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How Long Do the Retinol Uglies Last?

by Ella Goodman 08 Mar 2024

Alright, you skincare junkies and beauty buffs! 

Let's get down to business and talk about something we tend to avoid in our glass skin quest - the dreaded 'retinol uglies'. 

You've probably heard of them, or maybe even got lost in the middle of them. 

Fear not, lovelies! 

We're getting up close and personal with everything you need to know about this skincare rollercoaster.

How long do the 'retinol uglies' last for?

Short version? Generally anywhere from 4 to 8 weeks.

But why this particular timeline, you ask? 

The explanation is rooted in your skin's natural shedding and renewal cycle. 

You see, our skin cells are continuously rejuvenating - a process which usually takes around four to six weeks. So, when you apply retinol, what you're really doing is kickstarting this same renewal cycle, but on fast-forward. 

This rapid-fire turnover pushes your old, dull skin cells to the surface faster than normal - voila, the 'retinol uglies'. 

It's a bumper car ride of your skin’s extinct dinosaurs coming to light but hey, stick with it! It's simply your skin saying adios to the old and hello to the new. A process we lovingly call 'purging'. 

It's all part of Skin University’s first-semester shenanigans.

Now, you might be tempted to slap on retinol like a weightlifting champion, but slow your roll. Let's keep it nice and easy, kid. 

Apply sparingly, starting with a pea-sized drop two or three nights a week. If your skin doesn't protest, gradually increase the frequency. 

Also, not all retinol sizes fit all. Retinol products range from 0.1% to 2.0% in concentration - start at the lower end and work your way up. It's not a race, but a marathon. A skincare marathon, if you will.

Remember, we’re here playing the long game for youthful, glowing skin - and greatness takes time. Even the Colosseum wasn't built in a day. 

So, bear through these temporary 'uglies', like a duck wading through a puddle, and you'll eventually be glowing more than your LED string lights come Christmas time.

While you wait for the 'retinol uglies' phase to pass, don't forget your sunscreen! 

Even on the cloudiest of days, those UV rays can sneak through. Besides, retinol can make your skin more sun-sensitive. So, say hello to SPF and you won’t be saying hello to more wrinkles down the line. 

If the retinol uglies seem to be overstaying their welcome, though, don't hesitate to consult a dermatologist. After all, they're the skin whizz-kids with the MD.

So hang on in there, brave retinol warriors. Remember, your skin is doing exactly what it's supposed to do. The retinol uglies might not be a walk in the park, but pretty soon, you'll be strolling through a garden of skin bliss.  

Remember, the path to beauty is often one of patience and perseverance, a marathon and not a sprint. If you can handle the short-term 'uglies', the long-term 'pretties' will be worth it. 

What does retinol purging look like?

Plot twist? There isn’t actually a single definition of retinol purging.

In fact, 'retinol purging' is a catch-all phrase that encapsulates the rather unsettling but temporary phenomena typically experienced when you first introduce your skin to retinol or increase your usage. 

Driven by retinol's potency, this is where your skin hurries along the turnover of skin cells, quicker than your regular pace.

Think of it as a sped-up spring cleaning for your face. Imagine your skin as a bustling city and your old, tired cells as rundown buildings. Retinol is like the head of urban redevelopment, tearing down these outdated structures to make way for the new, shiny skyscrapers that are your fresh, rejuvenated cells.

Now that you have a conceptual understanding, let's explore these stages in specific details.

First up, we have redness and inflammation. 

Your skin's naturally protective barrier can become impaired due to the speedy exfoliation process, which can cause this initial flare-up. 

It's akin to something like a construction site's dust cloud - temporary and part and parcel of big changes.

Next, the rise of dry spots and flakiness. 

As the old cells are 'demolished,' they can linger on your skin's surface like rubble, leading to patches of dryness or peeling. Yet, it's all just evidence of those new cells getting ready to shine, much like an unwrapped present that's still in its box.

Uncomfortable itching and burning sensations may also enter the scene. It's your skin communicating that it's adjusting to the intensive treatment retinol brings, a bit like the noise in a city undergoing a rejuvenation project.

Then comes the unexpected breakout, which can feel like a cruel twist in your skincare journey. However, it's not the retinol causing the acne directly. Rather, it's accelerating the life cycle of existing blemishes beneath the surface of your skin, pushing them up and out. 

It's akin to speeding up a city's rush hour traffic - it's chaotic for a while, but once it's done, the roads are clear.

Above all, remember the skin purge is not forever. Typically, your skin will settle down in around six weeks as it adjusts to the new product, and you'll start to see the positive effects you were hoping for. 

The key to smooth sailing through a retinol purge is patience and resilience. It's a journey, and it might not be the most comfortable ride, but the destination of brighter, fresher, and smoother skin is worth the temporary discomfort.

Like a city undergoing renovation, the process might be inconvenient, even slightly chaotic. But the final result is a shining, improved landscape that wouldn’t be possible without that initial phase of intense change. 

