How to Save Your Skin If You’ve Overdosed on Retinol

Dry, flaky skin ahead of your wedding is so not a good look

Updated 06/14/19

Photo by Heather Waraksa

Whether you’re a retinol newbie or a well-seasoned user, there’s one thing we can all agree on: retinol is an amazing ingredient for your skin. It has the unique ability to fight fine lines, boost collagen, even pigmentation, fade dark spots, and it can even help to combat acne. It's pretty much the perfect addition to your pre-wedding skincare routine. However, there are some not-so-fun retinol side effects that can come with the ingredient if you accidentally overuse it. And it’s those retinol side effects that unfortunately put a lot of people off using it in the first place.

What causes retinol side effects?

"Retinol encourages cell division in the deepest (basal) layer of cells," explains cosmetic doctor, Dr. Mervyn Patterson. "Too much retinol will produce too much cell division, causing large numbers of immature cells to rise up to the surface without the proper bonds to hold them together."

When too many cells rise up to the surface, the skin can start to peel, as the lipids and bonds that are needed to hold them together haven’t yet formed. Without these protective bonds, other skincare products are also able to penetrate deeper than they’re supposed to, resulting in skin sensitivity, stinging, and redness.

How to combat retinol side effects

So what do you do if you’ve overdone it with retinol? Step one: don’t panic. Stop using the retinol and avoid any other skincare products that might aggravate your skin, like acids and exfoliators. Be mindful that anything you do use on your skin now has the ability to penetrate much deeper than usual, so try and avoid anything fragranced and look for calming products and ingredients like aloe and cica. Cica balms have been used for centuries to treat burns, cuts, irritation, and redness, so they're perfect at calming and soothing sensitized and irritated skin.

Retinol also makes your skin way more sensitive to UV rays, so it’s important to wear an SPF 50 daily, and try to keep your skin out of the sun as much as possible while it heals.

As for makeup, try to avoid applying it until pain and redness has reduced. When it comes to foundation and concealer, look for products with a silicone base, as they won't penetrate or react with the skin at a deeper level.

Reintroducing retinol

If you’ve had an adverse reaction to retinol before, it’s important to give your skin a break—but don’t completely eliminate the ingredient. When it’s time to reintroduce a retinol into your routine, consider starting with a lower-strength product and building up the potency (and your tolerance) gradually over time. A good starting point is 0.3 percent retinol. Only use it twice a week at first, and slowly build your tolerance over time. You only need a thin layer (a dime sized blob is enough if you’re just treating your face) and avoid any sensitive areas like your eyes and lips, as well as the creases around the sides of your nose as product can tend to gather here and can worsen flaking.

Here's everything you need to heal your skin from retinol side effects:

All products featured on Brides are independently selected by our editors. However, when you buy something through our retail links, we may earn an affiliate commission.

01 of 06

CeraVe Hydrating Facial Cleanser

Courtesy of CeraVe

Fragrance free and über gentle, this is an affordable cleanser that’s perfect for sensitized skin.

SHOP NOW: Target, $11.99

02 of 06

Kiehl’s Centella Cica Cream

Courtesy of Kiehl’s

Help skin repair itself with a blend of cica and centella asiatica to smooth dryness and calm irritation.

SHOP NOW: Sephora, $43

03 of 06

Mario Badescu Keratoplast Cream Soap

Courtesy of Mario Badescu

Keratoplast is a natural, botanical ingredient that helps to reduce redness and soothe sensitivity.

SHOP NOW: Mario Badescu, $12

04 of 06

Kiehl’s Calendula and Aloe Soothing Hydration Mask

Courtesy of Kiehl’s

Calendula helps to soothe irritated skin, while aloe vera nourishes and hydrates dry skin.

SHOP NOW: Sephora, $45

05 of 06

Peter Thomas Roth Cucumber Gel Mask Extreme Detoxifying Hydrator

Courtesy of Peter Thomas Roth

Perfect for dry and irritated skin, this cucumber gel mask from Peter Thomas Roth calms and soothes.

SHOP NOW: Sephora, $52

06 of 06

Colorscience Sunforgettable Total Protection Brush-On Sunscreen SPF 50

Courtesy of Colorscience

Protect skin from UV rays while evening out your complexion with a mineral brush-on formula that won’t penetrate or irritate skin.

SHOP NOW: Dermstore, $65

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