Retinol for Rosacea: Does it Help or Is it Bad for You? 2024 update

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Rosacea is a chronic skin condition characterized by redness, pimples, visible blood vessels, and sometimes thickened skin, primarily affecting the face. The causes of rosacea are not fully understood, but it's believed to involve a combination of genetic and environmental factors. Managing rosacea often requires a multifaceted approach, including lifestyle changes, medications, and topical treatments.

Among the many treatments explored for rosacea, retinol is primarily known for its benefits in anti-aging and acne treatment. However, retinol is also being considered for rosacea due to its potential to improve skin texture and reduce inflammation. However, its use is not without controversy, as the sensitive nature of rosacea-affected skin can react variably to potent ingredients.

In this article, updated for 2024, we will delve into the effectiveness and safety of retinol for those suffering from Rosacea. We'll explore the benefits, potential side effects, how to use it safely, and compare it with other treatments. Whether you are newly diagnosed with rosacea or looking for more advanced care options, this guide aims to provide you with the latest information to help manage your skin condition effectively.

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Does Retinol Help Rosacea?

Retinol is renowned in skincare for addressing various skin issues, including acne and signs of aging. It can help people with rosacea because Retinol impacts the renewal of skin cells and moderates inflammation, two mechanisms that are particularly beneficial for managing some rosacea symptoms. By enhancing cell turnover, retinol helps maintain a healthier skin barrier, which can be compromised in rosacea patients. This process is crucial for improving overall skin texture and resilience.

While retinol is not a cure for rosacea, preliminary observations suggest it could play a supportive role in a comprehensive treatment strategy. The anti-inflammatory effects of retinol, for example, are believed to contribute to reducing the persistent redness associated with rosacea. However, its effectiveness and suitability can vary widely among individuals, depending on their skin's sensitivity and the specific characteristics of their rosacea.

Is retinol good for Rosacea? The benefits

Taking into consideration Retinol's action mechanism, here you will explore its skin benefits and how retinol can improve your skin for those suffering from this chronic inflammatory skin disorder.

One of the primary benefits of retinol is its ability to promote cell turnover, leading to improved skin texture. This action is particularly beneficial for rosacea sufferers, as retinol is effective in reducing skin roughness and promoting a smoother surface. Accelerating skin cell renewal can lessen the appearance of thickened skin, a symptom experienced by some with rosacea, ultimately leading to a more refined skin appearance and additionally reducing the fine lines.

Retinol’s well-documented anti-inflammatory properties can be beneficial for reducing the redness and inflammation associated with rosacea. However, while retinol can decrease the visibility of inflammation and blood vessels, it is also capable of irritating, particularly in sensitive skin types or when used in high concentrations. Therefore, it’s crucial to start with lower concentrations and monitor the skin’s response, adjusting the treatment to minimize irritation while still gaining the anti-inflammatory benefits.

In addition to its exfoliating and anti-inflammatory actions, retinol contributes to strengthening the skin’s natural barrier. This enhanced barrier function is critical for rosacea patients, as it improves the skin’s ability to retain moisture and defend against environmental irritants that might trigger flare-ups. A robust skin barrier helps mitigate external factors that can exacerbate rosacea symptoms, supporting overall skin health.

ContWhile direct, comprehensive clinical studies on retinol’s effects specifically for rosacea are limited, these observations are based on its known effects in similar dermatological conditions, underscoring the need for further research directly targeted at rosacea.enido del acordeón

Woman exposing her face to sun

Is retinol bad for rosacea? The side effects

Understanding the side effects and taking appropriate precautions can help mitigate these issues. Retinol use, particularly in individuals with rosacea, can lead to several skin reactions, including:

  • Redness or Discoloration: The skin may appear more flushed.
  • Burning Sensation: Users might feel a mild to moderate burning after application.
  • Itching. This can accompany the redness and burning sensations.
  • Dry Skin: Increased dryness is common, necessitating enhanced hydration.

  • Peeling or Flaking: As the skin adjusts to retinol, peeling or flaking may occur. Increased Sensitivity
  • Irritation: The most significant risk for those with rosacea is heightened skin irritation due to retinol's potent effects.
  • Sun Sensitivity: Retinol can make the skin more susceptible to UV rays. It's crucial to use broad-spectrum sunscreen daily and limit sun exposure to prevent exacerbating rosacea symptoms.
  • Special Consideration: Pregnancy and Breastfeeding: Retinol is not recommended for use during pregnancy or while breastfeeding due to potential risks.

