Can retinol make your wrinkles worse_girl applying retinol

Can Retinol Make Your Wrinkles Worse?

Aging happens to everyone, but thankfully, we live in a time when there are countless products to slow the effects of time on your skin. Retinol is one of the most common anti-aging ingredients today, but if you ask around, you might hear just as many horror stories as you hear positive reviews.

Can retinol make your wrinkles worse?
Retinol can temporarily make your wrinkles worse while your skin adjusts or if you are using it improperly. If it is overused or used alongside other compounds that make your skin more sensitive, they can make your wrinkles look more noticeable by making your skin dry, flaky, and red.

Even though retinol can do the exact opposite of what many people use it for, it’s easy to incorporate into your skincare routine to get amazing results. To understand how it can smooth your wrinkles, it’s helpful to know what retinol actually is.

What is Retinol_vitamin A

What Is Retinol?

When someone says they’re using retinol, they aren’t referring to one specific chemical. Retinols are a group of compounds derived from vitamin A and have varying strength levels.

There are over the counter versions all the way up to prescription creams and pills.

Retinol works by stimulating the production of collagen in the skin, which increases the rate of skin cell turnover; this leaves you with skin that has fewer fine lines and better elasticity and firmness – in other words, more youthful skin.

Retinol doesn’t just reduce the signs of aging. It’s also used to fight and prevent acne, as well as lighten hyperpigmentation.

It’s also one of the most studied and scientifically proven anti-aging compounds, having come on the market in the early 1970s. All in all, it is considered safe by dermatologists. But having said that, there are still risks to using it.

Can Retinol Damage Skin?

When used properly, retinol doesn’t damage the skin in the long run. However, it can temporarily cause side effects such as:

  • Flaking skin
  • Redness
  • Severe dryness, which increases the visibility of wrinkles and fine lines
  • Itching

Obviously, these side effects aren’t what anyone wants when using a new product, especially one that’s supposed to make your skin better.

Luckily, these side effects go away after your skin adjusts (assuming you’re using it properly, which we’ll get into shortly.)

There aren’t long term negative side effects of using retinol. Some professionals used to believe that because retinol increases skin cell turnover, it would make skin thinner or cause skin cancer. These are myths—if anything, it strengthens skin over time and keeps skin healthy.

Can Retinol Make Skin Worse_dryness

How Do You Use Retinol Safely?

Knowing the side effects of retinol has probably made you ask how you can use retinol in general. How do you incorporate retinol into your skincare routine?

Determine Your Goals

This step is straightforward but necessary. What do you want your retinol to do, and at what rate? You can use retinol to erase fine lines or to prevent them. You might have fine lines and acne.

Maybe you have an event in a few weeks where you’d like to have glowing skin, or maybe you’d just like to start improving your skin for the long haul. Knowing what you’d like your retinol to do and how quickly will help you pick the right product for your needs.

Choose the Right Product

Picking the right product for you has a lot of elements to it, especially since there are so many products claiming so many things. How do you know what works for you and what doesn’t?

Besides the price and brand, here’s what to consider when picking your retinol:

  • Your Skin Type – Creams tend to work better for people with dry skin, while gels work better for people with oily skin.
  • Other Active Ingredients – If you want the product to do more than reduce signs of aging, look for active ingredients that complement retinol and help you with the other skin issues you’d like to work on.
  • Your Skin’s Sensitivity – If you have dry, sensitive skin, you probably shouldn’t go for a product with a high percentage of retinol, but if your skin can handle it, you probably have more options.

This article may contain affiliate links which means I could make a small commission if you purchase anything using one of the links. The price you pay will not be affected. It helps me run this website and write these articles for you.

Since there are so many products with retinol, it’s impossible to cover every combination and niche for every skin type out there.

You can either buy a cream with retinol or opt for a serum with a higher concentration of retinol, adding it to your night skincare routine. After applying the serum, you can use your night cream or oil as usual.

I personally prefer serums containing at least 1% of retinol, like this COSMEDICA Retinol Serum 2.5% with vitamin E and other plant extracts. I like that it’s organic and in a dark bottle.

Look at the Rest of Your Skincare Routine

If you’re a skincare junkie, you probably have a cabinet full of products. But beware—some products, especially exfoliating products, don’t mix well with retinol and can cause serious irritation.

Avoid mixing the following with retinol:

  • AHAs (alpha-hydroxy acids)
  • BHAs (beta-hydroxy acids)
  • Benzoyl Peroxide
  • Vitamin C
  • Physical exfoliants, like scrubs

All of these ingredients dissolve the top layer of skin, while retinol causes faster skin cell turnover, meaning you might do more harm than good if you use both at the same time.

