Tretinoin peeling is definitely a real thing. Peeling skin, especially for first-time users, is all a part of the “retinization” adjustment process. Peeling skin while using tretinoin may actually be a good sign, however annoying it may be.
Tretinoin peeling is a good thing because it’s a sure sign that tretinoin is successfully speeding up your skin cell turnover rate (one of its many benefits).
As your body speeds up the rate it creates new skin cells, the old skin cells die off and are shed. This can present as your skin peeling, flaking, and feeling dry.
As your skin gets used to this powerful retinoid you might experience adjustment period side effects like skin peeling, flaking, redness, scaling skin, dry skin, itchiness, and overall irritation.
The good news is, this is only temporary.
Generally speaking, peeling may happen during the initial few weeks of treatment. This can range from 2 to 6 weeks of regular use. But, this can vary from person to person.
If your skin is very sensitive, if your skin is overly dehydrated, or if you’re introducing tretinoin slowly, the length of time your skin will peel might be longer.
The trick to this peeling stage is remaining as gentle (and patient) as you can. So, no scrubbing off the flaky skin. This will only cause more peeling, flaking, and irritation.
Tretinoin is already very exfoliating, so introducing harsh soaps, scrubs or acids will likely only worsen irritation and peeling.
Instead, use a very gentle exfoliating method after cleansing, such as dampening a washcloth and using it in circular motions over areas of peeling skin to help slough off the skin.
If the skin isn’t budging with this gentle nudge, leave it alone.
If this method doesn’t work, just generously moisturize your skin and leave the peeling skin alone. Soon enough it will slough off naturally, or during your next cleanse.
The golden rule here is not to over-exfoliate with scrubs or acids to try to get rid of this peeling skin. That’s the opposite of what we want to do here, folks.
While peeling skin during the initial weeks of tretinoin treatment is expected and totally normal, there are ways to minimize this side effect.
If you want to keep flakiness, dryness, and peeling to a minimum, try these tretinoin tips.
Probably one of the most important takeaways here is to prioritize skin hydration. Likely you are applying tretinoin at night, which means you have a great opportunity during your AM routine to prep your skin.
During your morning routine try to use a hydrating cleanser, emollient (oil) cleansers, hyaluronic acid on a wet face, and creams that lock in this moisture. If your skin is angry at you, throw in skin-soothing niacinamide, aloe vera, or shea butter.
From experience, I can say this step makes a world of difference when using tretinoin.
Your skin barrier is very important to the health of your skin. When using a powerful product like tretinoin (or any exfoliating treatments) it’s important to restore balance.
While tretinoin is not damaging to the skin, it is powerful. This means to avoid flaking and peeling skin-restoring balance to your skin barrier function is important.
To restore balance:
If your skin barrier is happy, your skin looks and feels happy.
I know, the broken record of skincare advice. But staying hydrated has really been proven to help keep skin moist and hydrated. When your skin is going through its first few weeks of tretinoin treatment, staying hydrated might help reduce peeling.
For women, it’s recommended to drink 91 ounces of water a day. For men, it’s recommended to drink 125 ounces of water a day.
Stay hydrated inside and out by using quality moisturizers.
Learn more: Top 5 Best Moisturizers to Use With Tretinoin
Less is more when it comes to tretinoin.
You are not going to get “more results” by using more product. In fact, by using more product you might just irritate your skin for no reason.
Don’t overdo it with the application and that can help keep peeling skin in check.
If you’ve jumped into the deep end of tretinoin and you’re experiencing a lot of side effects and have severe peeling, there are a few things to consider.
With tretinoin it is recommended to start with an “acclimation” period” where your skin can slowly get accustomed to tretinoin. This period can help reduce severe side effects. So, ask yourself or your doctor if you can slow your treatment down a bit.
Many doctors begin new tretinoin users on a mid-range concentration of 0.05 percent. However, this might be too strong for some people. If you have sensitive skin there are gentle formulations you can try. If you lower your tretinoin concentration, you can always work your way up slowly if need be.
Yes, tretinoin peeling may happen. But it’s only temporary. Peeling may happen during your first initial weeks of treatment. Peeling is a sign that tretinoin is speeding up your skin cell turnover rate and new skin is replacing the old.
By being gentle, and committing to skincare that is both nourishing and hydrating, you can minimize tretinoin side effects.
You can shop our collection of expertly formulated tretinoin-containing products online. Our team of licensed medical doctors reviews your skincare questionnaire and if they find you’re a good fit for our tretinoin formulas, we’ll ship your prescription to your doorstep.
To try our formulas, complete a questionnaire-based online doctor's consultation to see if our treatments are right for you.