Does Retinol Help With Acne? Here’s All You Need to Know

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Does retinol help with acne? This must be the question on your mind after hearing of the mind-blowing benefits of using retinol on your skin. Retinol does work on the skin to treat acne. Retinol helps to unclog the pores, making it effective for the treatment of acne.

Retinol belongs to the retinoid family and is a vitamin A derivative like the rest of the family. Although it is most popular for its anti-aging effect on the skin, It is also an effective treatment for acne and indented scars on the skin caused by acne.

Read ahead to find out how it works to treat acne, the side effects of using it as an acne treatment, and most importantly, how to use it effectively as an acne treatment.

Can Retinol Really Help With Acne?

The good news is retinol does help to treat acne. The less good news is it treats mainly mild to moderate acne effectively. Retinol is a medium-strength retinoid that’s available in the form of serums, creams, and moisturizers as an over-the-counter product. 

Although it works on acne, it is not as effective in treating severe acne as a prescription-strength retinoid. However, it is more gentle on the skin compared to the prescription retinoid. 

Several dermatologists affirm the effectiveness of retinol in treating acne. Amongst them is Marisa Garshick, MD, a dermatologist who said that “vitamin A derivative helps to clear acne by helping the turnover rate in the skin cells.” 

Several pieces of research have been carried out to determine the effectiveness of using retinol and other topical retinoids to treat acne. One study reveals that topical retinoids help to treat both inflammation and non-inflammatory forms of acne. 

Another study confirms that retinoids can help to regulate sebum production in the sebaceous glands, thereby reducing the chances of acne breakout.

Skincare experts have since endorsed the use of topical retinoids, such as retinol, to address skin concerns such as acne, hyperpigmentation, and so on. If you have acne breakouts on your skin and are looking for an effective treatment, you can try using a retinol product.

How Does Retinol Help With Acne?

Retinol unblocks your pores by removing the dirt and debris caused by a buildup of dead skin cells and oil in your pores. This allows the skin to repair itself to reduce swelling on your skin. 

Naturally, the skin has an epidermal turnover cycle that allows your body to shed dead skin cells to reveal brighter and healthier skin. Also, the sebaceous gland in the skin produces sebum(oil) to keep the skin moist and fine.

When the sebaceous gland produces too much sebum in the skin, it secretes it into the pores. Now, with the dead skin cells already on the surface of the skin, the oil gets mixed up with it. This causes your pores to get blocked by the mixture of oil and dead skin cells. 

With the pores clogged, bacteria can get into the mixture to cause inflammation and bumps to appear on your face. Retinol works to purge out all the dirt clogging your pores. This results in the reduction of the number of acne breakouts on your face.

Retinol exfoliates your skin, and not only will it rid the skin of dirt, but it will also help to prevent the formation of more acne in the skin. “Sloughing off dead skin cells prevents your pores from getting blocked, which is the main cause of acne formation in the skin,” says Dr. Garshick.

Does Retinol Help With Acne Scars?

Yes, it does. It penetrates deep into the epidermis and converts to retinoic acid. It sloughs off dead skin cells from your face to reveal a better and healthier one. When an epidermal turnover occurs, there is a reduction in the appearance of acne scars. 

It also helps to even out the skin by clearing acne bumps. It does this by boosting the production of collagen and elastin in your skin to revitalize the skin. These two compounds help the body in repairing itself after experiencing damage.

The production of these two compounds in the skin lessens naturally as you age. Retinol works to increase the production for you, which results in the body working to restore the skin to a better state. 

The production of elastin and collagen will help to replenish the skin to keep it smooth and healthy.

How to Use Retinol to Treat Acne

As effective as retinol is in addressing and treating skin concerns, it can cause annoying side effects when used incorrectly. Therefore, using your retinol product correctly is important. 

This will not only help you use it to achieve the best result, but it will also help to lessen the risk of side effects. Here are a few things to know about using retinol on your skin to treat acne:

1. Get the right dosage

Over-the-counter retinol products are available in different strengths, between 0.25 to 1.5 percent. The strength you need to use on your skin solely depends on your skin type. 

For sensitive skin, it is best to go for low-strength retinol between 0.25-0.5 percent. Starting with a higher percentage can irritate your skin and can cause side effects. However, you can move up to a higher dosage after using the low-strength retinol without irritating your skin.

If you have dry skin, you should use the same dosage as that of sensitive skin. This is because retinol has a drying effect on the skin and using low-strength retinol will prevent your skin from getting extremely dry.

Other skin types can use a high dosage of it. However, always tread with caution, especially if you are a newbie.  