If you’d like to use both retinol and one of these compounds, make sure that you get used to your retinol first and use them on different days.

Remember: More isn’t Always Better – Be Patient!

When you first start using retinol, your skin will probably go through a “purging” phase with all the side effects mentioned above—skin peeling, redness, and so on. Because of this, it’s best to start very slowly with your retinol; you should start using it every other night at first, then more frequently as your skin gets used to it.

The adjustment period usually lasts two to three weeks. If you find that you’re still suffering from peeling and redness after that, you might be using too much product. Usually, these products are potent, so don’t use too much too often. Check the individual product you use or ask your doctor or dermatologist to see how much to use.


Is It Safe to Use Retinol Daily?

As mentioned above, using a retinol daily right when you start using one for the first time might lead to a rough adjustment period. It’s best to build up a tolerance to it by using it every other day until your skin can handle it.

However, once your skin adjusts, it’s safe to use retinol daily.

Girl applying sunscreen on her face

Wear Sunscreen

Protecting your skin from sun damage is key to preventing aging, whether you use retinol or not. But it’s especially important when you’re using retinol because some dermatologists believe they can make your skin more sensitive to the sun’s rays.

Others refuse that claim, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t use sunscreen. Retinols are very photo-sensitive, meaning that the sunlight can lessen their impact.

Either way, wear sunscreen every day to protect your anti-aging efforts and the health of your skin.


Should You Use Retinol On Your Neck?

If you use any product on your face, it’s good for the skin on your neck as well! Just as your face ages, so does your neck. Unfortunately, people tend to neglect their necks until signs of aging start popping up.

Use your retinol (and your sunscreen, moisturizer, and cleanser) on your neck and chest to keep your neck just as youthful as your face.

Final Thoughts

Retinols are a safe and effective way to reduce wrinkles and improve your skin overall. With some careful research and proper use, they can make your skin look fresher and younger for longer.

If you want to read more tips on anti-aging, here is my article Anti Aging Beauty Hacks That Actually Work.



















40 thoughts on “Can Retinol Make Your Wrinkles Worse?

  1. At first glance it would definitely appear to be a “side effects are worse than the symptoms” scenario. I’m glad it’s not necessarily true.

    I never cared much about beauty products in the past (for obvious reasons) though my wife and I have started taking better care of our skin.

    Is there anything you would recommend for someone with large pores?

    1. Thanks for this question, James. Making large pores smaller is possible but it takes time and a good skincare routine. I would recommend washing the face twice a day, morning and before bed time, using a gel cleanser, and  exfoliate once a week. After cleaning the skin just use a moisturizing cream. 

      A clay mask applied once a week also helps.

  2. Hello dear, this is really an awesome article on retinol. I have actually heard a lot about this product, I am actually thinking of trying it out because I feel its exactly what my skin needs which prompted me into making more research on it. Anyways thanks for the informations given retinol and also how to use it properly. Now I have all the answers to my questions.

    1. I’m glad I could help. I have very good experience with retinol, haven’t experienced any of the negative effects but some people do so it’s always good to know what to expect and how to use or not to use a product.

  3. Hello there, thank you for this very detailed information on retinol, I understand that this must have taken a lot of diligent and thorough effort to put it all together. I now understand the reason why my wife’s wrinkles are getting worse despite using retinol is because she’s not using it the right way, I’m sharing this with her immediately. Thank you very much for sharing this information.

    1. I’m glad I could help. I personally have very good experience with retinol and haven’t experience any of the side effects described in the article but it’s good to know how to use retinol properly.

  4. Nice article you have got there on ” retinol”.

    I understand from your article that retinol is effective in anti-aging but can act exactly the opposite than the reason you got it at first, then shortly after the negative effects fade away. But my question is, the duration of time for the negative effects to fade away, does it vary with skin type? And at what point should one panic?


    1. Thank you for this question, Lizzy. Just like everything, it definitely varies based on the skin type i.e. some people have very sensitive skin and experience negative effects with products other don’t . I personally haven’t had any of the described side effects when I started using retinol in my evening skincare routine but there are girls who did. 

      In my opinion, if you experience light redness and a little bit dry skin with flaking when you start using retinol, it is ok but it redness shouldn’t last for a long time. When you wake up in the morning, the skin should look normal. You can always stop using it for a day or two and then start again and see what happens.

      If you have a feeling the reaction of your skin is too strong, then stop using it and ask your dermatologist for advice. 

      But as I said, I didn’t experienced any negative effects as I’ve been using retinol the recommended way, at night time without combining it with other active ingredients. 

