The Myths & Facts of Retinol with Before & After Pictures (2023)

My top requested—and personal favorite—skincare ingredient isretinol.

The benefits of this powerhouse ingredient are pretty much endless. Retinol is proven to encourage cellular turnover, stimulate collagen, treat acne, soften wrinkles, fade pigmentation and give the skin a youthful glow. Sign me up, right?!

While retinol products are my best-selling and among my most effective products, they also prompt a lot of questions. As with any trending skincare topic, word of mouth and uncredible sources have given these products a confusing (and sometimes bad) rap online.

So, while retinol is giving your skin clarity, I want to give you clarity on the myths around the hero ingredient - and the facts behind these crazy claims.

What isretinol vs. retinoid?

Let me back up and explain what retinol is before we dive into the chatter.

Retinol is a topical type of retinoid, the blanket term for vitamin A derivatives. Numerous rigorous studies show that retinolcreamimproves conditions associated with aging, like wrinkles and fine lines, by encouraging quicker skin cell turnover, preventing collagen breakdown and thickening the deeper layers in the skin where wrinkles form. Next to vitamin C, it’s one of the best preventative anti-aging ingredients. Retinol also stops excess sebum production, changes the skin’s responsiveness to stress and helps the skin adjust to hormonal fluctuations.

To phrase it simply, retinol is a topical form of Vitamin A that radically helps skin texture and imperfections while helping to improve your youthful glow.

Before and After Using Retinol-TCA-BlendPerfect Change Serum+Perfect Tone Pads

The Myths & Facts of Retinol with Before & After Pictures (1)

Myth vs. Fact

How long does retinol purge (aka retinol uglies) last?

Myth:If retinol causes irritation, stop using it completely.

Fact: People will often experience mild irritation (a sensitive feeling, pink, and dry, flaky skin) when they begin to use a retinol product—aka the“retinol uglies.”Retinol speeds up a natural cellular turnover process, so it can result in dry, flaky skin for 2-4 weeks at the initiation of treatment. This is NOT a sign that the ingredient isn't working for you, or that you should stop using it. Quite the opposite actually.

Thisretinol ugliesphase is very normal, and nearly everyone who starts a vitamin A derivative product will experience this. If you're only using retinol a couple of times a week, then each application is like the first time. The skin will just never adjust this way!

I recommend pushing through anymildirritation because the quickest way to get through thisretinol ugliesphase is consistent and continued use of the ingredient. What if it's more than mild?Then take a night or two off the product and hop back on when you feel ready. The best way to counteract this stage is to moisturize. Our most popular cream for healing dry skin isEnriched Biotherapy. It's a decadent cream that won't leave your skin feeling heavy or oily.

If you're new to retinol, the best way to slowly introduce it to your skin is to either use itevery othernight initially, or mix it with an oil-free moisturizer every night for the first few weeks. This is how I recommend usingPerfect Change Serum.With consistent use, the skin will build retinoid receptors to control the irritation.

Purging is another normal part of the introductory phase of retinol. With increased cell turnover, oil and dead skin cells trapped within pores will be cleared out much quicker than before. Purging can manifest as new blemishes that may last a couple of weeks. The treatment for this new breakout is the exact ingredient that is causing the breakout, so stick with it and be patient!

How long does retinol take to work?

Myth:Retinol transforms your skin overnight.

Fact:Patience is a virtue with retinol. Retinol can take up to a few months to show outward results on your skin. It’s worth the wait!

How does retinol work?

Myth:Retinol exfoliates.

Fact:One of the biggest rumors about retinol is that it is merely an extra-strong exfoliator. However, retinol works by enhancing collagen production and increasing the rate that the epidermal layer turns over and regenerates. As the epidermal layer regenerates, dead cells on the outer layer of the skin can flake, causing this common misconception. However, retinol is restoring the skin versus exfoliating it.

