The Retinol Skin Purge (And How to Survive it)

The Retinol Skin Purge (And How to Survive it)
by Truly Beauty

Retinol is a remarkable ingredient which has the ability to treat a range of skin concerns including fine lines and wrinkles, acne and hyperpigmentation. It's quite literally a superhero in a bottle!

However...a little-known side effect of this active ingredient is something known as the "retinol uglies" It’s an adjustment period when your skin purges in response to accelerated skin cell turnover, resulting in breakouts and inflammation.

Here's everything you should know about the retinol skin purge, and what you can do about it.


What is the Retinol Skin Purge?

Retinoids are considered one of the best remedies for pimples, but the first few weeks of using it can be an irritating experience. This experience is known as the purge phase or adjustment period. During this period, your acne may worsen before improving, resulting in whiteheads and pustules. 

Retinol works by increasing the skin cell turnover rate. When you begin using retinol skincare products, new skin cells move from the inner layers of your skin to the outer layers at a faster rate, giving you a smoother, fresher complexion. 

Purging frequently occurs when the skin barrier is compromised prior to starting with a product or treatment. It can be reduced if you first repair the barrier function, then gradually introduce the treatment into your skincare regimen.

Applying retinol is an effective treatment for fewer blemishes and a reduction in acne breakouts. In the short term, however, it can lead to breakouts, dryness, redness, and peeling skin.


How Long Does it Last?

According to the derms, the purge phase lasts for around two to six weeks, depending on the skin. The important thing is that you continue using the product or treatment. Soon enough, your skin will adjust and you'll see a visible improvement in your complexion. 

You can also expect to experience purging from other actives such as alpha hydroxy acids (glycolic acid, lactic) and beta hydroxy acids (salicylic acid).


How to Mitigate Skin Purging

Here are a few ways to treat skin purging from retinol and other active ingredients.


Bolster Your Barrier

If the skin barrier is compromised when you see purging, start using formulations containing ceramides and hyaluronic acid which will help repair the barrier. These will hydrate and nourish the skin so that it functions at its best. Remember to also slather on the sunscreen daily to protect skin from UV rays and pollution, which weaken the skin's barrier.


Switch to a Richer Moisturizer

Since your skin will be dry and flaky, start using a thicker, heavier cream than usual. This will help diminish dry skin, fight flaking, and boost overall dewiness. 


Embrace a Slower Approach

We know you want to see clearer, brighter skin now, but if you want to swerve purging, continue using your retinol products with a slower approach. This will allow your skin to adjust and avoid overburdening it with too much retinol at once. 


Save New Skincare Products for Later

If you're just starting out with your retinol routine, avoid using other new serums, lotions, and cleansers to prevent your skin from further irritation. You really need to let your skin relax and recover. By slathering on loads of new product, you're simply setting your skin up for irritation.


Drop the Scrubs -- For Now

As essential as exfoliating is for removing dead skin cells, decongesting clogged pores, and promoting clearer skin, it can also be irritating. Especially if your skin's already compromised or going through an adjustment phase. And even more so if you've got sensitive skin! Just until your skin adjusts, drop scrubs from your routine -- or at least, use them a lot less for the time being.


Best Ways to Use Retinol in Your Skincare Routine

If you've not started with retinol yet, here are the best ways to slip it into your skincare routine and avoid the purge.


#1: Focus on One Product

Eventually, you might be able to use retinol in all your daily staples -- cleanser, serum, and lotion. For now, only focus on using one retinol formulation to save overwhelming your skin and prompting a purge.

It could be a cleanser like Truly's Vegan Collagen Booster Facial Cleanser, a serum like Truly's Purple Rain Serum, or even a face mask like Truly's Mary Jane Glow Mask. Take your pick!


#2: Use it Every Two Days

To help your skin adjust, use your retinol skincare product once every two days. Many people rush in and start using it daily, but that only results in retinol purging, aka irritation and blemishes! For best results from your retinol product, use it once a day every two days for the first month. Then you can begin using it every day.


#3: Apply a Very Small Amount

Use your retinol oils and lotions like you would your topical acne treatments, applying a little bit every time. Whether you've got acne-prone skin or aging skin, all skin types should start slow. That means not applying thick layers of retinol-infused product. Doing this will only trigger inflammation and prevent it from working its best.


#4: Keep Your Skincare Simple

While your skin gradually adjusts to frequent retinol application, keep the rest of your skincare stripped back and streamlined. Avoid using multiple skincare products daily and keep potentially harsh ingredients like AHAs, BHAs, and benzoyl peroxide to a minimum. While these are effective at un-clogging pores and dissolving excess sebum in oily skin, they may cause inflammation when used in conjunction with retinol products - only in the beginning!


#5: ...Up Your Intake

Give your skin roughly 3-4 weeks to adjust before upping your retinol usage. Once you feel comfortable relying on retinol, choose a retinol-infused skincare routine like Truly's Vegan Collagen Booster Bundle. This will help fade fine lines, improve skin texture, banish blackheads and whiteheads, and boost glow.




Retinol is a fabulous anti-aging, acne-fighting ingredient. However, you do need to use with care in order to reap the benefits without succumbing to skin purging. 

If you have any questions or concerns, speak to your dermatologist. 



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