Signs You Should Stop Using Retinol

Anyone who keeps up with popular skincare options surely knows about retinol. An ingredient that can improve the look and feel of your skin, you might be eager to try it out for yourself. However, if you use or plan to use retinol, then there are a few things of which you need to be aware. These include certain myths about retinol that you need to ignore and the fact that you may react negatively to it.

For instance, thanks to retinol's strength, you should start slowly and easily in order to avoid potential problems. That means opting for a product that uses a lower percentage — such as .01% to 0.03% — as well as using a small amount of the product. On top of that, Whitney Bowe, M.D., a dermatologist in New York City, told Vogue, "[Use it] two times per week, slowly increasing the usage to give the skin a chance to acclimate. ... Balance is critical. Retinol can be very irritating if used too frequently or if the formulation is too strong for your skin."

If you've tried to take your time and you're still having icky issues, then you may want to watch out for signs that you should stop using retinol. That might mean that you need to put the retinol back in your cabinet for a short time in order to give your skin a rest or you might have to permanently give it up if the problem persists and is just too serious.

Irritated and sensitive skin

While you might experience a little irritation when you start using retinol, you may want to be wary of continuing to use the product if the irritation doesn't go away. On top of that, if you notice that your skin is becoming much more sensitive than usual, then this can also be a sign that you need to remove retinol from your skincare routine.

"Some patients jump into using retinols with too much excitement," Y. Claire Chang, M.D., from Union Square Laser Dermatology, told Glamour. "It's important to ease your way in to avoid excessive irritation. I always recommend a spot test before applying [it] to your whole face. Incorrect application and misuse can also lead to excess irritation."

If you've suffered from irritated or sensitive skin and suspect that it's due to retinol, then you need to stop using the product right away. This will give your skin time to rest, repair, and refresh itself. Chang added, "Use gentle cleansers and moisturizers in the meantime and avoid other irritating products like AHAs, BHAs, and benzoyl peroxide." If things don't improve, then it's time to visit a dermatologist to figure out what kind of TLC your skin needs and what products or specific ingredients might be better options for you to try out.

Skin discoloration

Among the many benefits of retinol, it can target unwanted dark areas of your skin. Mentioning everything from sunspots and melasma to acne scars and discoloration from eczema or seborrheic dermatitis, Dr. Corey L. Hartman, M.D., the founder of Skin Wellness Dermatology, told Bustle, "Dark spots appear after inflammatory conditions that damage skin cells and release pigment into the deeper level of your skin outside of the cells."

When you use retinol, it causes your cells to renew themselves which can lead to dark spots becoming lighter and fading to the point of fully disappearing. However, if you have a negative reaction to the ingredient, the dark areas may not go away and, in fact, the issue might get worse. You might also experience skin discoloration even if you hadn't been dealing with dark spots in the first place. Devika Icecreamwala, M.D., the founder of Icecreamwala Dermatology, explained, "If the retinol you're using is too strong for your skin causing inflammation, darker skin tones may have a higher risk of discoloration, or hyperpigmentation, from the use of it."

If this has happened to you, then it might be best to put the retinol aside and look for a different product.

Flaking and peeling skin

When you start using retinol, you may have to endure a few arguably annoying issues as your body adjusts. For instance, your skin may become flakey and even begin to peel off in the way it might if you were recovering from a sunburn. As retinol encourages your skin to turn over its cells quickly, it also prompts the old skin to fall away. Unfortunately, this can happen by flaking and peeling off. 

While this may be a normal part of the process, it should only be temporary. Apparently, you'll need to anticipate peeling and flaking for around four to six weeks. Of course, the exact amount of time will depend on different factors such as the amount and strength of retinol you've been using as well as how you react to various products. However, if your skin continues to peel and flake for longer than a month and a half, then you simply may not be adjusting to or tolerating retinol.

If your skin continues to shed for longer than the normal timeframe or the flaking and peeling are excessive, then you need to stop using retinol and possibly visit a doctor for some advice on how to fix the situation.

Burning skin

Some side effects of using retinol are the same sort of issues you might end up with if you burn your skin — e.g. peeling, redness, and sensitivity — even though there's no burn. On the other hand, you might actually experience what's known as retinol burn which is pretty much exactly what it sounds like. Dr. Janet Allenby, a dermatologist practicing in Delray Beach, Florida, told Real Self, "Medically speaking, [retinol burn] is a contact irritant dermatitis, meaning not an allergic reaction but more like a sensitivity reaction to a product."

A situation that tends to spark in the following 24 hours after using retinol, it's caused by applying too much of the product or a high level of the powerful ingredient, according to Healthline. After you suffer the burn, it can last for around a week. During that time, you may be able to both feel and see the burn on your skin.

After a period, the area should not only fully heal, but your skin should also begin to tolerate retinol. On the other hand, if you continue to suffer from burns, the area is particularly painful, your skin starts blistering, or you also seem to be having an allergic reaction and develop hives alongside the burn, then you definitely need to stop using retinol and check in with a dermatologist as soon as possible.