Up until your early-30s, your skin cells turn over every 28 days. After you hit your mid-30s, your cell regeneration slows down, turning over every 50 to 70 days. That slower cell regeneration is what causes your face to look dry, dull, and wrinkled, in other words – old.
Retinol to the rescue! Being touted as the fountain of youth in a bottle, Retinol is considered the gold standard for anti-aging, as well as a great acne treatment. It can offer significant results.
But there is often an initial phase when using retinol for the first time, known as the “retinol uglies”. Sounds… lovely.
How long do the “retinol uglies” last? Typically they last from 5-20 days.
In this article we are going to look at why the “retinol uglies” are a common side effect of using retinol, and discuss how to minimize the length of the “retinol uglies”.
What is Retinol
Retinol (such as the Olay Regenerist shown above) is an umbrella term for products containing a vitamin A derivative. It’s an over-the-counter type of retinoid, of which there are several variations that work at different levels.
It’s used to treat fine lines and wrinkles, as well as acne.
It’s also been proven to minimize pigmentation and scar tissue.
How Retinol works
Retinol, however, is different in that the retinol molecules penetrate below the outer layer of your skin (epidermis) to the middle layer (dermis).
Retinol helps neutralize free radicals to boost the production of elastin and collagen. This creates a “plumping” effect that reduces the appearance of fine lines, wrinkles, and enlarged pores, while having an exfoliating effect on the skin’s surface that can further improve the tone and texture.
It is commonly used in combination with a serum.
For acne sufferers, Retinol also helps to keep pores unclogged by creating comedolytic agents to help prevent blemishes from forming.
The exfoliating properties that help to remove dead skin cells have a drying effect that can benefit oily skin by controlling excess production of sebum in your pores.
What are the “retinol uglies”?
The “retinol uglies” refer to the adjustment period after first starting a retinol regime. They occur as the retinol accelerates your cell turnover and the natural stripping away of the dead top layer. It is the process of the skin purging itself.
The good news is that not everyone experiences the “retinol uglies”! With luck, you won’t have to worry about it.
And different people will have different reactions, the most common of which are flaky, sensitive and red, irritated skin.
But this skin purge can also cause breakouts.
You may even feel a stinging sensation when applying other basic skincare products that would normally not irritate your skin.
Why does my skin look worse after using retinol?
People react differently to retinol when they start using it. That reaction will depend on your personal skin chemistry, and the concentration of retinol in the product you’re using.
During the initial stages of this process, the skin will purge. This can cause peeling, skin sensitivity, and breakouts,
A lot of people may mistake for an allergic reaction, but this is actually a sign of repair within the skin.
Essentially, this is what happens:
When you first start to use your retinol product, the retinol will bring all the build-up that’s trapped under the surface of your skin (aka microcomedones) to the fore, and can cause a breakout, and potentially dark spots.
How Long Do The “Retinol Uglies” Last?
The skin purge, or retinol uglies, usually begins a few days after you start to use the product. It can last from 5 days to as long as a few weeks.
What is important to remember is that retinol does not work overnight. It takes consistent use for several months before you start to see a real difference.
The “retinol uglies” are an unfortunate side effect that you just have to endure in order to reap the benefits.
However, there are things you can do during this initial adjustment period that will help minimize the retinol uglies.
How can I prevent the retinol uglies?
Everyone’s skin is different. And though some people may not be able to completely prevent the “retinol uglies“, there are some things you can do to make sure you minimize the effects.
The two most important things, if you are buying an OTC retinol product, are:
- Start with a product at the correct strength
- Go slow and steady
You will be less likely to suffer from the “retinol uglies”, or at least it won’t be as bad, if you ease your way into your retinol regime.
For dry, sensitive, it’s advised to start off with a concentration of 0.3%, like this one from Paula's Choice . This can be gradually increased in increments, every three months, until you meet your optimum dose, which should be about 1%, like this one from The Ordinary .
For normal skin, you can start at 0.5%, like and work your way up to 1.5%, like this one from No7 .
For those with a more oily complexion and robust skin type, you can start with a 1% concentration and work your way up to 1.5 % – 2.5%, like this one from Yeouth .
Ensure you apply the product to clean, dry skin. Wait a few minutes after you’ve cleansed and washed your face.
Start off by applying twice a week for two weeks.
Increase to three times a week for another two weeks. By week 5 you can apply every night.
Ensure that you are keeping your skin hydrated. Moisturizing is essential. Hyaluronic acid might help.
Using retinol makes you more photosensitive, so it’s very important to use a moisturizer with a high SPF as part of your daily routine.
Apply the moisturizer before you apply retinol. You can also mix the two together. This is likely to lessen side effects.
Try steaming your face before cleansing. This will help open up your pores and release trapped bacteria and lessen your chances of having a breakout type of reaction.
Just make sure the water isn’t too hot, but warm enough to let off steam.
Some of the top-recommended retinol serums and creams
How long do the “retinol uglies” last? Anywhere from 5 days to a few weeks depending on your skin and the strength of the retinol product.
You can minimize the purging effect by ensuring you are using the correct concentration for your skin type and by easing retinol slowly into your skincare regime.