How To Use Retinol On Sensitive Skin

Retinol, a breakthrough product in anti-ageing, can help diminish the signs of ageing. Wrinkles and fine lines are a disadvantage that comes along with ageing. Furthermore, when you add having sensitive skin, the problem seems even more difficult to deal with.

Using it safely and in conjunction with a good moisturiser is the trick here.

As each birthday passes, the effects of ageing start to show themselves. Fine lines, age spots, sun spots, hyper-pigmented patches, and even deeper wrinkles start to develop on the face and neck. Other areas of the body start to show these signs slowly too.

three blue bottles with droppers, each titled Retinol on the front.

Anti-ageing is a goal that practically every person wants to achieve and the products available on the market has definitely made this a manageable task. Retinol is an ingredient found in many anti-ageing products and is known to work wonders for making your skin appear youthful again. The problem, however, arises when you have sensitive skin and anything that you apply on it seems to flare up a reaction. 

We are here to demystify this particular anti-ageing wonder ingredient for the sensitive skin type. 

What is Retinol?

Retinol is technically a derivative of vitamin A, an essential vitamin that the body requires, as well as the skin, for healthy functioning. It is a gentle form of vitamin A that is safe for use on the skin and promotes cell renewal, plumps up the skin, brightens up the complexion, and enhances collagen production.

The cosmetic application of retinol and retinoid was realised in the early 1970s with the use of retinoid for acne treatment as it helped in the cell renewal process and in unclogging blocked pores.

Over the next few years there was recognition for the other benefits of these vitamin A derivatives and so began the use of it for reducing the results of ageing. It is now commonly found in many anti-ageing serums and creams that are available at drugstores or beauty stores.

The concentration of the ingredient varies in different products and higher concentrations are more potent than lower ones.

How often should Retinol be used?

Dermatologists advise starting using the lowest concentration first to slowly condition the skin and make it adaptable to retinol’s topical application. The ideal frequency, to begin with, is one to two times a week. The frequency can be built up over the next couple of weeks depending on how is skin is reacting and responding to it.

It is best to apply Retinol like this as it breaks down in sunlight rendering its application useless for the skin. Apply the serum-containing retinol to freshly cleansed face and neck (damp or dry) and massage the serum into the skin. A moisturiser can be applied on top of it if your skin needs extra hydration.

Suggested Article: Facial Acids: How to Introduce Retinol and Acids Into Your Skincare Routine.

woman having Retinol applied to face with an orange makeup brush.

Dermatologists also recommend applying a moisturiser and sunscreen with SPF 30 in the mornings.  Doing so will keep the skin nourished, hydrated, as well as protected while you are using any retinol-based product. 

Products with lower concentrations are least reactive but can produce some redness, dryness, and skin peeling. If the effects are unbearable, consult a dermatologist to understand how you can tone down the usage or use an alternative for your sensitive skin.

Suggested Article: How to Choose the Right Sun Protection for You.

How does Retinol Benefit the Skin?

Retinol converts into retinoic acid within the skin and this brings about many positive changes in the skin’s health and appearance. The benefits of using retinol on the skin are plenty and are highlighted below:

a woman standing in front of a mirror, with her hair wrapped in a towel as she applies her skin care products.

Cell Rejuvenation

Retinoic acid is a part of the cell reproduction and renewal process. Applying it on a regular basis helps to speed up this process that slows down with ageing. New skin cells are formed promptly keeping the skin young-looking and healthy.

Collagen and Elastin Production

Like the cell renewal process, the production of collagen and elastin also lowers with age. Retinol gives their production process a boost and this starts to show up on the skin in the form of increased suppleness and plumpness. The skin appears firm and does not sag as easily.

Diminishes Fine Lines and Wrinkles

An effect of the collagen and elastin production can be on display via fine lines and wrinkles. These are all common signs of ageing skin. They start to fill up as the skin becomes plump. Using retinol can also work a preventive measure of the development of wrinkles in the future.

Improves Blood Circulation

Since retinol is an active part of various skin processes, it takes a part in boosting the blood circulation to the skin’s surface. It helps form new blood vessels giving your skin a rosy, flushed appearance naturally.

two female models posing with blush/rose cheeks.

Reverses Photodamage

Key processes in the skin that reverses photodamage increase by retinol usage as it partakes directly in them.

Lightens Hyper-pigmented Areas Or Spots

Retinol interrupts the process of melanin production, thus bringing about lightening of any hyper-pigmented regions. Freckles, age spots, and pigmentation of other kinds fade away with consistent retinol usage.

