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Pairing Rosacea & Retinol: A Flare-Up Waiting To Happen?

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Retinol is touted as one of the crowning jewels of skincare, especially among those who are prioritizing anti-aging skincare. Retinol really is great, we love the whole powerhouse family of retinoids. But, are they good news for all skin types? Those with rosacea have particularly sensitive skin and often deal with a compromised skin barrier. So, can retinol and rosacea be paired safely? 

In our series, Rosacea-Friendly or Bust, we detail what ingredients are rosacea-friendly and which are likely to cause a flare-up. In this article, we’re covering the beloved retinol.


Retinol and rosacea: treading lightly 

When it comes to this retinoid and rosacea, it comes with both the good and the bad. 

The good is that retinol (and stronger retinoids) might help reduce rosacea pustules, improve skin texture, and smooth wrinkles-- but it might also worsen redness and the appearance of broken capillaries. 

While you’re still in the retinoid adjustment period, retinoids are known to cause a bit of redness, irritation, dryness, and itchiness. When you have rosacea and already deal with redness, irritation, dryness, and itchiness -- it’s sort of the last thing you want to worsen. 

While retinol is great for boosting collagen, increasing skin cell regeneration, and smoothing over wrinkles, it’s a fine line (no pun intended) between anti-aging and worsening rosacea. 


Short answer? It works for some and worsens symptoms for others. 

We wish it were a clearer answer, but it’s not. Here is what we know about paring rosacea and retinol:

  • If you’re amidst a rosacea flare-up, do not use retinol. Let your skin recover before trying retinol. 
  • But if your rosacea is under control, perhaps try low concentrations of retinol once or twice a week and pay very close attention to how your skin reacts over the coming weeks. Stop use if your skin becomes dry, flaky, or irritated. 
  • If you can slowly acclimate your skin to retinol it’s possible you’ll have minimal side effects that we’ve mentioned. 
  • When it comes to rosacea and retinol: just don’t jump in the deep end. 
  • While retinol might work for some with rosacea, for others, using retinol is not going to be worth the potential trade-off. 
  • On rosacea forums online, there are plenty of people who have had success with using retinol. But, there are also plenty of people who found their symptoms quickly worsened and it took time to recover back to a baseline. 
  • It’s true that some doctors prescribe topical tretinoin (a stronger older brother to retinol) to help treat pustules when other treatments fail. But, again, the good may come with the bad. If your goal is reducing pustules and acne-like breakouts, tretinoin might be a good option under the care of a dermatologist. Just know that it might worsen irritation, dryness, and redness. 


If you are interested in retinol for its stellar anti-aging properties, remember, there are other awesome options. 


Rosacea-friendly retinol swaps

Most anti-aging products contain some form of chemical exfoliant. If you have rosacea, it’s best that you steer clear of these. Harsh acids such as lactic, glycolic, and salicylic acid are not recommended for those with rosacea.  

Read more: Rosacea Friendly or Bust: Salicylic Acid & Rosacea  


But, there’s hope for you yet. 

Antioxidants like vitamin C, niacinamide, and vitamin E are all great for anti-aging and are rosacea-friendly. You can also consider hyaluronic acid, green tea extract, and grape seed extract.

If you’re worried about skin aging, try adding a low concentration of vitamin C and a high concentration of hyaluronic acid for a daily boost. Vitamin C is an anti-inflammatory, skin smoothing and brightening. Hyaluronic acid plumps up the skin cells with mega hydration. 

Read more: Hyaluronic Acid & Rosacea: The Acid You DO Want To Use


Article summary

While some with rosacea might be able to use low concentrations of retinol, others will find it worsens symptoms. The bottom line is, talk with your dermatologist and be prepared for potential flare-ups. 

Retinol (and other retinoids) commonly causes redness, irritation, and dryness in the initial weeks. Often, those with rosacea are fighting pretty hard to lessen the redness, irritation, and dryness they already deal with -- so retinol might not be a welcome guest. 

For foolproof, rosacea-friendly anti-aging, opt for vitamin C and hyaluronic acid. 


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