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Retinol Myths
Retinol Myths


Debunking Common Retinol Myths


In the world of skincare, you’ve probably heard of retinol. This vitamin A derivative is a common ingredient in skincare products, often used to address uneven skin tone, appearance of fine lines and wrinkles and spot and acne-prone skin.

In 2022, retinol became one of the biggest beauty trends, with 1.2 billion views on TikTok and over 9 million searches on Google1.

With rising popularity, it can be easy for misinformation to spread. Read on as we debunk eight retinol myths and answer some common questions, such as when to start using retinol, which ingredients you can use with retinol, and more.

Myth 1: There’s only one type of retinoid.

Retinoids are actually a large group of chemicals that are related to vitamin A. There are several forms of retinoid available in cosmetic skincare products, and retinol is one of them.

Is vitamin A retinol?

The word ‘retinoids’ refers to active forms of vitamin A. These include prescription ingredients, such as retinoic acid and isotretinoin, and less potent ingredients such as retinol and retinyl esters, which are widely used in beauty skincare products.

Retinol is one of the most popular anti-ageing skincare ingredients on the market today because formulas with retinol deliver visible results. Retinol is one of the most effective forms of retinoid you can buy without a prescription.

What type of retinol-based product should I use?

Retinol is available in a variety of skincare products, including serums and creams. Creams are ideal for those seeking more hydration, while serums tend to absorb into the skin quicker and may be more suitable for those with oily skin.

Retinol-based products are also available for more specific parts of the face. Eye cream, such as NEUTROGENA® Retinol Boost Eye Cream, usually works best on the delicate area of the eye, while serums are designed for the entire face (avoiding the eye area). You can even use them together and apply to the intended parts of the face, making sure to follow the instructions on the product packaging.

Myth 2: You can’t use retinol with other skincare ingredients.

Retinol can be mixed with certain skincare ingredients. In fact, sometimes it’s encouraged. Using skincare products that complement rather than clash with retinol can help to boost its beneficial effects and mitigate unwanted symptoms.

Can you use hyaluronic acid with retinol?

Retinol helps to improve the skin by increasing its production of natural chemicals, such as hyaluronic acid. Therefore, it’s safe and effective to use retinol alongside hyaluronic acid products. Most NEUTROGENA® Retinol Boost products include hyaluronic acid to help hydrate and plump the skin.

Can you use niacinamide with retinol?

Niacinamide , another popular skincare ingredient, can also be used with retinol. As niacinamide helps protect the skin barrier , this can decrease the side effects of dryness and irritation that is sometimes caused by retinol.

Can you use salicylic acid with retinol?

Salicylic acid and retinol are both effective ingredients for spot- and acne-prone skin but using both at the same time can leave the skin feeling dry and sensitive. Therefore, it’s best to alternate the use of salicylic acid and retinol products on different days of the week.

Can you use vitamin C with retinol?

Like salicylic acid, combining retinol and vitamin C products could lead to skin irritation. It’s best to use vitamin C at a different time of the day than when you apply your retinol product. For example, you could use vitamin C products in the morning as an antioxidant and retinol in the evening. Alternatively, you can consider applying them on alternating days altogether.

Can you use glycolic acid with retinol?

Glycolic acid works as an exfoliant which can irritate your skin when used with retinol. It’s worth using them on alternating days. Doing so can help to reduce the appearance of dark spots and acne scars.

Find out more about skin cycling with Dr Ejikeme

Myth 3: You shouldn’t use retinol if you have a breakout.

Retinol offers a range of benefits to the skin, from boosting collagen production to increasing skin cell turnover. However, some people may question if retinol can be used to help with acne, spots, and acne scars.

Does retinol help with acne?

Topical retinol products can help with spot- and acne-prone skin. That’s because retinol boosts skin cell turnover, which prevents pores from becoming blocked and spots forming. If you’re suffering from acne, you may need to see your GP for more potent prescription retinoids.

While retinol can help people with spots and mild acne, the NEUTROGENA® Retinol Boost range has not been tested on people with acne. We do have other products which are for spot-prone skin and which are suitable for acne-prone skin, such as the Clear & Defend range.

Does retinol help with acne scars?

