How To Use Retinol On Sensitive Skin

Retinol, a breakthrough product in anti-aging, can help diminish the signs of aging.

Wrinkles and fine lines are a huge disadvantage that comes with aging.

And when you the added disadvantage of having sensitive skin, the problem seems even more difficult to deal with.

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

As each birthday passes, the effects of aging start to show themselves.

Fine lines, age spots, sun spots, hyperpigmented patches, and even deeper wrinkles start to develop on the face and neck.

Even other areas of the body start to show these signs slowly.

Anti-aging is a goal that every person wants to achieve and the products available in the market have definitely made this a manageable task.

Retinol is an ingredient found in many anti-aging products that 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.

And to add to that, reviews of retinol containing products seem to be irritating even people with other skin types.

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

What Is Retinol?

Woman pouring a skincare product from a bottle into her hand

Retinol is technically a derivative of vitamin A, an essential vitamin that is required by not just the body but also by 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 retinoids was realized in the early 1970s with the use of retinoids for acne treatment as it helped in the cell renewal process and in unclogging blocked pores.

Over the next few years, the other benefits of these vitamin A derivatives for the skin were noticed and it was used for anti-aging concerns thereon.

It is now commonly found in many anti-aging 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 it be Used?

A bottle of skincare product surrounded by candles and pebbles

However, 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.

Retinol is best applied 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 moisturizer can be applied on top of it if your skin needs extra hydration.

Dermatologists also recommend applying a moisturizer and sunscreen with SPF 30 in the mornings.

This will keep the skin nourished, hydrated, and protected while you are using a 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.

How Can It Benefit The Skin?

Woman holding a mirror and looking at her reflection in the mirror

Retinol is converted to retinoic acid in 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:

Cell Renewal

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 aging.

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 easily.

Diminishes Fine Lines And Wrinkles

An effect of the improved collagen and elastin production is seen on the fine lines and wrinkles, a common sign of aging skin.

They start to fill up as the skin become plump.

Using retinol can also work a preventive measure towards the development of wrinkles in the future.

Improves Blood Circulation

Since retinol (and its converted form) is an active part of various skin processes, the blood circulation to the skin’s surface is also affected by its application.

It helps form new blood vessels giving your skin a rosy, flushed appearance naturally.

A woman with her hands on her face and smiling

Reverses Photodamage

Key processes in the skin that reverse photodamage are enhanced by retinol usage as it partakes directly in them.

Lightens Hyperpigmented Areas Or Spots

The process of melanin production in the skin is interrupted by retinol thus bringing about lightening of any hyperpigmented 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 and cause them to shrink in size.

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 help to keep the pores unclogged and thus reduce the incidence of acne.

Enhances Skin Texture

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

Decreases The Chances Of Acne Scars

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

How Can It Affect Sensitive Skin If Not Used Properly?

Sensitive skin is known for developing irritations easily towards many topically used creams, lotions, and other products.

It tends to become red and inflamed easily and this can be accompanied with rashes, bumps, acne, and sometimes even boils.

Retinoid products are known to cause reactions, especially during the first couple of days.

The irritation developed is termed as a ‘retinoid reaction’ and is characterized by dryness, peeling, burning sensation, and redness of the skin.

Since people with other skin types also commonly develop a retinoid reaction, people who have sensitive skin need to be extra careful when using retinol for its anti-aging and other benefits.

Common Side Effects

When retinol is not used properly, reactions and symptoms can occur.

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. Pruritis (irritation and itchiness)
  7. Burning sensation
  8. Acne breakouts

In many cases, the side effects from retinol usage are temporary and 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.

Also, 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 It on Sensitive Skin?

A bottle of beauty product in a pipette bottle

Well, don’t let the effects of a retinoid reaction scare you from adding this wonder ingredient to your skincare routine.

Your sensitive skin can benefit from the positive effects of retinol too when you use it the right way.

Start off by using a gentle cleanser on your face to remove all the dirt, grime, excess oil, and makeup from the day.

Tap 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.

How to Ensure You Use It, Safley

Woman touching her face

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

There are many ways to do this:

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

All of these methods will ensure that the skin is protected.

With the added hydration and the chances of any reactions developing due to the retinol are minimized.

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

Kick off the retinol usage by using it just one night in the first week.

Then 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 thrice a week.

In a few months, you can also progress to using retinol every night.

If you are still skeptical 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 a retinol cream.

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