Let's digress for a second to discuss why the skin cell cycle matters so much. The skin cell life cycle slows as we age. It takes about 28 days for the average, middle-aged adult. As we grow older, this skin cycle slows to about 45-60 days in our 40s and 50s, and further slows to about 60-90 days in our 50s and 60s. Why do we care? As this process slows, dead cells accumulate on the surface of the skin causing sagging and collapse of structure or what we see as lines, wrinkles, and folds. Bacteria can become trapped causing blemishes and breakouts. Discolored and irregular cells can also become trapped causing spots and discoloration. When the outer surface of our skin is made of newer skin cells, it will feel softer and smoother and we will look more luminous with fewer lines and wrinkles. This is key!

Regular use of retinol can help maintain an average of28-day or faster replacement cycle for your skin cells and that will keep your skin looking youthful!

How to apply retinol?

Myth:The more retinol, the better!

Fact:Absolutely not! I recommend a pea-size amount for your entire face to prevent additional drying and peeling. When you apply this amount, pat the retinol product on to your skin. Rubbing the product in can increase any irritation.

What does retinol do for your skin?

Myth:Retinol thins the skin.

Fact:Dermatologists note that topical retinol actually thickens the dermal layer of the skin by regenerating it.

More on retinol vs. retinoid…

Myth:Retinol cannot be used on sensitive skin.

Fact:Sensitive skin types can experience more irritation during the introductory phase of application, but can benefit from lower-concentration products with consistent use. The skin will build retinoid receptors (proteins naturally found in the skin that act like shuttles to carry and release retinoids into the skin cells) to control the irritation. Note: People with oily skin tend to tolerate retinoids better. If you think your skin is too sensitive for a retinol, try0.5% Retinol Serum. This one is for you!

Retinol Before and After Photos

The Myths & Facts of Retinol with Before & After Pictures (2)

The Myths & Facts of Retinol with Before & After Pictures (3)

What is retinol good for?

Myth:Retinol is only good for fine lines and wrinkles.

Fact:Retinoids are great for fine lines and wrinkles, but they multitask too! It’s part of their magic. Retinoids work at a cellular level compared to a topical level, so they help with cellular turnover and generating a pristine epidermal layer. Consistent use of retinol will fade dark spots, smooth bumps (look at these before and afters above), decrease acne and imperfections and regulate oily skin. It really is an all-in-one solution.

Can you go in the sun when you’re using retinol?

Myth:You can’t go in the sun if you’ve used retinol.

Fact:Retinol can cause sun sensitivity because the fresh new skin on the surface is more vulnerable to UV rays. Retinol products are recommended to be used in the eveningbecause sunlight can deactivate the ingredient. Note: Retinoid products like retinol are actually well known to correct pre-cancers, slow the growth of existing skin cancer and and decrease the risk of developing new skin cancer. Just one more reason to get on the retinol train!

When to start using retinol?

Myth:Your twenties are too early to start using retinol.

Fact:Retinoids are scientifically proven to increase collagen production, which produces younger-looking skin. If you start to use a retinol product in your twenties, your collagen levels will remain higher and more productive as you age in comparison to your non-retinoid-using friends, whose collagen and elasticity levels will continue to diminish.

Did you know you begin to lose collagen in your mid-20s? By the age of 40, you lose approximately 1% of your collagen every year! This leads to a decrease in skin thickness by 7% every 10 years with loss of elasticity and the formation of fine lines and wrinkles.

I’m all about preventative skincare and skin treatments (likemicroneedling). So, find a retinol that you love and use it!

Why can’t you use retinol while pregnant?

Myth:Retinol is safe during pregnancy.

Fact:Unfortunately, you’re going to have to nix retinol from your routine during pregnancy! High doses of vitamin A can be harmful to an unborn child and cause birth defects. Check our what I recommendduring pregnancyin place of retinol!

The Myths & Facts of Retinol with Before & After Pictures (4)

How Do I Start?

So now you know you’re never too young to start with a retinol. It's never too late either!

I recommend kicking off your retinol treatment with either1% Retinolcream, or our best seller,Perfect Change Serum(which contains 1% retinol in combination with TCA, a chemical peel ingredient). Apply a diluted concentration for 2-4weeks before moving to an undiluted application when your skin adjusts.

