Help! How Do I Avoid Irritation When Using Retinol?

So, you’ve started out on your retinol journey—you’ve learned all about the different types of retinoids, you found the best formula for you and you may have even started to see some of the benefits. But, now you’re a few weeks in and your skin’s a bit…tender. “It is not uncommon for users of high-concentration retinol, especially first-time users, to experience temporary redness, dryness and flakiness while their skin is adjusting,” says Dr. Lucy Gildea, Chief Scientific Officer at Mary Kay. Thankfully there are a few things you can do to help the process go more smoothly. Here, a few tips on how to avoid irritation when using a retinol.

how to avoid irritation when using retinol
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When’s The Best Time Of Day To Use Retinol?

Retinol is traditionally used at night. The theory is that your skin repairs itself as you sleep, so any anti-aging ingredients you use will be more effective if you apply them before bedtime. Sunlight and retinol are also not BFFs: Exfoliation from retinol use increases the likelihood of sun sensivity. UV rays have also been thought to degrade retinol, decreasing its effectiveness. For this reason (and many others), a broad-spectrum SPF 30+ should be worn religiously every day of the year.

How Many Times A Week Should I Apply?

With any retinol product, start slow by alternating nights of application (or as your skin can tolerate) and then increase the frequency, once your skin adjusts. “Usually, your skin will adjust with time,” says Dr. Gildea. In fact, Mary Kay has created an eight-week retinization process that was developed in association with dermatologists to help to minimize potential discomfort from dryness and temporary redness that may occur when you first start using retinol. By gradually increasing exposure, so your skin has time to adapt to the potency of the formula.

Here’s an example of weeks 1-2: In the evening, cleanse and dry skin. Apply eye cream and wait approximately 5–10 minutes. Dilute a pea-sized amount (one pump) of Mary Kay’s new Clinical Solutions™ Retinol 0.5 with one pump of Mary Kay Clinical Solutions™ Calm + Restore Facial Milk. Apply mixture to forehead, cheeks, nose and chin in an upward, outward motion, avoiding the eye area. Allow for full absorption before applying other skin care products. Calm + Restore Facial Milk can be worn alone or under your moisturizer, and used morning, evening and throughout the day to soothe irritated skin.

During the following weeks, users increase the frequency of using Clinical Solutions Retinol 0.5. By the end of the eight-week period, you can begin to use Retinol 0.5 every night or as tolerated by your skin. At any point, you can always use the Calm + Restore Facial Milk if your skin is feeling dry.

“The introduction of retinol does not eliminate the need for cleansing and moisturizing or for the vitamins, antioxidants and peptides provided by your typical skin care regimen,” says Dr. Gildea. But Mary Kay does recommend avoiding physical and chemical exfoliators, as well as high concentrations of vitamin C (ascorbic acid) when retinizing. Once skin is retinized, you may reintroduce these products on evenings you are not using retinol, as tolerated by your skin. “Vitamin C, exfoliators, and retinol are types of products that all help promote healthy, glowing skin,” says Dr. Gildea.

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VP, Design + Branded Content

Angela Pares is the VP of Design + Branded Content at Gallery Media Group, where she oversees the ideation and execution of sponsored content campaigns across PureWow, ONE37pm and...