young adult skin showing flakes and skin irritation - skin reaction retinol - DeMay Skin Care


Retinol Isn't for Everyone, and I Am One.

In the world of skincare, there's a superstar that often takes center stage: retinol. This potent ingredient has gained a cult following for its ability to target various skin concerns and promote cell turnover. However, retinol isn't a one-size-fits-all solution, and I am here to share my personal experience as a chemist and as a customer. I learned quite a lot about retinol at the beginning of my career working as laboratory assistant at Stiefel Laboratories (  Since then, I have formulated several formulas at various retinol concentrations from 0.025 to 2% and product textures from lightweight gel to thick creams. And I have to tell you, retinol products still irritate my skin. It doesn’t matter the product format. So, I avoid it. Instead, I use vitamin C products. Some individuals, particularly those with sensitive skin conditions like eczema, or a predisposition to rosacea, may experience adverse reactions such as redness, peeling, and sensitivity when using retinol. But let’s explore the reasons why retinol may not be suitable for everyone. Delve into potential side effects, discuss the rise of skin minimalism, and touch on the concept of skin cycling for those who still want to incorporate retinol into their routines.

Retinol: A Double-Edged Sword

Retinol, a derivative of vitamin A, has made waves for its effectiveness in addressing concerns like fine lines, wrinkles, and acne. But like any powerful tool, it comes with its own set of drawbacks. Many users report experiencing side effects like redness, peeling, and sensitivity. For those with sensitive skin, conditions like eczema, or those prone to rosacea, the potential for irritation is a real concern. It's important to remember that skincare isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach. What works wonders for one person might not be a good fit for another.

The Rise of Skin Minimalism

In the midst of a skincare landscape filled with a myriad of products and claims, a counter-movement has gained momentum: skin minimalism. This approach emphasizes simplicity and quality over quantity. It encourages individuals to streamline their routines, focusing on a handful of well-chosen products that truly cater to their skin's needs. For those who, like me, have found retinol to be too harsh, embracing skin minimalism can be a liberating option. Opting for gentle cleansers, nourishing moisturizers, and targeted treatments can yield remarkable results without the need for heavy artillery like retinol.

Listening to Your Skin: The Concept of Skin Cycling 

For those who are determined to incorporate retinol into their skincare routine, there's a strategy worth considering: skin cycling. Skin cycling involves alternating periods of using retinol with periods of rest. This allows your skin to build tolerance gradually while minimizing the risk of irritation. During the rest periods, focus on nourishing and hydrating your skin, giving it the time it needs to recover. Be patient with this approach, it can take a little while for your skin to tolerate and adapt to retinol. Here's a step-by-step guide to help you do just that:

  • Patch Test: Begin by patch testing a small area of your skin to gauge your skin's tolerance to retinol. This can help you anticipate any potential adverse reactions before applying it to your entire face or body. There’re many body products with retinol on the market as well.
  • Start Slowly: If the patch test goes well, introduce retinol gradually. Start by using it once a week, preferably at night. Over time, you can gradually increase the frequency to twice a week, then to every other night or as your skin tolerates.
  • Hydration is Key: Incorporate a hydrating serum and a rich moisturizer into your routine. This helps counteract the dryness that retinol can cause. Give preference to moisturizers rich in Phytosphingosine, a ceramide precursor, humectants such as glycerin, and butters and oils to support your skin’s barrier function.
  • Sunscreen is Non-Negotiable: Always use sunscreen during the day, as retinol can make your skin more sensitive to the sun's rays. Check the sunscreen label as well, some sunscreens are formulated with esters that might cause irritation.
  • Avoid Mixing Actives: Be cautious about using other active ingredients on the same nights as retinol. Mixing too many actives, especially acid base actives such as AHA and BHAs can increase the risk of skin reaction and irritation. 
  • Give Your Skin Breaks: Embrace the concept of skin cycling. Incorporate retinol for a few days or a few weeks, and then give your skin a break by focusing on gentle, nourishing products rich in hydrating actives.

As a firm believer in the power of skincare, I embarked on the retinol journey with enthusiasm. However, my skin had a different story to tell. The redness, peeling, and discomfort I experienced were a stark reminder that not all trends are meant for everyone. My skin needed a gentler touch, and that's when I discovered the beauty of skin minimalism. Embracing simplicity allowed me to nurture my skin without subjecting it to harsh treatments that felt more like a battle than a nurturing ritual.

Retinol undoubtedly has its merits, but it's not a universal solution. The journey to healthy, radiant skin is a deeply personal one that requires attentiveness, self-discovery, and a willingness to listen to your skin's needs. Whether you decide to skip retinol in favor of skin minimalism or embark on the retinol arena, the key is to prioritize what feels right for you and for your skin. After all, the ultimate goal is to feel confident and comfortable in the skin you're in. And without the irritation or pesky redness!



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