Here’s how to correctly introduce retinol into your skincare routine

Some skincare ingredients are shrouded in insignificance. Then there are agents that are hailed as legendary. Retinoids/retinol are surely one of the latter, and for good reason. They really work. The most ubiquitous, the most used and most studied anti-aging compounds, retinoids, are a group of vitamin A derivatives that are converted into retinoic acid for use in skincare. These powerhouses increase collagen production, as well as increase the speed at which the skin regenerates over time to reduce fine lines and wrinkles, reduce oil, tackle acne, even out pigmentation, and improve skin texture.

But if not used correctly and carefully, the potent ingredient can lead to what’s known as “retinoid purges” or as colloquially known on internet message boards as “retinoid uglies.” We talked to two renowned skincare experts, Dr Geetika Mittal Gupta of Isaac Luxe™ and Dr Harshna Bijlani of The Ageless Clinic to decode what the purging phenomenon looks like and their advice for getting through it.


What exactly is retinoid purging?

Purging, which translates to purifying, is “the initial adjusting phase when you introduce certain exfoliating products to your skincare routine,” explains Dr Mittal Gupta. “Retinoids are extremely effective in promoting cell turnover, which brings new, healthy cells to the skin’s surface. This leads to sloughing of the skin and bringing out everything clogging your pores that are hiding underneath,” she adds. “The purging process is also called as uglies because of the gnarly flare-ups it can sometimes develop.” As counterintuitive as it may sound, the clearing-out of your pores is ultimately a good thing, Dr Mittal Gupta assures.

What does—and doesn’t—skin purging look like?

Since the nature of retinoid is to kick cells into overdrive, it may manifest into pimples. So, how can you tell the difference between a purge and a usual breakout? “If the acne is coming at its regular pattern, which is pre-menstrual or related to makeup then that could be your usual acne. Purging on the other hand happens soon after using a retinoid or an acid which can be linked to a commencement of the product. It can cause blackheads, white heads, or small skin colored bumps. Some can also experience redness, dryness, flakiness, peeling, burning and skin irritation,” says Dr Bijlani, putting forth the symptoms that retinoid purging can prompt.

Please give some ways on how to overcome it.

“There are several ways to reduce purging. The first thing you can do is start with the lowest rung of the retinoid ladder, like a retinol 0.5 or a retinyl palmitate product. The second thing is to apply retinoids only for a couple of hours every day, before progressing to overnight application for perhaps once or twice a week. Lastly, you can consider the buffering or sandwiching method: a gentle cleanser, moisturizer, your retinoid, and end with a moisturizer. You can dilute it with moisturizer as well,” suggests Dr Bijlani. It is imperative to remember that less is more—don’t make the mistake of slathering on copious amounts of a clinical-grade treatment. Retinoids also make the skin more susceptible to the harmful effects of the sun, so don’t skimp on sunscreen.

At what stage is it imperative to quit retinoids?

“Retinol is a gold-standard anti-aging ingredient, so even if you experience purging, do not give up on it entirely. This process only means the product is working. Simply, edit your routine and ease into it. The good news is the adverse side effects don’t last forever. They typically last not more than 2-4 weeks. But if the levels of redness, peeling, or burning are too intense to handle or if purging occurs more than eight weeks into its usage, consult with your dermatologist and cease application immediately,” Dr Mittal Gupta cautions.

So read:

Here’s the right application method for retinol and the best products to buy

This is the unusual skincare ingredient you need to know about to achieve glowing skin

5 fail-proof face masks to try for glowing skin


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