As effective as retinol may be in reversing damage, the way you apply it can impact the results you see, given that it can dry out the skin and cause irritation. It requires caution and appropriate knowledge to harness its full potential safely. Whether you are a retinol novice or a regular user, discover here the five most common retinol-related mistakes that you should avoid when incorporating it into your skincare routine and which could do more harm than good to your skin.
Retinol: 6 mistakes to avoid.
- Mistake No. 1: Applying a retinol treatment in the morning
- Mistake No. 2: Applying too much retinol to one's skin
- Mistake No. 3: Applying retinol on damp skin
- Mistake No. 4: Forgetting to apply retinol to the neck
- Mistake No. 5: Being impatient and not allowing enough time for the retinol to work
Mistake No. 1: Applying a retinol treatment in the morning.
Direct sunlight can degrade retinol and compromise its activity. During photoirradiation, retinol absorbs light energy in the UVA and UVB range (315 to 400 nm) which leads to a redistribution of charges and a modification of bond order. This excitation of retinol or its esters by UV light generates a number of reactive oxygen species, including singlet oxygen and the superoxide radical anion. However, these by-products can have a pro-oxidant activity and damage a number of cellular targets, including lipids (lipid peroxidation), DNA and proteins. Therefore, it is preferable to include retinol-based care in the evening, but it can be safely applied in the morning if the formula has been designed for this purpose (encapsulation of retinol, etc.)
The photodegradation of retinyl esters induced by sunlight is faster than that of retinol.
Mistake No. 2: Applying too much retinol to one's skin.
Some may be tempted to use a large amount of retinol or a high concentration of retinol in order to achieve better results quickly. On the contrary, retinol requires careful application and gradual introduction. Using more than this will further sensitise the skin and increase the risk of dryness, flaking, irritation and redness. Follow the instructions on the product label and stick to a quantity the size of a small pea across the entire face, this is more than sufficient.
Another mistake is to exaggerate the frequency of use and the dosage of retinol. Your skin needs to become accustomed to this new ingredient. Applying high concentration retinol every evening can compromise the skin barrier and irritate your skin. If you are a beginner, start with a product with a low concentration of retinol twice a week, then increase to three times a week after two months. Once your skin has built up a tolerance for regular use, you can use it every other day or even daily depending on your needs and adjust the concentration according to your skin.
Mistake No. 3: Applying retinol on damp skin.
While some products work better when applied to damp skin for improved absorption, this rule does not apply to retinol care. Applying it to damp skin potentially allows the retinol to penetrate deeper into the skin, which could potentially lead to increased irritation, although this has not been proven.
What to do?
During the drying process, remove as much water as possible before applying a retinol treatment. However, it is not necessary to wait 30 minutes after cleansing to apply retinol.
Mistake No. 4: Forgetting to apply retinol to the neck.
Thinner than the rest of the face, the skin on the neck is a delicate area vulnerable to external aggressions. Less rich in lipids, subjected to slower cellular renewal and constantly solicited by movements, the neck region is one of the body areas most sensitive to skin ageing and shows signs more rapidly (horizontal wrinkles, loss of firmness, crepey appearance, etc.). However, some people only apply retinol to the face, neglecting the neck region. Yet, a recent clinical study has revealed a statistically significant improvement in the signs of ageing on the neck after 12 to 16 weeks of topical retinol application.
What to do?
Take a small amount of the retinol treatment into the palm of your hand and warm the product by rubbing your palms together. On clean, dry skin, start with your neck applying pressure with the palms of your hands and gradually move up towards your face (cheeks, forehead, chin, temples).
Mistake No. 5: Being impatient and not allowing enough time for the retinol to work.
Every cosmetic product requires a minimum application time before seeing results, and the same applies to retinol. It will not transform your skin overnight. It takes time to see visible results. It is also not necessary to increase its use in favour of faster results, as this can do more harm than good to your skin.
With consistent use of retinol, you will start to notice significant changes generally within 3 to 6 months with over-the-counter products. Our advice: whether it's for issues of hyperpigmentation, blemishes, or skin ageing, don't have unrealistic expectations, be patient and don't give up too soon.
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FU P. P. & al. Photodecomposition and phototoxicity of natural retinoids. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health (2005).
HOWARD P. C. & al. Photoreaction, phototoxicity, and photocarcinogenicity of retinoids.
Journal of Environmental Science and Health (2007).
WAMER W. G. & al. Photodecomposition of vitamin A and photobiological implications for the skin. Photochemistry and Photobiology (2007).
LYNCH S. & al. Evaluation of a retinol containing topical treatment to improve signs of neck aging. Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology (2023).