The Dangers of Retinol Cream: What to Watch Out For

The Dangers of Retinol Cream: What to Watch Out For
June 15, 2020 Ellis James

While retinol itself is not a cream, it is often added to creams that are made to be used on your skin. It is said to boost the amount of collagen that your body produces. It also as plumps the skin in order to reduce the appearance of wrinkles, fine lines, and acne scars.

Retinol also helps improve skin tone and radiance, as well as reduces mottled patches. Using a product that is retinol-based can sometimes cause the top layer of your skin to become dry, and, subsequently, become flaky. It is better to apply it in the evening, and then wear sunscreen and a moisturizer in the morning.

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What are the side effects of retinol?

Retinol: The Basics

Retinol is often used by people over the age of 30 that maintain a skincare routine, or have at least considered using it. But are there any real benefits to using retinol? Does it really prevent aging and reduce wrinkles? Is it even safe? What are the dangers of retinol cream?

Retinol is a derivative of vitamin A that is entirely synthetic. This vitamin group is fat-soluble and is found most abundantly in eggs, carrots, and sweet potatoes. When retinol is applied topically, or on the outermost layer of the skin, it converts into what is known as retinoic acid by particular enzymes that are in the skin.

While retinoic acid can also be applied directly to the skin, it is far harsher than a standard retinol serum or cream, because it does not convert over time. Retinol has become a standard in the vast majority of skincare routines around the world thanks to its ability to change the behavior of aged skin cells so that they behave in a more youthful manner.

This means that the cream refines and smooths the texture of your skin. It also enhances its natural radiance and treats aging. When retinol is integrated into skincare routines that prevent aging, it can boost skin turnover and renewal. More positive effects include reducing the appearance of aging, age spots, and uneven texture, as well as enhancing the production of collagen.

Medically, retinol is frequently used to treat a deficiency of Vitamin A.

The Side Effects of Using Retinol

Because retinol is such a potent ingredient, it can sometimes cause the skin to peel or become irritated. Especially if it is integrated into a skincare routine too hastily, or into a method that is used very often.

Dryness, flakiness, and possibly some breakouts may occur when retinol is first introduced into a skincare routine. Your skin will generally need some time to adjust.

We recommend that you start by slowly adding it to your nightly routine once or twice in the first week. Then gradually increasing your use from there, depending on the way your skin reacts. If you notice any visible peeling or irritation, use it only once a week for one month, then up it to twice a week. Look out for any irritation.

After applying retinol cream or serum to your skin, wait at least thirty minutes. This allows the skin to absorb the product well. Then you can apply another product on top of it. You should also wear sunscreen on a daily basis while using retinol, as it can cause your skin to become more sensitive to sunlight.

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Is Retinol Dangerous?

We’ve listed some pretty unpleasant side effects that retinol may cause, but is it truly dangerous?

This depends entirely on your skin type, how you use it, and where you are getting it from.

Over-the-counter retinol is, as we mentioned previously, a weaker version of a retinoid. On the other hand, tretinoin is a more potent prescription version. Prescription-grade retinoids contain retinoic acid as their primary active ingredient. This means that it is more effective when treating acne and wrinkles in a shorter amount of time. However, it will more often than not come with more adverse side effects.

Are there any potential health risks to using retinol?

While vitamin A, of which retinol is a derivative, is in many of the foods we eat and is an essential nutrient, it is not necessarily safe for use on the skin.

Quite shockingly, retinol has been linked to increased skin cancer risk when used on skin that is frequently exposed to the sun.

The unfortunate fact is, several cosmetic brands have added the ingredient to a whole host of products meant for use throughout the day. Perhaps most alarmingly, in sunscreen.

Professionals recommend avoiding using daytime products like sunscreen that contain vitamin A.

Retinol on Children, Pregnant Women, and the Elderly

While more research is needed, some studies show that retinol and retinoids pose some more significant health risks. Especially vulnerable are children, women who are pregnant, and the elder population.

If your body contains too much preformed vitamin A, you may experience some health issues. These can be damage to the liver, osteoporosis, and hair loss, and hip fractures in the elderly.

Although retinol has not been thoroughly studied in pregnant women, it would be best to avoid using retinol and retinoids if you are pregnant. (Check out our pregnancy-safe drugstore makeup recommendations!)

