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’re 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?
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 hyper pigmentation.
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’s 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
- Severe dryness, which increases the visibility of wrinkles and fine lines
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.
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 straight forward 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.
Pick 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 retinols 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.
Since there are so many products with retinol, it’s impossible to cover every combination and niche for every skin type out there. However, here are a few well-reviewed, easily accessible options:
- Neutrogena Rapid Wrinkle Repair Moisturizer
- RoC Retinol Correxion Deep Wrinkle Night Cream
- CeraVe Anti-Aging Retinol Serum
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 retinols 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 retinols cause 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 a 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.
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.
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.