Retinol side effects – retinol uglies


Retinoid is an umbrella term for the entire FAMILY of vitamin A derivatives. Retinol is one specific type of retinoid—the most common and proven retinoid with decades of research demonstrating its effectiveness.

Retinol is also known as a ‘gold standard’ skincare ingredient.  It is effective in treating acne, pigmentation, wrinkles, UV damage and more. Retinol renews the skin by ‘waking up’ cell receptors on a cellular level – increasing cell turnover and stimulating collagen production. However, with a good, comes the bad – retinol uglies (temporary side effects). It is an adjustment period during which your skin may experience some downtime before any improvements are seen. 

The good news is – these side effects are temporary and there are ways to minimise unwanted negative effects. 


  • Common Side Effects:
  • Excessive dryness of the skin
  • Skin redness
  • Scaling of the skin
  • Pruritus (Itching)

The following occur in <10% of people and are rare:

  • Skin discoloration
  • Photosensitivity to UV light
  • Initial acne flare-up
  • Eczema flare-up
  • Swelling of the skin
  • Blistering and stinging


  • After cleansing your face, wait for 30 minutes before applying retinol: Even if you use the gentlest, scent-free products, washing your face might irritate your skin so just give your skin a chance to dry for a few minutes.
  • Simplify your skincare. Allow your skin to adjust to the retinol and avoid further irritation by reducing the number of skincare products. Even just for a couple of weeks (days) just opt for a gentle cleanser and good quality moisturiser. 
  • Retinol should not be used in conjunction with other exfoliants such as AHAs and BHAs, as well as before waxing and laser treatment.
  • Only use a  pea-size amount. Start with a small amount and then work your way up slowly over time, as you observe how your skin reacts. Start using it twice a week and then slowly increase the days as your skin allows. 
  • Combine retinol with moisturizer to dilute it so your skin can adjust.
  • Use sunscreen to protect yourself from the sun: Because a new skin layer is revealed after using retinol, your skin will be extremely sensitive to sunlight. Apply plenty of sunscreens and avoid spending too much time in direct sunshine.

Avoid using Retinol Skincare during Pregnancy: skincare products, including retinoids, are absorbed into the body through the skin. Because there hasn’t been enough research on the effects of retinoids on growing fetuses, it’s preferable to avoid them altogether.


Both forms of retinol are effective. Prescription retinoids are stronger and you can expect results quicker but side effects are also worse. We recommend consulting with a skin specialist to determine which is right for your skin type, concerns and goals. 

Many things in life get worse before they get better. But if you want clear, glowing skin, you should definitely persevere with retinol. It may take 2-4 weeks for your skin to adjust and notice improvements, but it will be worth it. Just be patient, there are no quick fixes and a gradual approach is better and will result in less downtime. 

Our recommendations for:

Beginners – Alumier MD Resurfacing Serum 0.25

Sensitive skin – Alumier MD Resurfacing Serum 0.25

Anti-aging, pigmentation – Skinceuticals 0.5 

Normal Skin – Obagi Retinol 1%

Acne – Alumier MD Resurfacing Serum 0.5

Retinol choices