How To Get Rid Of Retinol Uglies (Or Avoid Them In The First Place)

Morgan McHose

If you’ve fallen down the retinol rabbit hole online (like me), then you might have stumbled across the phrase “retinol uglies.” What does this phrase mean? Are retinol uglies an inevitable part of the retinol process? Should you skip the retinol entirely? 

If you’ve ever asked one of these questions, then you’ve come to the right place. We’re going to talk all about the retinol uglies—what they are, how you can prevent them, and whether the final result is even worth all the hassle.

If you’re in the retinol uglies phase as you’re reading this, you’re still in the right place! We’ve researched treatments that can help you get the much-needed relief you’re looking for. No matter the stage of your skincare journey, we’ve got you covered.


You may have been warned about (or experienced for yourself) the dreaded retinol uglies. This term refers to the period of time in which your skin is getting acclimated to the new retinol product. This window could start within the first week of application and last as long as a month. During this time, your skin could exhibit a whole host of unfortunate side effects. Common retinol uglies include sun sensitivity, dryness, redness, peeling, flakiness, or tretinoin purge.

For those unfamiliar, sun sensitivity essentially means that you’re more likely to get sunburnt when exposed to the sun. While wearing sunscreen is always recommended, it’s even more important if you’re using a product that could cause sun sensitivity. Apply sunscreen every morning, and while outside, don’t forget to reapply every hour and a half.

While on the topic of sunscreen, try to use biodegradable sunscreen when possible. Common sunscreens contain ingredients that are toxic to our oceans and are packaged in containers that aren’t biodegradable. Biodegradable sunscreens are made with both users and the environment in mind. 

How Long Do Retinol Uglies Last?

Typically, anywhere from 7 days to one or even two months. Skin purging from retinol is one of the uglies that you might not recognize and it can last pretty long. The retinol works to purge your skin of everything that might be blocking your pores and causing breakouts. However, this sudden turnover brings everything to the surface at once, for better or worse. The skin purge can exacerbate the problem initially by dredging up all those pore-cloggers and inciting worse breakouts.

Therefore, you might notice worsening acne breakouts or skin peeling when you start using retinol. These should stop within a month of retinol use. If the breakouts or peeling are severe, painful, or concerning, please consult a medical professional. No skincare product should be causing you pain or extreme discomfort. The good news is that there are hundreds, if not thousands of retinoids on the market. And not all will cause retinol uglies! You should be able to find the right one or find an alternative that works best for you.

RETINOL that won't cause uglies

If retinol can cause retinol uglies, why do people still use the product? Well, many would argue that the long-term benefits outweigh the initial retinol uglies. Retinol is a great skincare product for treating acne, fine lines or wrinkles, and overall improving skin health and appearance. However, there are many different retinol products (have you heard of encapsulated retinol?).

On the other hand, botanical retinols like Plant Mother’s organic plant-based retinol serum are far gentler on the skin and won’t cause retinol uglies. The retinol serum from Plant Mother is made with entirely plant-based Vitamin A ingredients. Because Plant Mother doesn’t use harsh chemical Vitamin A (retinol), you won’t experience redness, dryness, or irritation that you will with a traditional retinol.


If it’s not causing typical retinol uglies, is Plant Mother’s retinol serum still working? Absolutely! The serum gets to work right away, encouraging cell turnover and promoting collagen growth. You should start to notice that your skin is getting clearer, brighter, more even in skin tone, and smoother.

By deriving vitamins and antioxidants from plants, Plant Mother’s retinol serum produces the same wonderful anti-aging benefits as synthetic retinols without the harsh chemicals and side-effects.

retinol serum before and after


Vitamin C and retinol are a worthwhile duo for any skincare routine. We recommend using Plant Mother’s Vitamin C serum in the morning and applying retinol serum at night for best results. Just like the retinol, Plant Mother’s Vitamin C serum is packed with nourishing and rejuvenating all-natural ingredients.