Precautions:

  • Start Low and Go Slow: Begin with a low concentration and use it sparingly, possibly just once a week, increasing frequency as your skin tolerates (If you are using Lesielle, start with the Retinol 0,3% and increase to 2% after a minimum of 8 weeks)
  • Monitor and Adapt: Keep a close eye on how your skin responds and adjust usage accordingly. Reduce frequency or stop if severe irritation occurs.
  • Hydrate and Protect: Apply a moisturizer to help soothe the skin and reinforce the barrier function. Always use sunscreen during the day while using retinol.

Retinol offers many benefits, but it's not without challenges, especially for those with rosacea.

How to use retinol skin care if you have rosacea

Incorporating retinol into your skincare routine when you have rosacea or rosacea-prone skin requires a careful approach to minimize irritation and maximize benefits. Here are step-by-step guidelines to help you use retinol effectively and safely.

Select a Low Concentration: Start with a retinol product that has a low concentration. This will depend on the specific type of retinol (around 0.01% to 0.03% of Retinol itself, or 0,3% in the case of retinyl palmitate). Lower strengths are less likely to irritate but can still benefit significantly.

Formulation Matters: Opt for a retinol formulation that includes moisturizing and soothing ingredients like niacinamide or hyaluronic acid, which can help offset potential dryness and irritation. If you have our Personalized Skincare system, you can easily select these ingredients to be included in your formula and adapt your routine.

Initial Frequency: Begin by applying retinol once a week. Monitor your skin’s response carefully. If your skin tolerates it well after a few applications, consider increasing it to twice a week.

Patch Test: Before starting regular use, perform a patch test by applying a small amount of retinol to a discreet area of the skin to check for adverse reactions.

Clean Skin: Ensure your skin is clean and dry. Wait about 20 minutes after washing your face before applying retinol to avoid potential irritation.

Small Amounts: Use a pea-sized amount for your entire face, spreading it evenly and gently.

Hydrate: Apply a moisturizer to help maintain hydration.

Protect from the Sun: Use a broad-spectrum SPF of 30 or higher every morning, as retinol can increase sun sensitivity.

Observe Changes: Keep an eye on how your skin reacts over the following days. Common mild reactions include slight redness and peeling, which should diminish as your skin gets accustomed to the treatment.

Adjust Usage: If you experience severe redness, burning, or irritation, reduce the frequency of application or discontinue use and consult your dermatologist.

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  • Clean your skin with a gentle cleanser (this non-ionic cleanser is ideal for this) and lukewarm water (not hot!).
  • Avoid rubbing or scrubbing your face to avoid exacerbating the redness.
  • Be Patient: It can take several weeks to see improvements from retinol, and the adjustment period can involve some trial and error.
  • Avoid Overuse: Using retinol more frequently than recommended can increase irritation and worsen rosacea symptoms.

Most Read: Traditional vs Personalized vs Adaptive Cosmetics Comparison

What to do if you experience a rosacea flare-up while using Retinol

During a rosacea flare-up, it is generally advisable to pause the use of retinol in your skincare routine. Rosacea flare-ups can make the skin particularly sensitive and reactive, and retinol might exacerbate irritation and discomfort during these periods.

Here’s a step-by-step approach for managing retinol use during a flare-up: 

  1. Pause Retinol: When you notice a flare-up, it's best to temporarily stop using retinol to avoid further irritation. Your skin's barrier is likely compromised during this time, and retinol could potentially worsen symptoms like redness and peeling.
  2. Focus on Soothing: Switch your skincare routine to focus solely on soothing and barrier-repairing products. Ingredients like ceramides, hyaluronic acid, and niacinamide can help calm the skin and strengthen its protective barrier. 
  3. Consult a Dermatologist: If flare-ups are frequent or severe, it’s crucial to consult with a dermatologist. They might adjust your treatment plan, which could include changing the type or concentration of retinol or even suggesting alternative treatments that might be less irritating during flare-ups.
  4. Gradual Reintroduction: Once the flare-up subsides and your skin returns to its baseline, you can consider reintroducing retinol slowly into your routine. Start with a lower frequency than before the flare-up and monitor your skin's response closely.
  5. Long-Term Management: If retinol continues to provoke flare-ups, discuss with your dermatologist whether continuing its use is beneficial or if other treatment options might be more appropriate for your skin condition.