  5. Thank you for this article on retinol. It is very good that you exactly explain what it is and the side effects if it is used improperly. I was caught by this article because if I have understood correctly, you can use it also before any signs of aging appear, is it correct? I am very interested in this – especially because I am scared of future aging signs on the neck!  

    1. You are right and many women do that. I wish I had known all I know now and started using the anti aging ingredients ten years ago because it’s really hard to remove existing wrinkles like the 11 lines between the eye brows once they are deep. It’s better to start earlier!

  6. Really useful and thorough advice. I’m glad you highlighted how to use Retinol and what to expect from using it in terms of time frame and potential side effects.

    Also, at the end you mentioned not mixing Retinol with AHAs (alpha-hydroxy acids)
    BHAs (beta-hydroxy acids) and Benzoyl Peroxide, what types of products usually contain these?

    1. Benzoyl Peroxide is often used in products fighting acne, like cleansers, gels and spot treatments. Benzoyl Peroxide and retinoids cancel each others effects.

      AHA and BHA are chemical peels (exfoliants), also used for acne and blackheads and they can dry out skin and cause irritation. 

      It is good to keep in mind that all these chemical substances including retinoids can irritate the skin so it’s better to do a spot test before applying all over your face.  

  7. Hi there – Thanks for such an amazing piece on wrinkles and retinol. I know my mom uses retinol right now. It was good to read about safety guidance on retinol, good to know that retinol is generally safe and effective to reduce wrinkles. I will personally try this once a week and see how it reacts on my skin. 

    1. Yes it is generally safe and if you do a spot test and see if your skin isn’t too irritated, you should be ok. There are more and more products with retinol and some of them work really great, Recently I’ve found retinol under eye patches for crow’s feet and I’m very happy with the results.

  8. This is really an interesting article to talk about with my female friends, at least one. I would like to know, what comes first the sunscreen and then the retinol cream or vice versa. 

    It is so true that we, men, we really don´t care about our physical appearance, but improve muscles strength, so when it comes to face and less to say neck, it is a shame. I found this information very useful even though maybe for me it is too late, 63, think about enhancing the appearance of my face. But the article is very comprehensive and useful for someone that is going serious with getting a better face and neck appearance.

    1. Retinol should best be used before going to bed as a part of the evening routine. Then there is no need to put sunscreen on 🙂 
      Thanks for reading!

  9. Hi, Lenka,
    My skin is too sensitive, especially the skin on my face. It easily wrinkles so I started using something to fight against it a couple of years ago. Besides drinking plenty of water, sleeping well, and protecting my skin from the sun’s rays, I use a cream with retinol every night. I’ve seen some good results although I think it could be better.
    I hate having to put so much stuff on my face, but it is what it is. I also have to put on an anti-redness cream since I’m prone to rosacea.
    Thanks for sharing. I’ll be bookmarking for future reference.

    1. Hi Enrique,
      I know what you mean. I would also be happier if I didn’t have to put any special creams on my face but on the other hand it’s good that nowadays we have these things to help us achieve a better-looking skin and solve the issues. Retinol is indeed a great help when it comes to wrinkles. Food, exercise and state of mind plays its role too though.
      Thank you for sharing your experience.

  10. Hello there thanks for sharing this review, it was really helpful. In my opinion, I think we should be very careful about what we apply to our skin when we try to beautify the skin or fight against wrinkles. It’s always good to do diligent research before trying something out because it can be an unpleasant surprise then. Also, even when it works, it might take a long time to see the results. 
    I wonder what you think about the red light therapy that is becoming so popular now?

    1. I think red light therapy is really effective as the infrared light enters the deep layers in the skin and promotes collagen production. Actually, I’ve ordered a LED light facial massager to try it on my skin because I’m really convinced it helps.
      I will definitely write about it and also make a video for my YouTube channel What You Need For Beauty.

  11. Basically, we need to be careful with everything we apply to the skin and follow the enclosed instructions carefully. I like that retinol in addition to reducing the signs of aging is also used to fight and prevent acne. This has been my problem since I was a teenager. I read your article with great interest, as you wrote a lot of tips and useful information about the right choice of products with retinol, how to use it safely, and what to avoid mixing with retinol. Thanks!

  12. Aging is just a reality of life that most people especially women don’t want to accept. Either with cream or not, age and nature will always tell but I must say that this article about retinol is an amazing one because it’s not biased, advantages and disadvantages are well explained, and the later effect and adjustment as well. Thank you for sharing this.

    1. You are right, Sharon, that aging can’t be stopped completely and we should accept that it exists. However, it makes a big difference if we do care for our skin, use products that make our skin happy, massage our skin, do sports, have good nutrition, etc. I can see on my mom who is 80 years of age that good skincare makes a difference. She has never had any special treatment at a beautician or any surgery but she’s always used moisturizing creams with ingredients that improve the skin structure and prevent drying.