As for the risk of too much preformed vitamin A, there is a risk of vitamin A toxicity, but again, further research and studies need to be conducted.

is retinol dangerous

How to Apply Retinol Properly

If you are not at risk of the adverse side effects may have, or if they simply do not bother you, here is a short guide for applying retinol. Achieve the maximum benefits with these steps.

  • Start by washing your face and applying eye cream. Most eye creams are able to protect the very thin and delicate skin around our eyes, as well as your eyelids.
  • Then, wait for your skin to be completely dry before applying retinol. This is a crucial step as if your skin is even slightly damp; the retinol will absorb more deeply into your skin and cause some irritation. You can apply moisturizers to damp skin, but never retinol.
  • Afterwards, scoop out a pea-sized amount of retinol and apply with your fingertips in outward and upward motions.
  • Finally, finish with your favorite moisturizer.

Dangers of Retinol Cream: Final Thoughts

At the moment, retinol is in a similar state to CBD. Both have benefits and adverse side effects, but not many have been proven.

So, if you are using retinol and you find that it is improving your skin, keep at it. Do you find that retinol is irritating your skin or causing any of the negative side effects we mentioned above? Substitute it for another skincare cream, or consult your dermatologist.

Interested to learn ore about retinoids? Check out our blog:


What’s your experience on the dangers of retinol cream and other retinol products? Share your experience of retinol and other retinoids with us!

Comments (18)

  1. Sarah 1 year ago

    I’m over 30 now and would like to try retinol creams. I worry about breaking out or it drying my skin out though, so I’ll probably have to do a few patch tests before. At least I am working from home so I won’t have to go out with my skin playing up though!

    xo Sarah | Oomph London

    • Doing patch tests is a great idea! And yeah, with everyone staying indoors, it’s a good time to try it so you’re not that exposed to the sun! Hopefully retinol works out for you, Sarah!

  2. Nancy 1 year ago

    It is important that while retinol helps with clearing your skin, there is always dangers with using too much of it. I try to use it once per week at most to avoid any potential risks.

    Nancy ♥

  3. Wow, so informational! I have been wondering about retional… I’ve used it before in products that had it in them already. I didn’t know it was best for use at night and not in sunscreen! So good to know!


  4. Sophie Wentworth 1 year ago

    I have to be super careful with retinols as I have really sensitive skin. I can only use a tiny percentage otherwise I get some of the things you mentioned here like flaking and redness x


    • Thanks for sharing your experience with us, Sophie! It’s good to learn that you can still use it, even if it’s in smaller doses. Really wouldn’t want that flakiness and redness to exacerbate the sensitivity of your skin!

  5. Charity 1 year ago

    I did not honestly know that there were dangers to using retinol! Thanks for sharing all this valuable information!

  6. Ashley 1 year ago

    These are such great retinol tips- I didn’t realize that you should wait about 30 minutes after applying retinol to layer on another product! This is so good to know!

    Le Stylo Rouge

    • Glad we’re able to clear some things up about retinol use for you, Ashley!

    • Niki 2 months ago

      Retinol gives me bad headaches. Plus there is a high risk of overuse. 0,2 percent of Retinol in a cosmetic product means 40.000 IU. This is quite much.
      Retinol is kept into the bodys fat and accumulating over time.
      In 20 years we might see an increase in women with weak bones due to Vitamin A in cosmetics.
      There is a condition called “pseudotumor cerebri” that can occur from Vitamin A toxicity.
      Think twice if a wrinkle free face is worth THAT risk.

      • Ellis James Designs 2 months ago

        Thanks for sharing this info, Niki! Good for people to have an idea of its repercussions.

  7. Deborah Kos 1 year ago

    I use retinol occasionally, more in the summer when my skin is oilier. I like to be careful with retinol because it can really dry out your skin.

  8. Reham 2 months ago

    so much informative, I have a dry skin do you recommend to use at night and should I use it with vitamin c as I am using vitamin c in daily base at night

    • Ellis James Designs 2 months ago

      Retinol can be used at night and with vit C, as long as you monitor the combo’s effects on your skin to see if any issues come up!

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