Reduces Pore Size

The improvement in the cell renewal and regeneration process by retinol impacts enlarged pores, as well as causing them to shrink in size.

a close up of a person's face with enlarged pores on their cheek, which can reduce with products like Retinol.

Improves Complexion

With better blood circulation and reduced melanin production, the overall skin tone improves as well.

Treats Acne

Retinol, and other forms of vitamin A, can assist in keeping the pores unclogged. Therefore aid in reducing the incidence of acne.

closeup of a woman's face, as she holds a facial oil dropper to her cheek.

Enhances Skin Texture

Betterment of key skin cell processes, especially improved collagen production, helps to make the skin smoother and softer.

Reduces the Chances of Acne Scars

With the reduced incidence of acne and an upgraded cell renewal process, acne scars form rarely with retinol usage.

Suggested Article: Clogged Pores: How to Prevent and Minimize Congested Pores for Smooth Skin.

How Can Retinol Affect Sensitive Skin, If Not Used Properly?

Those with sensitive skin will know how common it can be to develop irritations easily. Reactions may be towards many topical creams, lotions, and other products. It tends to become red and inflamed easily and this can be accompanied by rashes, bumps, acne, and sometimes even boils.

Retinoid products can cause reactions, especially during the first couple of days.  The irritation developed is termed as a ‘retinoid reaction’ and is characterised by dryness, skin peeling, burning sensation, and redness of the skin.

Many people with other skin types also commonly develop a retinoid reaction. Those who have sensitive skin need to be extra careful when using retinol for its benefits.

Suggested Article: Lighten Pitted Acne Scars and Body Blemishes with Natural Home Remedies.

Common Side Effects of Retinol

Using retinol incorrectly can lead to reactions and side effects. Some of the most common symptoms include:

  1. Erythema (skin redness)
  2. Inflammation or swelling
  3. Top layers of skin start to peel or flake
  4. Extreme dryness
  5. Rashes
  6. Pruritus (irritation and itchiness)
  7. Burning sensation
  8. Acne breakouts

It should be noted that in many cases, the side effects of retinol usage are temporary. They should start to fade away in a few weeks. This is because, during the first two to six weeks, the skin needs to become accustomed to this new topical product that you are using. It’s good to remember that retinol is involved in important cellular processes and its application can impact them strongly in the beginning to produce the reactive effects.

How to Use Retinol on Sensitive Skin

Don’t let the possible side effects of a retinoid reaction scare you! You should definitely think about adding this wonder ingredient to your skincare routine. Your sensitive skin can benefit from the positive effects of retinol, just be sure to you use it the right way.

Start off by using a gentle cleanser on your face. This aids in the removal of dirt, grime, excess oil, and makeup from the day. Dab a soft washcloth to dry the skin and then take a pea-sized amount of retinol in between your fingertips. Begin the retinol application with your forehead and then apply it on your cheeks, nose, and chin. Skip the corners of your eyelids, nose, and mouth as retinol can easily pool up in these folds and cause irritation.

woman touching her face whilst looking at her reflection.

How to Ensure You Use Retinol Safely.

To further help your sensitive skin, use a hydrating moisturiser in conjunction with your retinol cream or serum.

There are many ways to do this:

  1. Add the retinol cream to your moisturiser and mix them together before applying the concoction to your face
  2. Apply the moisturiser on top of your retinol product, ideally after 10-20 minutes
  3. Put on the moisturiser before you apply the retinol cream
  4. Apply the moisturiser both before and after applying the retinol cream

All of these methods will ensure that the skin has protection. With the added hydration, the chances of any reactions developing due to the retinol are minimised.

Do not forget to use a moisturiser and sunscreen the next morning to keep your skin nourished and protected.

woman rubbing moisturiser into her skin - moisturising for acne-prone skin

Also, to begin with, you should only use retinol for just one night in the first week.  Then, gradually, move on to using it twice in a week. If your skin seems to be tolerating it well, you can amp up the frequency to three times a week. In a few months, you can also progress to using retinol every night. If you are still sceptical about retinol directly from the beginning, use a retinyl ester or retinaldehyde containing product as these are milder versions of it. Once the skin becomes accustomed to them, you can replace them with retinol cream.

Wanting to start a skincare routine in your 30s but not sure where to start? Check out our article on How to Take Care of Your Skin in Your 30s!

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