One of its all-star ingredients is the organic Kakadu Plum. This vitamin-rich plant boasts 55 times more Vitamin C than oranges! The Vitamin C serum will help you to combat premature signs of aging and give your skin a youthful and refreshed look.

retinol serum skin scan


Some argue that retinol uglies aren’t an inevitability. If you choose to use a vegan plant-based retinol, that’s true. If you decide to use over-the-counter retinol, there are certain steps that can help you prevent the dryness, redness, irritation, and purging associated with starting retinol.

The key is to start small and slow. Use a product with low retinol concentration to start. If you’d like to be extra cautious, you could conduct a patch test first on a small area. Use a tiny amount of retinol to start, and don’t use it every day.

Try applying once or twice a week in the beginning. You want to give your skin plenty of time to get used to the product.

Research the other skincare products you are using. Retinol can have an increased drying or irritating effect when combined with certain ingredients. Some even suggest reducing the amount of skincare products you use while introducing retinol. Just be sure to keep your moisturizer (ideally plant-based Vitamin C) and sunscreen in the mix! Moisturizing your skin and protecting it with sunscreen are some of the top suggestions for preventing the retinol uglies. 

Another prevention tip is to gently wash and exfoliate your skin regularly. Consider introducing a cleansing oil formulated with all-natural face oils. You don’t want to excessively irritate your skin at a time of change, but you do want to remove the dead skin cells that emerge during cell turnover. Just be careful when picking an exfoliator to use. 


You may have stumbled upon this page having already reached the “retinol uglies” stage. If you didn’t practice any of the prevention tips, don’t despair! There are ways to treat the retinol uglies. Keep in mind that this stage is temporary, even without any intervention. But if you’re impatient or having a hard time getting through this stage, there are still steps you can take to help treat them.

Apply an ice pack or cold compress to the area that is giving you discomfort. This can help ease your discomfort. You shouldn’t be experiencing major pain or irritation—if you do, stop use and get medical treatment right away. Minor pain or irritation is typically just a part of the retinol uglies, however.

Skip the chemicals, masks, and makeup. You might be tempted to cover up a retinol purge with a thick layer of foundation or concealer. Don’t! If you can forego makeup, exfoliants and other chemical products, do so for the first week. This will keep your skin from getting unnecessarily overwhelmed with irritating and pore-clogging products.


Your internal alarm bells might be blaring at this point. Retinol uglies are a major, albeit temporary, downside of retinol use. However, they shouldn’t deter you from using retinol. Retinol uglies are a bump in the road, but using retinol consistently leads to lifelong improvements in your skin. 

Many have found that retinol, especially plant-based retinol, is great for skin rejuvenation and overall texture. After the retinol uglies, your body adjusts and that new, smoother skin emerges. Of course, if you have sensitive skin or a skin condition, you might want to ask a dermatologist before trying out retinol.


The name “retinol uglies” isn’t one I personally would’ve chosen, nor do I agree with it. Please remember to practice kindness, self-love and patience with yourself. No product can make you “ugly.” Not breakouts, or peeling, or anything else. No self-judgment or criticism is allowed here! Beauty radiates from the inside, not the outside. Your skin is a vital part of you, and it deserves your love and care.

Skin health takes many avenues. If retinol is part of your skincare journey, the retinol uglies might tag along. Just remember the prevention and treatment tips, and practice self-care. You’re going to get through this!


This content is for informational and educational purposes only. It is not intended to provide medical advice or to take the place of such advice or treatment from a personal physician. All readers of this content are advised to consult their doctors or qualified health professionals regarding specific health questions. The publisher of this content does not take responsibility for possible health consequences of any person or persons reading or following the information in this educational content. All viewers of this content, especially those taking prescription or over-the-counter medications, should consult their physicians before beginning any nutrition, supplement, skincare product, or lifestyle program.

Morgan McHose
Morgan McHose is a graduate student at the University of Southern California studying Public Relations and Advertising. When she’s not studying, Morgan loves writing and reading the latest YA fantasy novels. Morgan currently volunteers as a multimedia journalist at the USC Media Center and writes as an opinion staff writer for the USC newspaper. She aims to find a creative career in Los Angeles in entertainment PR.