Is it a retinol burn or a retinoid reaction?
Technically the skin is not burnt. However, a retinol reaction can feel that way.
A retinol burn is an irritating reaction when the skin reacts to a topical application of vitamin A.
The skin can appear slightly pink to quite red and irritated, depending on the concentration of vitamin A and the skin condition.
What does it look like on the skin?
It can appear as a slight hue of pink to more red and irritated with a feeling of dryness, and sometimes the skin may become flakey and shed dead skin cells.
The skin can become itchy and quite rough, almost as if the skin has aged overnight. Don’t worry, it hasn’t, but it can look that way.
In some cases, small breakouts can appear.
It’s important to note; it is not an allergic reaction. That’s something altogether different. Generally, an allergic reaction will become evident soon after exposure, sometimes immediately after application or within a few hours from the time of application to reaction. In contrast, a retinol burn or reaction tends to occur more progressively.
It can appear worse on the neck and décolletté.
Yep. Where you feel you need vitamin A the most!!
You may find, as I do, applying concentrated retinol or vitamin A skincare to your neck brings with it a whole set of irritating issues.
Why is this? Well, the skin on the neck and décolletté is much more delicate, with very little connective tissue.
Unfortunately, it’s an area where the signs of ageing can show up before other parts of the body, such as the skin on your face. So, even though the skin of the neck will benefit from vitamin A, highly concentrated formulas will invariably cause problems in this area.
Why does it happen?
A retinoid reaction happens when the skin is saturated with vitamin A and cannot utilise the amount flooding the skin cells.
Depending on the skin area, it can cause mild pinkish irritation to something far more irritated and red.
It usually happens when a medical prescription of vitamin A (tretinoin) or a concentrated retinol serum is applied to the skin either too often, too liberally or when the skin is not quite ready to accept high strength concentration of vitamin A.
What to do if you have a retinoid reaction?
- Stay away from direct sunlight while your skin is irritated.
- Liberally apply a well-formulated (preferably a zinc formula) broad-spectrum sunscreen to avoid the risk of sun damage.
- If your skin is very red and irritated, reduce retinol application and apply a calming gel or hydrating moisturiser until your skin has settled down.
- Temporarily reduce the application of other active skincare such as AHA’s or BHA’s exfoliants.
- If your reaction is mild, pull back from the amount of retinol you’ve been applying to your skin.
- Avoid being too liberal with your application of vitamin A serums or creams. Less is more.
- Reduce the frequency of application. If you’ve been using a concentrated vitamin A every day, then once your skin has settled down, reintroduce it a few times a week.
- Try not to panic. Your skin will be okay.
Is the skin permanently damaged?
The good news is, although your skin is irritated, and may not be looking too pretty, retinol burn usually resolves itself within a week or two.
However, although your skin is not permanently damaged, as it’s in a vulnerable condition, it’s more susceptible to sun damage.
So, be sure to take the necessary steps and extra precautions when you venture out into the sunshine. Wear broad-spectrum sun protection every day.
Should you stop using vitamin A?
There’s no need to stop using vitamin A. However, you should consider whether your skin needs such a high concentration of vitamin A?
To answer this question, ask yourself, what are you trying to treat?
If you’ve been self-selecting and muddling along on your own, then you might want to get expert advice from a skin therapist or a dermatologist.
And, while it’s true, we all benefit from topical vitamin A, and the skin certainly needs vitamin A daily, it might surprise you to find out, more is not better.
Reaching for the most potent formula you can find is unnecessary and may leave you feeling frustrated or giving up on the idea of vitamin A in your skincare altogether.
Don’t do that. You do have options.
How to prepare your skin for vitamin A?
Get the basics right. If your protective lipid barrier is out of balance, you will react to active skincare. More on this over here >>
Start with a low vitamin A ester formulation and gradually build up your dose.
Mix your retinol with your moisturiser to buffer the concentration.
As Environ is my brand of choice, If you require the super boosting effects of retinol, then I recommend mixing Environ’s Focus Care Youth+ Retinol #1 Serum with Focus Care Moisture+ HA Intensive to experience improved surface hydration while benefiting from the potency of retinol.
Do you need high strength vitamin A or Retinol?
I know, in the last two years, everyone’s jumped on the vitamin A bandwagon. And as I’ve already mentioned, vitamin A is a miracle worker.
But unless you have a specific skin condition in need of extra support, well, you probably don’t need the potency of retinol or tretinoin.
Opt for an ester of vitamin A instead. Truly.
I’ve come to the view that a slow, steady drip-feed of vitamin A is the best option, especially if you already have a compromised skin barrier or skin sensitivities. A regular and gradual application of a low strength retinyl ester can be just as effective without irritation.
So maybe, it’s time to reconsider your approach to vitamin A. Sure, you can do a Vitamin A Boot Camp and struggle with the consequences or opt for a gentle workout every day that gives the skin a nudge in the right direction.
Consider alternatives. Low strength vitamin A esters are well tolerated and can be used every day. If your skin cannot tolerate retinol on the neck, but you’re still concerned with the skin condition in this area, switch to a collagen-boosting vitamin C formula and LED Light Therapy at home or in a salon or clinic.
And now you?
Do you struggle with finding the best retinol for your skin or suffer from retinol reactions? If you have more questions, you can reach me here. Or, if you’d like help with your current skincare routine, you can book an appointment with me, and we can go through what’s working for you and what’s not.
See you next time,