By helping to clear pimples and reduce outbreaks, retinol may also help to reduce the formation of acne scars. The NEUTROGENA® Retinol Boost range is clinically proven to improve skin tone and texture, and the appearance of age spots – but has not been tested on acne scars.

Myth 4: You need to use retinol daily to see results.

It’s recommended to gradually phase retinol into your skincare routine by starting with 2-3 uses a week for the first 3 weeks, working up to daily use as tolerated. This will allow your skin time to adjust and build tolerance to your retinol products.

While you will likely get the best results from using retinol daily, you can still see benefits from applying retinol just a few times a week. It’s important that you adapt the frequency of use to the sensitivity of your skin.

Although results may be visible quickly when using products daily, it can take up to six months of use to see optimal results depending on your initial skin condition.

Can you use retinol every night?

How often you can use retinol will depend on the product and your skin’s sensitivity. That said, most people will be able to use retinol products every day once they’ve slowly built up their skin’s tolerance and/or have used retinol previously without any issues.

Retinoids and retinol compounds break down in the sun and become less effective. Therefore, nighttime is a good time to apply retinol products. This is a time of rest and repair, and cell turnover is at its peak, making it an ideal time to apply products such as the NEUTROGENA® Retinol Boost Night Cream.

Myth 5: Retinol will make your skin thinner and more sensitive.

This myth may be due to the fact that retinol can initially cause skin to peel. However, the truth is the complete opposite. Retinol works by stimulating collagen production, which can help to thicken the skin over time.

It’s important to allow your skin to adapt to the ingredient by following the package instructions and applying sunscreen.

Can I use retinol if I have sensitive skin?

Retinol is suitable for any skin type, but it can be harder for fair or sensitive skin types to adjust to the potent ingredient. It’s not recommended for people with over-exfoliated skin – whether from at-home or beauty salon treatments – or sun-damaged skin.

Although retinol can cause skin irritation, most people build up a tolerance over time. Therefore, it’s best to first use retinol products two to three times a week for the first 3 weeks, then every other day, until you’re comfortable with daily use.

Myth 6: You shouldn’t apply retinol around the eyes.

While some people may assume the delicate eye area is too sensitive for retinol products, this is an area that can actually benefit from retinol’s collagen-boosting properties.

The NEUTROGENA® Retinol Boost Eye Cream, for example, has been specifically designed for the skin around the delicate eye area. Like all retinol products, though, this should be introduced gradually to your routine, starting with two to three times a week.

Unless you're using a retinol-based product with a specific formula for the eye area, it’s best to avoid sensitive areas such as around the eyes, nose, and mouth.

Myth 7: Young people shouldn’t use retinol.

While retinol is a popular anti-ageing ingredient, the more potent retinoids were originally used to treat acne and so were prescribed to many young people. The truth is retinol can benefit all ages.

When should you start using retinol?

Retinol-based products can be used when you start to see the first signs of ageing on your skin, such as wrinkles and fine lines. Most dermatologists recommend incorporating retinol into your skincare routine during your mid to late 20s, when the production of collagen fibres starts to decline.

Collagen helps to keep the skin smooth and plump, so the loss of collagen can lead to sagging and wrinkles. Retinol encourages our fibroblasts to keep making collagen, helping to reduce the appearance of ageing on the skin. Therefore, early use of retinol products can help your skin to stay looking younger and healthier.

Remember to slowly build up your tolerance by applying a product containing retinol two to three times a week.

Myth 8: You should stop using retinol products if your skin is red or irritated

Although retinol products can be used for a number of common skin problems, they have a few potential side effects. Peeling, redness, dryness, and tightness are common risks, but they typically subside within a few weeks as your skin adjusts to the ingredient.

You should avoid the temptation to use excess amounts of product or apply more often throughout the day, since this increases the risk of side effects. It’s also best to use a daily moisturiser alongside retinol products to help reduce skin drying.

You should also try to avoid sun exposure when using retinol products, even when applied at night. Certain retinol-based products can be used during daytime – such as the Retinol Boost Day Cream SPF 15 – but additional sunscreen should be applied if you’re going outside to mitigate risk.

1 The 2022 Top Beauty Trends on Social Media, via Hey Discount: