your skin adjusts to the climate then resume your normal skin care routine
  • Never begin exfoliants at the same time as beginning retinol
  • Begin one first for two weeks, then add the other one
  • Too many exfoliants leads to over exfoliation

When not to use retinol?

Even if you are accustomed to retinol, there are times when you should not use retinol in order to avoid side effects. Do not use retinol in these situations:

  • When travelling from humid climate to dry climate
  • After dermaplaning (stop for 4 days)
  • After a chemical peel (stop for 4 days)
  • On the surgical scar after surgery (until skin is epithelialized which means skin completely closed and light pink. This takes 7-14 days.) Although retinoids speed healing when used before surgery, they slow healing when used after surgery so wait until completely healed to restart.
  • Before getting hair removal with hot wax (stop 3- 4 days prior)
  • Before going skiing or being exposed to very cold temperatures. (stop 3-4 days)
  • Before having significant sun exposure like going fishing for hours (retinoids can protect you from sun damage but if you anticipate being in sun for long hours, having a build up of dead skin on the surface of the skin will help protect you- so best not to use exfoliants before significant sun exposure of 2 hours or more)
  • If you have active flushing rosacea and skin feels warm and hurts
  • If your skin burns or stings

Retinol often causes side effects when you begin using it. Beginning retinoids properly, using the correct retinol cream, and using retinoids with a customized skin care routine can all help prevent side effects.

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