How Do You Know When to Stop Using Retinol?

How Do You Know When to Stop Using Retinol?

Reference Lab

FEB 25, 2022

Retinol is a common anti-aging ingredient, available in over-the-counter products and as a prescription medication for certain skin issues like acne, wrinkles, psoriasis, and sun damage1,2.

However, there may be times when you should stop using retinol products, whether they be in the form of a topical or ingestible treatment.

If you are asking questions like, “ What do retinoids do ?” and “When should I stop using retinol?”, we have several key insights to share that will help you navigate your journey with retinol.

What are the first signs that I should stop using a retinol product?

Initial skin irritation, dryness, and sensitivity are common when using retinol products for the first time. If you continue to notice these effects on your skin after the first few weeks of use, it’s a good idea to discuss this with your doctor or dermatologist3.

You should always discontinue your use of retinol if your physician instructs you to. Your physician may also recommend that you slow down your use of retinol or use it at a lower concentration depending on your skin type and skin concerns .

What are the ‘retinol uglies’?

Also known as ‘retinol burn’, retinol uglies refer to side effects generally caused by more highly concentrated forms of retinol or by use on more sensitive skin4.

Indications that you’re experiencing retinol burn include:

  • Dry skin
  • Redness contributing to uneven skin tone
  • Discoloration
  • Flaking
  • Painful skin irritation

How long do the retinol uglies last?

Usually for about a week. If symptoms persist, contact your physician to discuss your habits of use.

Should I stop using retinol in the summer?

Yes, if you are already sensitive to sunlight or exposed to sunlight more often in the summer, you should carefully monitor your use of retinol products to help protect against sun damage .

Both oral and topical retinoids greatly increase skin’s sensitivity to the sun. Therefore, if you expose your skin to the sun following your use of retinol, you must be extra careful to take additional precautions, such as diligent use of sunscreen and UV-protective clothing.

If you do get sunburned when using retinol, spend a few days out of the sun to let your more sensitive skin recuperate.

It should also be noted that sun exposure doesn’t just occur in the summer. Many people are exposed to the sun even more during the wintertime, due to the snow reflecting sun directly onto your skin. This is especially true for those who enjoy snow sports, which could mean exposing your skin to reflective UV rays for hours at a time. Thus, it’s a good idea to wear sunscreen all year round .

What happens if you use a retinol product every day?

If you are using an oral or topical retinoid daily and experience negative side effects that persist more than a few weeks, your doctor or dermatologist may recommend you taper down your use to just two or three days per week5.

Most people can tolerate over-the-counter doses of retinol every day, however, using a highly concentrated prescription retinoid may cause irritation and side effects more readily than over-the-counter products with lower concentrations. Before incorporating a retinol product into your regimen, it’s important to be aware of the more common retinol side effects on skin. This way you can more easily monitor how your skin responds to frequent application over time.

If you experience negative side effects from retinol, consider alternating days that you use retinol with days that you use a soothing peptide moisturizer , preferably one containing ingredients like hyaluronic acid, to counteract its effects. The best type of skincare product to alternate with retinol is one that promotes skin health and hydration, such as OneSkin’s OS-01 Topical Supplement.

What happens when you stop using retinol?

It may take a week or more for your skin to return to normal after discontinuing the use of retinol. Keep in mind that retinol works on a cellular level, and it takes time for your skin cells to adjust to its introduction and its departure. If you’re concerned about the effects of discontinuing use of retinol as part of your skincare routine , you may consider exploring alternatives to retinol.

What are natural alternatives to retinol?

There are several natural alternatives to retinol6, including:

  • Rambutan
  • Bakuchiol
  • Rosehip
  • Carrot seed oil

Bakuchiol is relatively new to the all-natural market, but has made waves as an effective alternative to retinol.

Key Takeaways

  • Retinol is generally safe, but should be used sparingly. To avoid common negative side effects, consider using lower concentrations of retinol or alternate days in which you use retinol.
  • Discontinue use if you have negative side effects after a few weeks of use and contact your physician to help reassess your skin type and find a solution that will protect your skin barrier .
  • Consider using moisturizing and soothing topical skin care products with retinol to counteract its negative side effects.
  • Always be sure to apply sunscreen when using a retinoid to help protect your ski n against sun exposure .
  • There are natural alternatives to retinol that are generally safe for use.



  1. Sharkey, Lauren, "Retinol Is a Staple in the Beauty Aisle — But What Is It, Exactly?" Healthline. 13 August, 2021.
  2. Murray, Dana. "13 Facts to Know Before Adding Retinoids to Your Skin Care Routine." Healthline. 11 February, 2019.
  3. Kaur, Wendy. "Does Retinol have a dark side?" Icecreamwala Dermatology.
  4. Watson, Kathryn. "What Is Retinol Burn and How to Prevent It." Healthline. 5 February, 2021.
  5. Armstead, Morgan. "How Often Can You Actually Use Retinol?" Healthline. 3 August, 2021.
  6. Intner, Katie. "The Ultimate Guide to Natural Retinol." Harper's Bazaar. 1 June, 2021.



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