If you’re looking for a higher dose of retinol (or a single product to take your skin to the next level) indulge inLiquid Gold1-2 times per week for ultra elasticity, bounce and brilliance.

And don’t forget to snap thosebefore and after retinolphotos!

As always, I’d love to answer any additional questions you may have about retinol. I could talk about it for days!


Dr. Zoe

Shop ourRetinol Serums,Perfect Change SerumandLiquid Goldfrom the PFAM store today.


Is 60 too old to start using retinol? ›

The good news is that it is never too late to start incorporating retinol into your skin care routine. People in the 60s and beyond have begun using retinol and still experienced results.

Can retinol make you look older at first? ›

This will make your skin look older and accentuate wrinkles” — which is probably not what you're going for when you start using the stuff. And there's no question that retinol makes your skin more sensitive to the sun.

Does retinol really work on wrinkles? ›

Retinol increases skin cell production (proliferation). It helps unclog pores. Retinol also exfoliates your skin and increases collagen production, which can reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, giving your skin a fresher, plump appearance.

What happens to your face when you start using retinol? ›

Most people who introduce retinol to their skin, experience severe breakouts, dryness, itchiness, and redness. The immediate side effects of retinol treatment can take the form of a surge in acne, blackheads, whiteheads, and rashes. This is termed retinol purging.

Will retinol help 70 year old skin? ›

Because retinoids help your skin make more collagen, they soften wrinkles and fine lines. They also stimulate new blood vessels, which can give your skin a rosy color. Retinoids also help fade age spots and smooth rough patches. Tretinoin (Retin-A) is a popular prescription choice for aging skin.

Is 70 too old to use retinol? ›

If you've surpassed your 20s and are concerned that you've missed your window for reaping the benefits of retinol, don't worry—it's never too late to start. Dr. Arthur says she's had patients who reported noticeable results after starting retinol in their 60s and 70s.

Does retinol tighten skin under eyes? ›

Does retinol help reduce bags under the eyes and puffiness? Absolutely. Retinol in Olay's Night Eye Cream not only makes the skin's texture appear more even, but it also makes the skin feel firmer.

What not to use with retinol? ›

Don't Mix: Retinol with vitamin C, benzoyl peroxide, and AHA/BHA acids. AHA and BHA acids are exfoliating, which can dry out the skin and cause further irritation if your skincare routine already includes retinol.

Does retinol tighten skin? ›

Engelman agrees: "Retinol is the most potent ingredient that helps build collagen and elastin, which leads to tighter, smoother skin." This mixture has the added bonus of hyaluronic acid, which "can smooth, firm, and tighten the appearance of the skin," Dr. Bowe says.

Why I stopped using retinol? ›

Dermatitis, erythema (redness), scaling/dryness, peeling, burning or stinging, and irritation of the skin are common adverse reactions reported with retinol use, and, in some cases, the reactions are so bad, that even at low concentrations it cannot be used by certain people.

Do you put retinol on before or after moisturizer? ›

To apply a serum with retinol correctly, smooth it onto clean skin after you cleanse and before your moisturizer. Your serum will have a thinner consistency than your moisturizer, which is what determines the application order.

Does retinol remove dark spots? ›

Retinol also stimulates collagen production, which is another way it diminishes dark spots. Not only will dark spots be reduced, but wrinkles and sagging skin will also begin to diminish, and the effects of retinol products will continue to work just as effectively over time.

How many minutes should I leave retinol on my face? ›

Retinol (leave to absorb for 10-20 minutes)

“It is important to leave a 10-20 minute wait time before applying the next product. Retinols are powerful antioxidants and it is important to allow it to fully absorb if you want to avoid your skin becoming sensitive,” says Dr Liakas.

Is it better to put retinol on damp or dry skin? ›


It's essential to make sure to wait until your skin is dehydrated before moving on to applying your retinol. If you use it on wet or even damp skin, there is a greater likelihood that you'll experience irritation. That is because cleansing the skin opens up the pores.

