7 retinoid myths debunked

“You can’t use retinoids during the day! Are you crazy?! You’re gonna get wrinkles!”

“Of course you can use them during the day. Just pile on your sunscreen.”

“You don’t need to exfoliate if you use retinoids. They do that for you.”

“Since when do retinoids exfoliate skin? Nonsense!”

“I’d never use retinoids. They thin skin, you know.”

“I thought retinoids made skin thicker?…”

Argh. Retinoids are the gold standards of anti-aging. They kick wrinkles in the buttfade your dark spots away and even rid you of acne! You can’t do without them.

But doing with them ain’t easy either. With so many myths and misconceptions around retinoids, it’s hard to know what to believe and how to use them.

Fret not. I’ve done the research and debunked the craziest, most common retinoid myths for you:

1. Retinoic Acid, Retinol, Retinaldehyde, And Other “Retin” Ingredients Are All The Same Thing

All these “retin” ingredients have one thing in common: they’re all forms of Vitamin A. This means they all have the same properties – BUT not the same potency.

Retinoid acid is the pure form of vitamin A. It’s the most powerful (and most irritating). That’s why you’ll find it only in prescription products, like Retin A.

All other OTC forms of retinoids (think retinol, retinaldehyde or retinyl palmitate) must be converted to retinoid acid to work their magic. The more steps this conversion takes, the weaker vitamin A is:

Retinyl palmitate > Retinol > Retinaldehyde > Retinoic acid

In other words, the further away a form is from retionoic acid, the less effective but more gentler it is. That’s why retinyl palmitate is recommended only to super sensitive skin that can’t tolerate any other form of vitamin A. It’ll take longer to see results but your skin won’t be irritated all the time.

Related: What’s The Best Form Of Vitamin A For YOU?

Struggling to put together a skincare routine that minimises wrinkles, prevents premature aging, and gives your complexion a youthful glow? Download your FREE “Best Anti-Aging Skincare Routine” to get started (it features product recommendations + right application order):

2. You Can’t Use Retinoids During The Day

I’m the first to recommend you use retinoids at night because they make skin more prone to sun damage during the initial few weeks of use. Plus, sunlight degrades retinoids, making them less effective.

But, if you prefer to use them in the morning, you still can. I’ve found a study that shows that, when used with sunscreen, retinoids are still both effective and safe.

The catch? You need to reapply that sunscreen regularly.

Related: 6 Things To Look For When Buying Sunscreen

peter thomas roth retinol infusion pm night serum 01

3. Retinoids Exfoliate Skin

Retinol are smart. They tell cells to speed up cellular turnover, i.e. the skin’s natural exfoliating process. But that’s not the same as exfoliating skin. They don’t dissolve the “glue” that holds skin cells together like acids do, or dislodge them manually like scrubs do.

Another red herring? The redness and flaking retinoids cause when you first start using them. The flakiness can easily be mistake for exfoliation. But it’s not. It’s irritation.

If you’re experiencing it, cut back to two or three times a week and moisturise well afterwards.

Related: Physical VS Chemical Exfoliation: Which One Is Better?

medik8 retinol 6 TR 01

4. Retinoids Thin The Skin

If retinoids exfoliated skin, this myth may have some truth in it. But they don’t.

In fact, the opposite is true. Retinoids boost collagen production, which makes skin THICKER and firmer overtime.

Related: 8 Science-Backed Ways To Rebuild Lost Collagen

5. You Shouldn’t Use Retinoids Around Your Eyes

Not only you should. You MUST!

It’s true the skin around the eyes is super delicate. But that’s why it get damaged more easily. If you want to keep those crow’s feet away, you do need retinoids’ help. 

If your undereye area gets all flaked and irritated, then use a lower concentration of retinoids or cut back to once or twice a week.

medik8 crystal retinal 6

6. Retinoids Work Immediately

I wish!

Retinoids are anti-ageing superstars but they take their sweet time to work. We’re talking months here. If you’ve been using retinol for a few weeks and see no improvement, it’s because it’s too early.

Stick with them for six months. At least. You’ll reap their benefits eventually. I promise.

7. You Can’t Apply Retinoids To Wet Skin

Do you ever bother to read the instructions on the box? If you do, you’ll know they usually say you need to wait until your skin is completely dry before applying retinoids.

I do. But if you’re the impatient type, you can go ahead and apply them on wet skin. Nothing bad will happen. 

the ordinary granactive retinoid 5% in squalane 01

What Are The Best Retinoid Products?

  • Paula’s Choice Skin Recovery Super Antioxidant Concentrate Serum with Retinol ($34.00) (Beginner level): available at Paula’s Choice
  • La Roche Posay Redermic Anti-Aging Dermatological Treatment (£20.65) (Intermediate level): available at Dermstore and Feel Unique
  • Peter Thomas Roth Retinol Fusion PM ($65.00) (Pro level): available at Beauty BayCult BeautySephora and Ulta