Retinol in skincare is great for anti-ageing but you can overdo it and end up with retinol skin burn. Find out how to quickly heal a retinol skin burn

you can get great results with retinol products

Neal's Yard Argan Oil was purchased by The Happy Sage. This article contains affiliate links - full disclosure here.

I'm always on a mission to keep my skin as dewy looking and elastic as possible, you can't stop the ageing process but you can have a damn good try at slowing it down!

I have tried many lotions and potions over the years but one thing that does have good results is retinol.

I was recently contacted by someone who had been a bit over-enthusiastic with a retinol based serum they were trying and this had resulted in a retinol skin burn. I've had one of these myself so I thought I'd share the quick and easy way to calm and heal your skin.

What is retinol?

Retinol is derived from vitamin A and is rated as one of the best ingredients for anti-ageing. You can buy skin care products over the counter which have retinol or a slightly milder version, retinyl palmitate in them. You can also obtain stronger products on prescription from your doctor in the form of creams and gels to treat conditions such as acne.

What are the benefits of retinol?

Retinol can reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles and can help smooth the skin. It can also brighten the skin by fading pigmentation spots. It is also good for treating blackheads and clogged pores which is why it is often prescribed as a treatment for acne.

How does retinol work?

Retinol works by increasing the skin cell turnover so that new skin is closer to the surface. It also helps to boost collagen production and this can give the skin a more plumped up look. Four to six weeks should give you a more dewy and healthy look but for improving collagen, the lessening of fine lines and lightening of pigmentation expect to wait about six months.

How do you use retinol?

Retinol is best used once a day in the evening. Always start with a low strength product and apply a couple of times a week building up to daily if you do not have any reactions. As you build a tolerance you should be able to move on to a stronger strength product.

When you use retinol your skin will be more sensitive to the sun you need to ensure that you wear an SPF30 product on your face during the day. Avoid the use of exfoliators and peels whilst you are using retinol and anything with AHA's or BHA's in as well. Also be careful not to use other products containing retinol as the same time. If you have sensitive skin try a patch test before you apply it to the whole face or mix it in with a facial oil when applying.

What are the side effects of retinol?


When starting with retinol expect to see redness, dryness and then some peeling. This is the retinol working to slough away the top layer of skin cells. You may also experience some stinging or a burning feeling. If you use retinol too frequently, start with a strong strength product or use another chemically irritating skin product at the same time you may get a retinol skin burn.

This can look and feel very much like a normal burn. The skin will be very red and angry looking, dry and peeling and there will probably be a strong burning or stinging sensation. The skin may also be weeping a clear fluid and start to feel tight and scab over with a darker coloured crust.

The Ordinary have recently developed a new form of retinol called Granactive Retinoid™ that has been shown to offer better results against multiple signs of aging than retinol but without the irritation. Definitely worth a try if you have sensitive skin!

How to treat a retinol burn

There is one fabulous product to use on a retinol skin burn, and I speak from personal experience here! Neal's Yard organic argan oil.

Argan oil is rich in omega 6 essential fatty acids which protect, regenerate and stimulate the skin helping to keep it soft and supple. It aids in skin healing and has a calming and soothing effect on the skin. The oil is often used in products that regenerate the skin and in products for around the delicate eye area. It is also said that the oil is high in vitamin E which is exceptionally good for healing wounds and burns.

You need to make sure you get a really good quality organic argan oil and I recommend Neal's Yard organic argan oil. To apply to a retinol burn wash your hands thoroughly and then put your finger over the end of the bottle and tip the bottle. Very gently use your finger to apply the oil to the sore area of the face. You can either pat gently if the burn is very bad or rub very gently in small circles if you are able to. You will find that although the skin stays looking quite shiny the oil sinks in and dries off quickly.

Apply the oil about 4 times a day and always at night. You will find that the burn starts to heal really quickly and you can get a huge improvement in redness, burning and peeling in less than 24 hours. Continue with the treatment until the wound has fully healed.

Healing other form of cosmetic skin burns

You can also use Neal's Yard organic argan oil to treat other forms of cosmetic skin burns as well. I have used it on my face when I have reacted very badly to skin care products or cosmetics and also after using a 5% w/w benzoyl peroxide gel on my face one night (for acne) and then using a facial exfoliator the next morning without thinking! It's such a good all rounder to have on hand, you can use it on sunburn, dry skin and as a facial serum. You can also use it on your nails, a dab on on your eyebrows at night and to tame dry frizzy ends on your hair. A true multi-tasking product!

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