The Best retinol cream for rosacea

There is no such product considered as the best because it will depend on the exact needs of your unique skin. Still, the bottom line is when selecting a retinol product that helps treat your rosacea, you will need to keep in mind the following key considerations:

Woman applies her custom skincare
  • Formulation: This is the most important factor. Look for retinol products that:

1- Incorporate soothing and barrier-repairing ingredients such as ceramides, niacinamide, bisabolol, or hyaluronic acid. These components can help counteract irritation and support the skin's natural barrier.

2- Include other active ingredients that your skin needs to treat the rest of your concerns. For example, if you want to correct sunspots look for products also including Vitamin C.

3- Provide the correct hydrolipid balance and the exact level of moisturization your skin needs. In other words, look for the product to be according to your skin type.

  • Concentration: as we explained before starting with lower retinol concentrations and gradually working up as tolerated can be a safer approach.
  • Packaging: Opt for retinol products in stable packaging, such as airless pumps, which prevent the ingredient from degrading due to exposure to air and light.

4- Avoid some harsh ingredients like alcohol (ethanol) in your products and select the less irritating alternative when selecting between various ingredients with a similar action (for example, salicylic acid may be a better-suited exfoliant ingredient than Glycolic Acid).

Recommended Product:

Since there are different type of skins and each person need to complement the retinol treatment with other active ingredients, it is not possible to recommend a one-fits-all product to all our readers. The alternatives are to combine different products or create your own formula with a system like the one provided by Lesielle, where you can select moisturization and the treatments you need, in addition to modifying the retinol concentration to increase it gradually.

Rosacea alternatives to Retinol

While retinol can be beneficial for some people with rosacea, it's not suitable for everyone, especially those with highly sensitive skin or who experience severe irritation from retinol. Fortunately, several other effective treatments for managing rosacea are available, many of which require a prescription and should be used under the guidance of a healthcare professional.

Mechanism: Azelaic acid is an anti-inflammatory and antibacterial agent that helps reduce redness and inflammation. It also helps unclog pores and can reduce skin roughness.

Use: Typically used twice a day and considered effective for mild to moderate rosacea. Azelaic acid is available both over the counter and by prescription, depending on the concentration.

  • Tretinoin: A stronger form of vitamin A compared to retinol, tretinoin promotes skin renewal and reduces inflammation but can be irritating for some patients. (Prescription required)
  • Adapalene: A milder retinoid, less likely to cause irritation, making it a suitable option for sensitive skin types. (Available over-the-counter and by prescription)

  • Mechanism: Ivermectin has anti-parasitic and anti-inflammatory properties. It is particularly effective against the type of inflammation seen in rosacea.
  • Use: Typically applied once daily, it can reduce redness and the number of inflammatory lesions. (Prescription required)

  • Mechanism: As an antibiotic and anti-inflammatory, metronidazole cream or gel is commonly prescribed for rosacea. It helps reduce inflammation and redness.
  • Use: Applied once or twice daily, it is useful for managing symptoms and preventing flare-ups. (Prescription required)

  • Types: Tetracycline, doxycycline, and minocycline are the most commonly used oral antibiotics for rosacea.
  • Mechanism: These antibiotics reduce inflammation rather than treat bacterial infections, making them suitable for inflammatory rosacea.
  • Use: Usually prescribed for moderate to severe cases, especially when topical treatments are insufficient. (Prescription required)

  • Brimonidine: This topical medication specifically targets redness by constricting blood vessels. (Prescription required)
  • Laser and Light Therapies: These treatments can reduce the visibility of blood vessels and improve overall skin appearance, usually administered by dermatologists.
  • Sulfur: Topical sulfur products can decrease inflammation and are particularly useful in reducing redness and breakouts in rosacea. (Available over-the-counter)

Tips for choosing rosacea-friendly skincare products

Cleanser

  • Choose Gentle Formulas: Look for cleansers that are labeled as gentle, soap-free, and non-comedogenic. These products are less likely to irritate sensitive skin.
  • Avoid Harsh Ingredients: Steer clear of cleansers with alcohol, witch hazel, menthol, peppermint, and eucalyptus oil, as these can be drying and irritating.

Moisturizer

  • Barrier Repair: Opt for moisturizers that help strengthen the skin’s barrier. Look for ingredients like oils, ceramides, or humectants that support moisture retention and barrier function.
  • Minimal Ingredients: Choose products without fragrances or essential oils, which are more likely to cause irritation.
  • SPF Inclusion: If your moisturizer does not contain SPF, ensure you apply a separate sunscreen. Sun exposure can worsen rosacea symptoms, so daily protection is essential.