  13. This is a very excellent article on Retinol. I always heard about this skin care product Retinol and always had this perception that it does more harm than good. But you have changed my mindset completely about it and showed me that it will produce great results if used properly. My opinion is that a lot of people need to see this article so they can understand the importance of using this product in the best possible way. I have all the answers to my questions. Thank you for this article. 

    1. I’m glad you find the answers to your questions. Retinol really is one of the best ingredients in skincare that has anti-aging effects, that’s why it is also recommended by doctors, dermatologists, and beautificians. I personally use retinol in my evening skincare routine as well, after cleansing my skin and before applying a cream or facial oil, and I can confirm it brings results.

  14. Hi there,

    I never knew that retinol can have side-effects in the beginning. Hence why I got all the dry and flaking skin when I used a beauty product with Retinol in it. So it’s just a matter of perseverance and try to push true then, till it goes away? Or could I hide it with another product in the meantime while the side-effects go away? 

    And what kind of product would you advise please on a skin that is already very sensitive and dry? That would really be helpful!


    All the best,


    1. Hi Lizzy,
      retinol is really one of the best ingredients in anti-aging, together with hyaluronic acid. If your skin is very sensitive, you could try bakuchiol instead, which is also a retinoid but not so strong.
      Another option is, instead of using a retinol serum, is rosehip oil with retinol, the concentration is not so high and it works very well. I have a good experience with this Organic Rosehip Oil.

  15. This is really useful and thorough advice ….I’m happy you listed out how to use retinol and what to expect in terms of time frames and side effects which will be very helpful so as to guide users on how to use the product and when to use it …as clearly stated it’s better to use it before the main signs of aging appear on our face. 

  16. I have sisters and half-sisters. Some light skin and some dark skin. Collagen seems to do better for the dark skin, why is that I think it is family genes. I am 62 very few wrinkles and my half brother is light skin just 65 looks about 15 years older. What do you say about things such as that and I know many other men and women the same anti-aging products made them wrinkle badly.

    1. You are right that people with dark skin wrinkle less than people with white skin. I don’t know why’s that.
      I agree that genes play a big role in wrinkles. However, I wouldn’t say that any anti-aging product if used properly would cause wrinkles. It’s the lifestyle and nutrition that matters the most.
      For instance, I know several women who do jogging or other outdoor sports and have very nice skin (at the age of 50 ish). However, if they didn’t use the right cosmetics products for their particular skin type, they wouldn’t look that good. If you ask me, I believe that if I didn’t use the skincare I use, I would have more wrinkles.
      I can also see the results of good skincare on my mother who is 80, her skin is very dry so she’s been using high-quality creams all her life and she looks about 15 years younger.

  17. I always thought that retinol was only for wrinkles and didn’t know it could also help hyperpigmentation and acne. Thank you for highlighting all the side effects to look out for especially when starting to use retinol.

    Another thing I was surprised to read is that you shouldn’t mix vitamin C with retinol. I think that I have been doing this unknowingly, as my night cream has retinol and the serum I use has vitamin C.

    I don’t seem to have had any bad effects from doing this, should I rather not?

    1. I would rather avoid using them together. Retinol is great to be used at night (and should be actually not used before you get out in the sun), while vitamin C is perfect for the day time so if I were you, I would use the vitamin C serum in the morning routine and maybe get a retinol serum for the evening routine. 

  18. Thanks, this is very useful information. Sometimes, I use my serum (which contains retinol) with toner (which contains AHA BHA). Since it can have side effects, it shouldn’t be used at the same time, right? Although, I never really experience side effects when using both. Is it better to just continue my skincare routine if I never experience side effects? Thanks

    1. Using retinol together with AHA and BHA is a common irritating combination but if you never experience any problems then your skin is probably tolerant to it and you don’t have to worry about it.

  19. It’s good to know that retinol can worsen one’s wrinkles at the beginning. Aging is something no one can avoid, but thanks to modern-day technology and innovations, one can try to reduce the rate at which the body gets old. Anyway, it is very important to be careful of what is being used on the body and avoid using some ingredients that don’t go well together to prevent damage, just like you have pointed out.

    1. Yeah, it’s always good to be informed, that’s why I always do research before I buy anything and start using it on my skin.

  20. I totally agree that with proper use of retinol you can get great skin quality results. Many other things contribute to the quality of the skin, such as the way you eat and stress, as well as the overall care, but with the right products and the right way to use them, great results can be achieved.

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