Retinoid uglies describe the temporary worsening of your skin when using retinoids, with common symptoms including redness, flakiness, and breakouts.

From dermatologists to TikTok influencers, the buzz around retinoids as potent anti-aging and acne-fighting agents is hard to miss. Yet, amidst the praises, there’s a side effect often downplayed: the emergence of breakouts, commonly known as retinol uglies.

But don’t worry! We’re here to guide you through evidence-backed strategies to ease the impact of a retinoid purge.

Also known as retinol or retinoid purging, the retinol uglies are a temporary period of increased skin irritation and breakouts. They happen when you use skincare products containing retinol or related ingredients called retinoids.

Retinol uglies tend to show up around where your skin is thinnest, like your nose and mouth. Common symptoms include:

The good news? While unpleasant, retinol uglies can be a sign that your treatment is working as intended.

Retinol is part of the vitamin A family. When used in a topical skincare treatment, it speeds up your cellular turnover. Your skin sheds dead cells and grows new ones faster. Your pores unclog at a rapid rate, but all the nasty stuff leaving your body has to go somewhere.

Right at the start of your treatment, this sudden purge of dead skin and bacteria triggers the uglies. Symptoms will vary depending on your skin type and sensitivity.

After the gunk is purged, however, you’ll start to see the benefits of your treatment.

The retinol uglies can last anywhere from 4–8 weeks. The exact length of a retinoid purge depends very much on your skin type and sensitivity. The amount and strength of your retinoid product can also play a part.

Some people experience a purge flare-up for only a few days, and others don’t get it at all. If you experience the uglies for more than two months, it might be time to talk to a dermatologist.

Sure, the retinol uglies aren’t forever, but they’re not the most welcome guests either. Here are some steps you can take to make them as quick and painless as humanly possible:

  1. Choose your retinoid products carefully, stronger might not always mean better for your skin. Start with an over-the-counter option and work your way steadily to prescription strength if needed.
  2. Ease yourself into the treatment. Start using the product 2–3 times a week until your skin gets used to it and the uglies calm down.
  3. Don’t lather your face in the product. A little blob about the size of a pea should be enough for your whole face.
  4. Pay attention to other products you’re using. Avoid applying retinoid products simultaneously as products that make their own big impact on your skin.
  5. Keep your skin hydrated and moisturized. Irritated or dry skin during retinoid purges can be calmed by returning to skincare basics.
  6. Retinoid products make your skin more vulnerable to the sun because they help produce many fresh new skin cells. So, wear sunscreen throughout the entire retinoid treatment process, not just when you’re healing.
  7. For extra-sensitive skin types who still want in on the action, dilute your retinoid product. Mix it with moisturizer to get as much benefit as you can.

Retinoids’ usefulness in anti-aging and acne treatments is hard to ignore. Some derms rank them alongside sunscreen in terms of the most potent skincare tools. But nothing in life is free, and the retinol purge can be… well… ugly.

Remember to adapt your skincare routine around your own experience. The uglies don’t last forever, and they can be managed to get your skin shining again ASAP.