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What Is Retinol Burn and How to Avoid It

What Is Retinol Burn and How to Avoid It


Retinol is one of the most effective anti-aging ingredients men can use to fight wrinkles, fine lines, and age spots. It's a form of vitamin A that boosts collagen production and increases cellular turnover. That's critical for anti-aging because your skin naturally loses collagen as you get older and this is what's responsible for wrinkles and sagging skin. With the help of retinol, you can both prevent and reverse that process, thus maintaining youthfully bright and smooth skin.

Clearly, retinol can be a powerful tool in your anti-aging arsenal. But you need to be cautious when you first start using this ingredient. If you don't use it properly, you could experience retinol burn.

Sounds bad - because it is.

What is retinol burn? What causes it? How can you avoid retinol burn while using this ingredient but still get optimal anti-aging results?

Excellent questions. Here come the answers.


What Is Retinol Burn

Retinol burn is the common term for the irritation, redness, and flaking that can occur when you first start using retinol or up the strength or frequency of it. The exact symptoms can be different from person to person, but they often resemble the feel of a sunburn: skin that's red, burnt, raw, and highly sensitive. For folks with lighter skin tones, the skin often gets red, scaly, and itchy. People with melanin-rich skin might exhibit purple to brown scaly patches when they have retinol burn.


What Causes Retinol Burn

Retinol burn most commonly happens to people who have recently starting using retinol. Since their skin is not yet tolerant of this ingredient, retinol burn can occur. The same happens when folks who have been using a low concentration of retinol for a while increase the concentration or frequency of application.

Part of the benefit of retinol for anti-aging is its ability to increase cellular division. But if cellular divisions happens too much all at once, skin that hasn't fully developed gets pushed to the exterior of the dermis without the proper cellular bonds. This is what causes the redness, peeling, and sensitization associated with retinol burn.

While not everyone will have to suffer through retinol burn, you're more likely to experience it if you:

  • Apply high concentrations of retinol before giving your skin time to build a tolerance
  • Put retinol cream on damp skin
  • Use retinol and chemical exfoliants like AHA's or BHA's at the same time
  • Apply retinol to already irritated skin
  • Use retinol in the morning and expose your skin to the sun during the day


How to Prevent Retinol Burn 

You can prevent retinol burn in most cases by following these tips. 


How to Treat Retinol Burn 

Hopefully you can avoid retinol burn by following the prevention tips listed above. But if not, here's how to treat it successfully and minimize the discomfort you experience. Keep in mind that retinol burn usually heals by itself in 1-2 weeks.

  • Stop using retinol products immediately if you notice signs of retinol burn
  • Apply an ice pack or cold compress to irritated skin
  • Use an over-the-counter hydrocortisone cream
  • Put a thin layer of petroleum jelly over the affected area
  • Apply a soothing moisturizer with aloe and hyaluronic acid - like our Daily Essential Face Moisturizer
  • Speak with your dermatologist


Get the Benefits of Retinol Without the Burn

A low concentration of retinol - like in our Retinol Face Moisturizer Cream - can be an excellent addition to your anti-aging skincare routine. Just be sure to take precautions to avoid the dreaded retinol burn. The #1 rule of preventing irritation is don't apply too much, too fast. Instead, be cautious and intentional about how you use retinol. If you do, you'll enjoy the wrinkle-reducing, skin-firming benefits of retinol without the unnecessary and unpleasant burn.

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