Treatment: active ingredients in your regime

Make sure that your moisturizer, complementary serum, or custom-made formula if you use the Lesielle system includes:

  • Soothing ingredients: including ingredients like bisabolol, aloe vera, niacinamide or hyaluronic acid will help soothe your skin.
  • Complementary concerns, avoiding harsh ingredients: having rosacea does not mean that you do not have more concerns (wrinkles, fine lines, hyperpigmentation...). For that reason, try that your product includes active ingredients that treat the rest of your concerns but are compatible with your skin. Discovers yours doing this skin quiz

Patch Test New Products: Always perform a patch test with new treatments to check for any adverse reactions before applying them to your entire face.

How to use Retinol for Rosacea usisng Lesielle Concept

One of the advantages of using Lesielle is that you can combine different actives, even when they have different conservation methods, for creating your custom cosmetic. You will also be able to adapt your treatment whenever you need.

Here you have a step-by-step of what you need to do for taking advantage of Lesielle´s benefits

  • Choose your base. You can choose from our sensitive skin range.
  • Choose your actives. Among the 4 actives you will be able to choose, add Retinol. As it was said before, modify the retinol concentration to increase it gradually until you know how it affects your skin.
  • Press the button and use your personalized skincare cosmetic.

FAQ about Retinol and Rosace

Retinol does not cause rosacea, which is a chronic skin condition with a genetic component and various environmental triggers. However, retinol can potentially irritate the skin, which might exacerbate existing rosacea symptoms in some people.

Retinol can be safe for rosacea if used appropriately, starting with low concentrations and gradually building up as your skin tolerates it. It's crucial to monitor skin reactions and adjust usage accordingly. For detailed guidance on how to use retinol safely in rosacea, see the section "How to Use Retinol if You Have Rosacea."

In some cases, retinol can increase redness and irritation, particularly if used in high concentrations or applied too frequently. Starting with a low dose and slowly increasing usage can help mitigate this risk. For more information on potential side effects, refer to the section "Is Retinol Bad for Rosacea? The Side Effects & Precautions."

Retinol may help reduce redness associated with rosacea through its anti-inflammatory properties. However, the effect can vary, and some individuals may find it too irritating initially. It's essential to start with a low concentration and increase gradually. For a deeper look into the benefits of retinol for rosacea, see "Is Retinol Good for Rosacea? The Benefits."

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Research on Retinol and Rosacea

Here you can find a list and summary of some articles

  • A clinical study showed that topical application of retinaldehyde at 0.05% concentration alleviates vascular signs of rosacea, such as persistent erythema and telangiectasia, in a significant number of patients over a period of 6 months (Vienne et al., 1999).
  • Oral administration of 13-cis-retinoic acid has been reported to produce good results in severe cases of rosacea, contributing to long-lasting remission and a reduction in inflammatory lesions (Schmidt & Raff, 1982)(Nikolowski & Plewig, 1981).
  • Isotretinoin, primarily known for its use in severe acne, has also been found effective in managing rosacea, particularly in reducing sebum production and inflammation (Park & Del Rosso, 2011).
  • In conclusion, retinoids such as retinaldehyde, 13-cis-retinoic acid, and isotretinoin show potential in managing various symptoms of rosacea, especially in more severe forms where traditional therapies might not be effective. These findings suggest that retinoids could be a viable option for rosacea treatment, particularly for its inflammatory aspects and in cases resistant to other treatments.
  • A study explored the use of clindamycin phosphate 1.2% combined with tretinoin 0.025% in gel form for rosacea, reporting a significant decrease in pustules and papules without notable inflammation or intolerance, although no improvement in facial redness was observed. This suggests that further investigation into topical retinoids for rosacea could be beneficial (Freeman, Moon, & Spencer, 2012).
  • Another study highlights the effectiveness of oral isotretinoin in severe rosacea cases, noting substantial regression of inflammatory lesions and long-lasting remission, with tolerable side effects. This study supports the use of isotretinoin as a potent anti-inflammatory and sebum-suppressive agent in rosacea treatment (Nikolowski & Plewig, 1981).
  • Isotretinoin and its Anti-inflammatory Effects: A detailed analysis of isotretinoin’s actions in rosacea found that it likely operates through multiple pathways including inhibition of sebaceous gland activity and sebum production, reduction of Propionibacterium acnes growth in follicles, and modulation of keratinization and inflammation within the follicle. These findings underscore its multi-faceted role in managing severe rosacea and similar inflammatory conditions (Plewig, Nikolowski, & Wolff, 1982).
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