2. Start slowly and don’t overuse it

One thing you should never do as a retinol newbie or regular is to use too much of it or use it too often. Doing this will do your skin more harm than good, it’s best to avoid it. 

As a newbie, don’t rush into using retinol without learning the proper usage method. Only use your retinol two or three times a week for the first few weeks. This will help to get your skin accustomed to the ingredient without it causing any irritation on your skin.

A peasized amount of the product is enough to cover your entire face and help treat acne. Therefore, there is no need to use too much of the product on your skin. Using too much can clog your pores and reduce the effectiveness of the product.

3. Moisturize your skin

Moisturizing your skin is a must after using a retinol product on your skin. Retinol and other retinoids can dry up the skin, and this can cause the skin to become flaky. Therefore, you need to use a moisturizer to hydrate your skin.

For this purpose, it is wise to use a non-allergenic moisturizer that won’t irritate or cause an allergic reaction. 

4. Avoid the sun and protect your skin

The right time to use retinol on the skin is at night. However, you need to diligently use your sunscreen the morning after. This is because retinol makes your skin prone to sunburn and photoaging. 

Ensure that you use sunscreen of SPF 30 or higher before going outdoors into the sun. Try as much as possible to not stay away from the sun.

5. Be patient

Who would pass on the idea of having their acne cleared overnight? No one. However, retinol doesn’t work that way. 

It takes a while to see the effect of retinol on acne. 

“It is recommended to wait for at least three months before looking to see if the product is working on your acne,” says Dr. Garshick. This means that it takes about three months of using retinol to see improvements. 

Can Retinol Make Acne Worse?

Yes, it can. When you begin to use retinol as an acne treatment, you may experience worse acne breakouts on your face. This phase is called the purge or adjustment period. It happens during the first week of using the product and usually lasts for two to six weeks.

However, retinol is not the cause of acne. When retinol starts to work on the skin, it forces new acne that is developing to appear on the skin so it can be treated. 

Don’t stop using your retinol product out of fear of it causing acne. Retinol does not cause acne, it can only make existing acne that’s yet to appear on the skin pop out. It does this to be able to work on every bit of acne in your skin. 

Does Retinol Help Back Acne?

Yes, it does back to treat acne and acne on other areas of the skin. Simply use your retinol product on your skin the same way you use it on facial acne. Using retinol will help to reduce the inflammation and formation of back acne. 

Since back acne is caused by the prolonged buildup of dirt and sweat on the skin, retinol will help to exfoliate your back to rid your skin of dirt.

How Long Does Retinol Take To Help Acne?

It takes about three months of using retinol to treat acne to see significant improvements. 

For the first two to six weeks of using retinol as an acne treatment, you might experience what experts call the “purge phase”. During this period, your skin might experience massive acne breakouts as retinol works to purge out all existing acne to be able to work on them. 

This period usually lasts for about 6 weeks, after which the effects of retinol on acne start to show.

Frequently Asked Questions 

Can you use retinol every night?

Yes, you can. You can use retinol on your skin every night to achieve your desired result quickly. However, your skin has to be familiar with retinol before you can begin to do this.

As a first-time retinol user, you shouldn’t use retinol too often. Start by using it only two to three times weekly till your skin can tolerate more frequent use.

Should you moisturize after using retinol?

Yes, you should. Moisturizing your skin after using retinol on it is a very important step to take. Not only will it help to seal hydration on your skin, but it will also prevent the drying effect of retinol on your skin.

After 30 minutes of applying your retinol product to your skin, be sure to moisturize your skin with a non-allergenic moisturizer. 

When should you use retinol to treat acne?

The best time to use your retinol product without the risk of complications is at night. This is because using retinol in the morning or during the day puts your body at the risk of getting burned by the sun. 

Retinol and other forms of retinoids are known to increase the skin’s sensitivity to ultraviolet radiation. Likewise, the sun cancels out and deactivates acne. Therefore, it’s wise to use retinol to treat acne and other skin issues in your nighttime routine.


Retinol is a gold-standard skincare ingredient that works for several skin conditions such as acne, aging, and so on. Using a retinol product is an effective way to deal with stubborn acne on your skin.

It works on your skin by exfoliating it to remove dirt and unclog your pores. It also regulates the production of sebum(oil) in your sebaceous glands to reduce the chance of it clogging the pores. This will help to prevent further acne development in your skin. 

It also works on acne scars to even out your skin by sloughing off dead skin cells and bumps to reveal smoother and healthier skin. 

Thanks for reading.

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