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Myth Busted: All Retinol Causes Irritation

5 min
by Ben Gentzler
September 17, 2021

Retinol is a top pick for dermatologists to combat early signs of aging along with a myriad of other skin issues including acne, hyperpigmentation and uneven texture. Yet there seems to be an overarching fear looming over this golden-child ingredient, stopping people from adding it to their bathroom vanities. The most common trepidation? That retinol will cause irritation.

All it takes is one bad experience (a personal one or even a cautionary tale from a friend) for retinol’s reputation to become redefined as an irritation-inducing ingredient causing thinned skin barriers and red, dry, flaky complexions.

But here’s the thing: not all retinol is bad. You know the saying that one bad apple ruins the bushel? Well, retinol is in a similar situation. We are going to debunk the myth that all retinol causes irritation and redeem its reputation.

The importance of retinol formulations 

In today’s society where “more is more”, there is a misconception that a higher percentage of active ingredients equals a better product and a super-strong concentration of retinol is the best and only way to get results. This is simply not the case. Beauty does not have to equal pain (or a red, flaky face).

Formulas that blend retinol with other soothing, anti-inflammatory ingredients offer a gentle but still effective product – a great solution for anyone who’s had a bad retinol encounter. When formulated correctly, blended ingredients saturate skin’s natural receptors for maximum effectiveness. All without the irritation and common retinol side effects.


Soothing Skincare Ingredients to Pair with Retinol

Rambutan leaf extract 


Rambutan fruits and leaves


It is a perfect ingredient pair for retinol. Rambutan directly stimulates fibroblasts in the papillary dermis to produce new collagen while protecting existing collagen. It also has anti-inflammatory properties to alleviate irritation of the skin barrier.


Ferulic acid 


Ferulic acid texture


Ferulic acid is another excellent ingredient to pair with retinol on a chemical level. When retinol is applied to the skin, it goes through a two-step transitional process. The skin changes retinol to retinoic acid, sending signals to the skin cells to stimulate cellular turnover. However, during this process, free radicals are created. Free radicals break down collagen in the skin and lead to hyperpigmentation, fine lines, and wrinkles. Ferulic acid acts as a soothing antioxidant and neutralizes free radicals created in this process so they don’t irritate the skin.




Babchi seeds


Bakuchiol is often referred to as a natural alternative to retinol. However, it should not be confused with retinol itself. Both bakuchiol and retinol have similar benefits like firmer and younger-looking skin, diminished fine lines and wrinkles, and more even texture and tone. Bakuchiol is also a great option for extremely sensitive skin as it is a more stable antioxidant with anti-inflammatory properties. When formulated correctly, retinol can actually be combined with bakuchiol for better and more significant results. 


Key Takeaways

The key to a successful relationship with retinol is being able to recognize whether the retinol formula you are using is too harsh for your skin. If your skin feels tight, dry, and flaky, it may mean you are using an irritating formula. Your skin should also not become red or inflamed when using retinol. Learn more about retinol and consider adding it to your skincare routine for irritation-free, clear, youthful, and glowing skin.

Keeping your skin in balance and your skin barrier healthy is key to achieving optimal results – even when you are using retinol. Whether you need to ease your way into using retinol by only applying it twice a week or try a new retinol product altogether, retinol should not be “too intimidating” for use. Retinol is a key ingredient for supple, youthful, and clearer skin and provides a multitude of benefits when used correctly.


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