What not to do when starting retinol? ›

Don't use retinol with Vitamin C, benzoyl peroxide, and glycolic acid, which are other common skincare ingredients. If you want to take advantage of the benefits of these ingredients, make sure you use them in the morning rather than at night when you apply retinol to avoid skin irritation and redness.

How do you rejuvenate 70 year old skin? ›

When it comes to skin care in our 60s and 70s, dermatologists recommend making the following lifestyle changes if you haven't already done so.
  1. Bathe to relieve dry skin. ...
  2. Use a humidifier when the air feels dry. ...
  3. Wear gloves while doing housework and gardening. ...
  4. Protect your skin from the sun. ...
  5. Go fragrance free.
Sep 8, 2021

What does 65 year old skin look like? ›

Aging skin looks thinner, paler, and clear (translucent). Pigmented spots including age spots or "liver spots" may appear in sun-exposed areas. The medical term for these areas is lentigos. Changes in the connective tissue reduce the skin's strength and elasticity.

Should older people use retinol? ›

ANN ARBOR, Mich., May 21 -- Topical vitamin A (retinol) may improve fine wrinkles, collagen deficiency, and atrophy in the fragile skin of elderly patients.

What is the best skincare for over 70? ›

14 Beauty Products Dermatologists Swear By
  • Mature skin has unique needs. ...
  • Dove Beauty Bar. ...
  • Vaseline Intensive Care Advanced Repair Unscented Lotion. ...
  • Aveeno Active Naturals Skin Relief Moisture Repair Cream. ...
  • Cetaphil Restoraderm Body Moisturizer. ...
  • SkinMedica HA5 Rejuvenating Hydrator. ...
  • SkinCeuticals C E Ferulic.
Feb 16, 2018

How often should a 70 year old woman wash her face? ›

Washing your face twice daily is just as critical in your 70s as it was in your 40s. Instead of using harsh exfoliating cleansers, which can irritate sensitive skin, choose moisture-rich, creamy ones, says Piliang.

Do you use retinol forever? ›

Is it safe to use retinol every day? For most people, yes — once your skin is used to it, that is. That said, there are some people who may not want to use it frequently or at all.

What happens if you put retinol under eyes? ›

While the skin under your eyes is delicate and requires extra attention, using the correct retinol-infused eye care products under your eyes is a great way to tackle eye bags, wrinkles and dark circles. Since retinol targets the appearance of fine lines, wrinkles and crow's feet, it's often recommended for mature skin.

Can retinol reverse sagging skin? ›

#1 Retinol

Improved skin fullness – Retinoids stimulate collagen production, which helps diminish wrinkles and sagging, and leave skin looking fuller and tighter.

Should you put retinol on your neck? ›

Absolutely, retinol is without a doubt the most effective ingredient to use when wanting to target loss of firmness in the skin, including signs of sagging on the neck. Retinol can penetrate the lower layers on the skin and provides an increase in the production of collagen.

What cancels out retinol? ›

Retinoid or Retinol and Benzoyl Peroxide

“Benzoyl peroxide may deactivate the retinoid molecule,” says Dr. Sikora.

What medications react with retinol? ›

Medications that may interact with retinol and vitamin A include isotretinoin, antacids, tetracycline antibiotics, doxorubicin, omeprazole, neomycin, birth control pills, Targretin (bexarotene), blood thinners, cholestyramine, tretinoin, Soriatane (acitretin), other retinoids, and orlistat.

What pairs with retinol? ›

Good mix: Retinol pairs great with hydrating ingredients like hyaluronic acid, glycerine and ceramides, and calming ingredients such as niacinamide and Centella asiatica.