Should I stop retinol if I’m purging?

That light at the end of the tunnel might take longer than a few weeks, so give your skin some time with retinol. 

Picture retinol as a diligent skin fitness coach, pushing your skin beyond its comfort zone to reveal its best version underneath.

Abandoning retinol at the first signs of a skin purge might feel like the right move, but don't sign those papers just yet. It can be easy to equate skin purging with a skincare product not working, or, even worse, doing more harm than good.

But here's a secret: A skin purge is like the backstage chaos before the grand ballet performance.

When embarking on your retinol journey, your skin is suddenly tasked with shedding dead skin cells at a faster rate than it is used to. 

In other words, your skin is in turbo-cleaning mode, pushing out all the amassed impurities.

Bad news, this skin's accelerated cleaning process can come with breakouts. Cue collective groan.

Good news? It's not a sign to cast retinol into the pile of failed skincare experiments.

It's a sign that your skin is saying, "Hey, I'm working on it!" Hold off pressing the retinol panic button unless you're wrestling with prolonged skin discomfort or persistent irritation that extends beyond a couple of weeks.

Remember, these breakouts are temporary! Your skin is simply adjusting to the newfound pace.

Now, it's imperative not to mistake skin purging for an allergic reaction. 

If you're dealing with severe discomfort, redness, itchiness, or swollen skin – it's time to hit the brakes and consult your dermatologist. It might be a sign your skin is retinol-intolerant, and ignoring these signs can potentially exacerbate the condition.

If you're in the purge zone, don't lose heart. Embrace it as a sign of progress, view it as proof that retinol is not just lounging around but working meticulously to resurface your skin. 

Pretend you're hosting a home renovation party, and your skin cells are the contractors trying to get everything fresh and new.

Remember, the magic of retinol unfolds with time and consistency. Give your skin some grace to adjust and then watch as it deftly brings forth the glow that was underlying all along.

So, should you stop retinol if you’re purging? Not necessarily. It's like stopping a detox halfway because toxins are being released. Give it time, be patient, and most importantly, trust your skin's capacity for resilience and renewal.

Retinol was appointed as your skin's personal trainer for a reason. It's ready to coach your skin into being the best version of itself. Quitting halfway through won't get you the dream skin you came for.

So, hang in there. Persevere through the purge. Your skin, in all its radiant glory, is waiting patiently at the finish line.

How do you beat the retinol uglies?


The path to retinol-infused radiance is rarely smooth.

In fact, as we’ve seen, it can often feel like navigating a minefield of redness, dryness and peeling skin.

Fear not! Buckle up, comrades, and prepare for the retinol reckoning.

1. Pace, not Race

Remember, this is skincare, not a 100-meter dash! 

Achieving that dewy, blemish-free look is more akin to a marathon. 

Our sage advice? Treat retinol like a shy newcomer. Begin with a low concentration formula, applying it every 2-3 nights initially. 

Watch for positive signs - lesser peeling indicates increasing tolerance. Gradually increase the frequency, slowly coaxing your skin to accept this robust elixir. 

2. Hydrate ‘til You Can't Hydrate No More

Think of retinol as a thirsty traveler who craves hydration. The dryness and peeling are areas parched from its journey. 

Your mission here is to mobilize the hydration cavalry: hyaluronic acid, ceramides, and the tried-and-tested moisturizers. They swoop in to replenish and refresh your skin, mitigating the desert-like conditions that retinol often cultivates in its initial phase.

3. The Sun is Not Your Ally

Picture retinol as the delicate tundra flora, vulnerable to the harsh sun's radiation. 

Its use may heighten your skin's sensitivity to sun damage, rendering it a more susceptible target. 

And so, consider sunscreen your gallant knight in shining armor, fending off the harmful UV rays. Apply, reapply, and then reapply some more. Shield your skin from the scorching adversary and maintain your ascent to skin nirvana.

4. Refrain from Playing Pretend Chemist 

While we're all for experimental enthusiasm, mixing retinol with other excited molecules is not recommended

Retinol already has a foot-tapping, energetic beat of its own. Simultaneously parading it with other active ingredients like AHAs/BHAs, high-potency vitamin C, or benzoyl peroxide is akin to an impromptu conga line that your skin might just not be ready to join. 

Tread carefully, avoid potential calamities, and surrender the mixing to the seasoned professionals. 

Surviving the 'retinol uglies' is less about avoiding the fight and more about being prepared for the skirmish. It's a short-lived battle in the vast expanse of your skincare journey. 

Wielding this knowledge as your trusty weapon, march forth and ascend skin Mount Olympus. Bask in the inevitable glory that follows the retinol revolution and let the world bear witness to it.

The 'after' reward? A skin transformation that will have the retinol uglies beat a hasty retreat back into oblivion. 

Now that's a victory worth battling for!

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