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Busting Retinol Myths: Setting the Record Straight

If skincare ingredients were like celebrities, retinol would definitely be on the front cover of every magazine. And like many buzzed-about celebs, retinol has a few misconceptions circulating. In the name of luxurious retinol face creams, silky retinol serums, and beyond, we’re taking a minute to set the record straight and bust the biggest retinol myths out there. 

What Is Retinol?

A member of the retinoid family, retinol is an over-the-counter skincare product that’s applied topically. Retinol is a derivative of vitamin A that helps increase surface cell turnover, which in turn can improve the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles and lend to firmer-feeling skin.

“You’re likely to find a retinoid in any dermatologist’s medicine cabinet,” says Kavita Mariwalla, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist and IT Cosmetics Advisory Board member.  “As a dermatologist, the number one ingredient I recommend to patients for anti-aging results is retinol.”

When used consistently over time, it can help visibly improve texture by increasing skin surface cell turnover and stimulating collagen production. Specifically, retinol can help visibly improve fine lines and wrinkles, and skin laxity. It’s also considered an effective treatment for blemish-prone skin and can lend to a clearer-looking complexion. 

6 Common Retinol Myths & Misconceptions

Let’s dive right into the juicy, swirling rumors about retinol. From false claims about sun exposure and retinol to questions about how retinol works, we’re so ready to bid these myths goodbye.

You Can’t Use Retinol if You Have Sensitive Skin

While retinol can cause some redness, peeling, and sensitivity as your skin adapts—a process called “retinization”—these side effects typically go away after the first few weeks of consistent use. 

That said, sensitive skin types can absolutely use retinol, but we recommend starting with a low concentration and increasing your application frequency over time. For example, Hello Results Wrinkle-Reducing Daily Retinol Serum-in-Cream can be introduced to a skincare regimen slowly. Start with twice weekly usage, then gradually increase frequency to every-other night, and finally to daily usage.

Co-developed with board-certified dermatologists and plastic surgeons, this retinol serum-in-cream is infused with vitamin E and B5 to deeply moisturize skin and helps balance the common effects of retinol usage such as dryness, redness and flaking. Because it’s best to avoid applying Hello Results around your eyes, we recommend applying your favorite eye cream first, then applying the retinol cream to the rest of your face.

Retinol Works by Exfoliating Skin

The term “exfoliate” is a bit of a misnomer where retinol is concerned. Retinol works by increasing cell turnover and stimulating collagen production—not by sloughing off the top layers of your skin. The flaking and redness you may experience after using retinol are actually the side effects of how retinol works to speed up your skin's natural surface cell turnover. As your skin adjusts, these side effects should subside.

Retinol Stops Working Over Time 

As we touched on above, your skin goes through “retinization” as it gets used to retinol. You’ll notice these side effects stop over time, but that doesn’t mean the product itself has stopped working. Instead, your skin has just gotten used to the ingredient; we recommend increasing frequency and/or potency as your skin adapts. 

You Can’t Apply Retinol in the Summer Due to Increased Sun Exposure

Over-the-counter formulas that deliver retinol in lower concentrations are safe to apply in the summer. We do recommend applying a retinol face cream as part of your evening regimen. 

Also, be mindful of your sun exposure during the daytime. That means wearing an SPF of 30 or higher and reapplying every two hours or after sweating or swimming. It’s also best to stick to shady spots, avoid high-sun midday hours, and wear a hat or use an umbrella. For additional coverage, use makeup with built-in SPF, such as CC+ Cream with SPF 50+.

Retinol Causes Blemishes

Let’s lay this retinol myth to rest. You may experience a “purge” during the retinization phase, but this is temporary. Retinoids are actually one of the premiere skincare ingredients for treating blemish-prone skin. In fact, that’s what retinoids were originally meant to treat. Eventually, researchers discovered the anti-aging effects of this ingredient and the rest is skincare history! 

Retinol Doesn’t Really Work

Tell a dermatologist to her face that retinol doesn’t work and you’ll get an all-knowing tsk-tsk-tsk. Since the 1970s, retinoids have been one of the most studied and reputable skincare ingredients on the market. This retinol myth might have begun circulating because it does take time to see results—about three to six months on average—before noticing any visible improvements in your skin health. It’s important to stay the course.

The bottom line is that there’s no shortage of scientific and clinical studies that demonstrate visible improvements in skin tone, texture, and firmness with consistent retinoid use.

For more information on this ingredient check out our beginner’s guide to retinol. Once you’ve finished there, take a few minutes to learn more about the anti-aging benefits of retinol.

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