By Georgia Gould

The 5 Biggest Retinol Myths – Debunked!

Retinol can transform the look and feel of your skin, but there are many myths surrounding this skincare powerhouse. Not sure what’s true and what’s a bald-faced lie? No problem, because we’re here to set the record straight regarding some of the most common retinol myths.


 Retinol is surrounded by myths. You can’t apply retinol in the morning… you shouldn’t use retinol if you have sensitive skin. Nonsense. And that’s why we’ve decided to put things straight, once and for all. Read on for the truth about retinol.

It’ll be no surprise to you that we believe retinol to be one of the best skincare ingredients. Not only does it have a very clever way of enhancing collagen production at a cellular level but it also accelerates skin turnover, offering all manner of skin benefits from smoothing your pesky fine lines and wrinkles, through to improving acne breakouts and even fading the appearance of dark spots. 

But retinol is shrouded by mystery… and, consequently a whole bunch of questions constantly crop up that are sometimes answered incorrectly. And then, of course, the rumors start. So what’s the truth? When are you really supposed to use retinol? Heck, how are you supposed to use retinol? And, of course, the most basic question of all, what even is retinol?!

We recently wrote a whole post about retinol and its benefits (hint: there are many!), If you’ve already got that knowledge under your belt, however, and want to dig further into some of the myths surrounding this powerhouse of a skincare ingredient, read on…

Myth #1: Retinol Should Only Be Used At Night

One of the most common untruths is that you should never apply retinol in the morning because it increases your skin’s risk of getting burnt by the sun. Fake news. 

Retinol works by increasing your skin turnover which means that dead skin cells slough off at a more steady rate while fresh ones reveal themselves at the surface quicker and more efficiently. Sure, these younger skin cells need extra care and attention because they’re likely to be more UV sensitive than the older guys, but you should always apply sunscreen whether you use retinol or not!

The real reason this myth has come about is because retinol is a fairly unstable ingredient and becomes less effective when it’s exposed to sunlight. (As a sidenote, this is why you’ll always find our retinol serums housed in dark, airtight bottles.) Does this mean you can apply retinol in the morning, then? Yes. You just need to make sure you ALWAYS slather on plenty of SPF30+ broad-spectrum sunscreen following application. Ditto for any potent, active ingredient that works on a cellular level. So, just do it anyway. Your skin will thank you for it.

Myth #2: You Shouldn’t Use Retinol If You Have Sensitive Skin

There’s no getting away from the fact that retinol is a strong skincare ingredient. And its effectiveness is both its superpower… and its downfall. Because this means it doesn’t suit everyone. Those with eczema or rosacea, for example, are best leaving retinol alone. However, even sensitive skin types can enjoy the benefits of applying retinol as long products are chosen extremely carefully, and not applied too often.

The best way to use retinol is to start extremely slowly – no matter your skin type. This means applying it just once or twice a week to start with to allow your skin to acclimate. Depending on your skin’s reaction, you can then start to slowly increase your usage to every day. But if you have sensitive skin, this might not be the case. And that’s OK. Sticking to once or twice a week will still have its long-term benefits, you’ll just have to be a little more patient. However, this also means you get to enjoy other, less potent ingredients the rest of the week.

A great regime for sensitive skin types is to alternate between retinol and a more soothing, moisturizing serum that contains kind-to-skin ingredients like vitamin E, hyaluronic acid or niacinamide. We love the combination of using Hyaluronic Acid Serum with Vitamins C + E most mornings and evenings, then throwing in Retinol Serum with Vitamin E + Hyaluronic Acid a couple of nights a week. You can also apply your retinol serum on top of moisturizer to act as an extra buffer to help protect your skin. Just remember to always patch test any new product for 24-28 hours before you use it regularly. And if you do experience any itching or burning during that time, maybe that product’s not the best fit. But don’t worry, there are plenty of other active ingredients out there with your name on them.

Myth #3: If Your Skin Peels With Retinol Use, You Should Stop Immediately

When you start using retinol for the first time, it often goes through a stage of mild redness, peeling and dryness. You might even experience the odd pimple or two. But as long as any irritation or sensitivity isn’t persistent or too uncomfortable, this reaction is OK. In fact it has a name – retinol purging. 

Retinol purging often occurs in the first month of use and it’s your skin’s response to the boost in cell turnover revving up your skin. You see, accelerating turnover stimulates all manner of things going on below the surface of your skin. If pimples are brewing, they’re going to reveal themselves lightning fast. Redness, dry skin and peeling are other side effects of retinol purging. 

The good news is that, unlike having a proper reaction or aversion to retinol, none of this lasts, so don’t give up if you find yourself experiencing the perils of retinol purging. The light at the end of the tunnel? It’s close.

Myth #4: You Should Never Apply Retinol To Damp Skin

This is another one we hear a lot and, again, it’s all to do with the potency of retinol. Damp, freshly cleansed skin is more porous than dry skin which means that when you apply skincare products while your skin is still damp, the active ingredients are going to penetrate slightly quicker and deeper.

Dermatologists often recommend applying serums and moisturizers to damp skin to get the very best from your regime. However, retinol is one of the most powerful ingredients used in skincare so it needs to be handled with care. If you’re a seasoned retinol user, you’ll most likely be fine applying your treatment to damp skin. If you have sensitive skin or are using it for the first time? Maybe not. It’s simply about finding the perfect sweet spot that works for you.

Myth #5: Retinol Should Never Be Used Together With Glycolic Acid

Many skincare ingredients should never be used together. But when handled correctly, retinol and glycolic acid are not among them.

The reason for this is that while both retinol and glycolic acid have similar effects – accelerating turnover for brighter, better skin – they work in quite different ways. 

Glycolic acid is an alpha hydroxy acid (AHA) and a chemical exfoliant. Unlike physical exfoliants that use pressure and friction to scrub away the top layers of your skin, chemical exfoliants work by breaking down the bonds between dead skin cells so they naturally shed. Retinol, meanwhile, works deeper down below the surface, stimulating collagen production and encouraging your cells to turn over at a faster rate. So while the results you’ll see from retinol and glycolic acid are similar, the way your skin gets there is not.

We don’t recommend cocktailing full-strength retinol serum with glycolic acid treatments at home as they can be a lot for your skin to deal with – especially if you don’t know what you’re doing. However, we’ve curated an incredible Hydrate & Renewal Serum with Retinol + Glycolic Acid that harnesses their skin-regenerating powers without irritating your skin. It’s an awesome choice for targeting fine lines, dark spots or breakouts and contains extra hydrating ingredients to keep your skin soft and smooth at the same time. Pure genius? We think so!



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