How can I firm up my saggy skin? ›

In this article, we discuss popular techniques for tightening loose skin and ways to prevent the skin from sagging.
  1. Exercise. Share on Pinterest Regular exercise may help skin age well. ...
  2. Firming products. ...
  3. Supplements. ...
  4. Massage. ...
  5. Nonsurgical procedures. ...
  6. Minimally invasive procedures.
Oct 3, 2019

How can I tighten my saggy face? ›

In-office procedures
  1. Laser peel. Laser skin resurfacing aims to promote collagen production in the deeper layers of your skin while peeling off your top layer of skin that'll improve the texture and tone. ...
  2. Ultrasound therapy. ...
  3. Microneedling. ...
  4. Botox. ...
  5. Kybella. ...
  6. Facelift surgery.
Aug 7, 2019

What vitamins make skin tighter? ›

Vitamin C. Vitamin C is an antioxidant that helps protect against oxidative damage and plays a role in the production of collagen, which helps keep skin firm and elastic. Particularly in topical applications, Vitamin C has been shown to decrease skin wrinkling and increase collagen production.

Why does my skin look so bad after retinol? ›

In theory, retinol makes your skin cell turnover faster. The increased cell turnover temporarily sloughs off more dead skin cells. This creates a lag time before new, healthy cells come to the surface of your skin. Your new skin is exposed before it's ready, and redness or discoloration, and irritation is the result.

Do dermatologists recommend retinol? ›

Retinol is a popular skin care ingredient known for its anti-aging benefits — and it's dermatologist-approved.

Does retinol age your skin? ›

Retinoids reduce fine lines and wrinkles by increasing the production of collagen. They also stimulate the production of new blood vessels in the skin, which improves skin color. Additional benefits include fading age spots and softening rough patches of skin.

What is the sandwich method of retinol? ›

A Retinol sandwich is just Retinol layered between two moisturiser treatments. Apply moisturiser on damp, cleaned skin to do this. Next, apply your Retinol product as indicated on the packaging, avoiding sensitive areas such as the eyes and mouth corners.

Should I put anything on my face before retinol? ›

Important Tips When Incorporating Retinol into Your Beauty Routine. Mix your retinol with your moisturizer, or apply your moisturizer first and then your retinol. Always use sunscreen the morning after you apply retinol. Your skin will be especially sensitive to sunlight, so it's important to protect it.

Can you put hyaluronic acid over retinol? ›

Retinol and hyaluronic acid are two popular skincare treatments people use for fine lines, wrinkles, and sensitive skin. Both are powerful agents that offer a range of benefits, so you may be wondering, “Can I use hyaluronic acid with retinol?” The short answer is yes, you can.

Which is better for dark spots retinol or vitamin C? ›

First, vitamin C works to help improve the look of dark spots, fine lines, wrinkles and sagging skin. Then, retinol steps in to help improve skin's elasticity. The result is that retinol and other retinoids may help improve skin's texture while helping to minimize the look of fine lines.

Is prescription retinol worth it? ›

Prescription retinoids are stronger and may be more effective than their OTC counterparts at reducing the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. This means they're also more likely to cause side effects.

Can you leave retinol on all night? ›

Retinol can be slightly inactivated by sunlight, making nighttime application ideal,” says Joshua Zeichner, a dermatologist at Mount Sinai Medical Center. Plus, because you aren't sweating or rubbing your skin as you sleep, overnight retinol can work its magic uninterrupted.

What moisturiser to use with retinol? ›

  • Differin Oil-Absorbing Moisturizer with SPF 30. ...
  • CeraVe PM Facial Moisturizing Lotion. ...
  • Vanicream Moisturizing Lotion. ...
  • Honest Beauty Hydrogel Cream. ...
  • CeraVe Moisturizing Cream. ...
  • Neutrogena Hydro Boost Gel-Cream. ...
  • Aveeno Calm and Restore Oat Gel Moisturizer. ...
  • La Roche-Posay Toleriane Double Repair Face Moisturizer.
Jun 13, 2023

Should you let moisturizer dry before applying retinol? ›

Step 2: Wait a few minutes until your skin is completely dry. This is important, because if your skin is at all damp, the retinol will be able to absorb more deeply into your skin and might cause irritation. We want to apply moisturizers and serums to slightly damp skin, but never retinol.

What to pair with retinol at night? ›

Recommended Usage of Retinol & Lactic Acid

Alternate them by using a retinol product at night and a lactic acid product in the morning—or use a retinol product one day and a lactic acid product the next.

Can you put retinol on lips? ›

Yes, a lip retinol can help you secure a fuller, smoother pout for longer—just make sure to choose a formula with lots of hydrating buffers to stave off irritation.

How do you know if retinol is working? ›

Retinol works for acne by preventing clogged pores. You may still see pimples for the first couple of months of treatment – your skin might even look worse (this is sometimes referred to as the retinol purge). But if you stick with it, you'll see clearer skin.

What happens to your face when you first start using retinol? ›

Most people who introduce retinol to their skin, experience severe breakouts, dryness, itchiness, and redness. The immediate side effects of retinol treatment can take the form of a surge in acne, blackheads, whiteheads, and rashes. This is termed retinol purging.

Is retinol too harsh for mature skin? ›

With repeated use, retinol products begin to thin out your skin and will eventually make you more susceptible to UVA rays. If you're not wearing adequate SPF all the time, with passing years you'll have more melasma, more discoloration... Plus, they can be way too harsh on the skin, even if you don't feel the redness.

Is retinol bad for mature skin? ›

Yes, retinol is safe for skin. It is one of the most recommended ingredients to counteract aging skin. Retinol may cause minor side effects such as redness and irritation. However, these side effects dissipate within a few weeks as the skin becomes used to the cell turnover rate.

Does retinol work on mature skin? ›

Retinol is one of the best-known skin care ingredients on the market. An over-the-counter (OTC) version of retinoids, retinol is derived (made from) vitamin A and is primarily used to treat mature-looking skin concerns as well as acne.

What age should you start using retinol for anti-aging? ›

Begin in Your Mid-20s or Early 30s

“Your mid-twenties are a great time to start using retinol,” says Ellen Marmur, M.D. “Many patients who have used it for years swear by it.”

Should over 50s use retinol? ›

Retinol works by stimulating fibroblast and collagen fiber production and improving skin elasticity. Retinol is also one of the best ways to “reduce the appearance of fine lines, crow's feet, and wrinkles,” says Henry. It's a must in your 50s if you haven't already been using it.

Do you put moisturizer on before or after retinol? ›

According to the Cleveland Clinic, if your retinol is irritating your skin, you should apply a thin layer of moisturizer before applying it to give your skin a little barrier. If your retinol is not irritating your skin, then depending on the formula, you can apply it before your moisturizer.

Do wrinkles look worse when starting retinol? ›

First, the answer is yes, retinol can make wrinkles worse, especially when you first start using it. What is happening is a drying effect, and one can get epidermal sliding from separation from the dermis.

What is the best treatment for 70 year old skin? ›

Skin care changes dermatologists recommend
  • Wash with a gentle, fragrance-free, moisturizing bar soap, cleanser, or body wash. ...
  • Use warm (not hot) water. ...
  • Use a soft cloth to wash your skin. ...
  • Keep your bath or shower short. ...
  • Pat water gently from your skin after bathing, but leave a bit of water on your skin.
Sep 8, 2021

Which is better for mature skin retinol or vitamin C? ›

While vitamin C is most notable for helping to brighten and improve hyperpigmentation, retinol is typically considered best-in-class for wrinkles and fine lines.

How long does it take for retinol to work on wrinkles? ›

However, it takes three to six months of regular use before improvements in wrinkles are apparent—and the best results take six to 12 months. Because retinoids can cause skin dryness and irritation, doctors often recommend using them only every other day at first and then gradually working up to nightly applications.

How long to leave retinol on face? ›

Retinol (leave to absorb for 10-20 minutes)

“It is important to leave a 10-20 minute wait time before applying the next product. Retinols are powerful antioxidants and it is important to allow it to fully absorb if you want to avoid your skin becoming sensitive,” says Dr Liakas.

Is 40 too late to start retinol? ›

It's Never Too Late to Start Using Retinol as an Addition to Your Skincare Routine. At any point in life, retinol is a positive ingredient for your skin, ultimately achieving outstanding results. You will start to see short-term improvements, and these will expand into long-term benefits over time.


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