How to Get Rid of Peeling Skin: The Flaky Side of Retinoids

How to Get Rid of Peeling Skin: The Flaky Side of Retinoids

While the side effects of retinoids, from retinol to Tretinoin, may be off-putting for some potential users, purging and peeling are common for retinoid users and are just one of the possible journeys to achieving clearer and brighter skin. So-called “Tretinoin peeling” is a nuisance and can be an annoying issue to deal with, but knowing the causes and remedies for peeling skin can provide more insight and reassurance to those who are just starting to use retinoids. 


As noted before, a side effect of retinoid use is peeling skin. Retinoids, like the Tretinoin present in derm-grade retinoids, eventually result in improved skin, but skin purging and peeling is completely normal and temporary. The use of retinoids speeds up the skin turnover cycle, which you can read more about in our purging post. Within the first few weeks of retinoid use, one will notice that their skin may appear dry and irritated. This is a result of the increased skin cell turnover rate and your skin adjusting to the retinoid. Though you may be concerned about dry, red, and flakey skin, it is all part of the retinoid process.


The outermost layer of our skin (the epidermis) serves as a protective barrier and when this barrier is compromised, you may not be dealing with Tretinoin peeling - other types of peeling are common. Environmental factors, underlying medical conditions, and poor skincare practices can contribute to the shedding of skin layers. It’s important to understand the various causes of peeling skin in order to prevent and treat it properly. Here are some of the main causes.


One of the causes for peeling skin, and one that many of us have experienced, is a result of sunburns. As warmer weather approaches, it may be tempting to lay out in the sun. However, without the proper preventive barriers, your skin reacts to the sun’s UV rays in the form of radiation burns or sunburns. There are several factors that contribute to sunburns, including the amount of time one is exposed to the sun, the time of day, the intensity of the UV rays, type of skin, and the use of any topical or internal medication. Sunburns not only cause the peeling and irritation of skin, but frequent sunburns generally increase the risk of getting skin cancer as well.


Another cause for peeling skin is generally dry skin. Some people may experience dry skin regardless of the season, whether it be summer or winter, or the weather, whether it be hot or cold. Dry skin is a result of a reduction of oil-producing glands on the face. Without enough oil-producing glands, it is hard for the skin to retain moisture. Dry skin is easily irritable and itchy and is noticeably flakey. 


It is important to note the difference between dry skin and dehydrated skin. Dehydrated skin is a result of not a lack of oil, but a lack of water. Therefore, you can still have oily skin and dehydrated skin. A simple test you can use to determine if you have dehydrated skin is to pinch the skin on your cheeks. If it remains wrinkled after release from the pinch, your skin is dehydrated and needs hydration. Dehydrated skin may feel very tight and look red and inflamed, signaling that you are in need of water. Hydration for the skin can be as simple as just drinking more water, but adding serums to your daily skincare routine underneath moisturizer and adding an oil on top of your moisturizer can help as well. 


Methods for preventing sunburns may be obvious, but general tips and reminders are always good. The first is to always use sunscreen. Whether you can see the sun shining outside or not, using sunscreen in the daytime will help protect your skin from those harmful UV rays. Vitamin D is good for your body and skin, but taking precautions when it comes to sun exposure is important to maintain the integrity of the skin. There are other factors to take into consideration when attempting to avoid sunburns as mentioned before, including paying attention to the time of day when sun exposure would be the most detrimental, as well as being mindful of the topical and internal medication you may be on. Certain medications may make your skin more sensitive to sun exposure and make your skin more prone to sunburns. 


Topical retinoids, such as Tretinoin, speed up the skin cell turnover cycle, ridding the old layer of skin faster than usual. This causes your skin to become dry and flakey, as your skin purges and peels to become accustomed to the retinoid. This is why retinoid or Tretinoin peeling occurs.Purging and peeling is normal when first using a retinoid and can even be an indication that the product is working. 

Topical retinoids can also irritate skin and lead to peeling and redness. As your skin goes through an adjustment period, these side effects should diminish. 


The side effects of retinoids typically last around a month to a month and a half. This range of 4-6 weeks varies from person to person as the skin accustoms itself to the new product. 

If you’re experiencing peeling that lasts longer than this period, please reach out to your provider. Your skin may not be reacting well to the product and you might have to stop using it.


Treating Tretinoin-induced peeling requires a thoughtful and gentle approach to alleviate discomfort and support skin recovery. Things like adjusting the frequency of use, hydrating, moisturizing, and protecting skin from the sun are key to treating Tretinoin peeling.


While using retinoids like Tretinoin, it is important to keep your skin hydrated and find a good moisturizer to use with Tretinoin. Externally, utilizing a thick emollient over the retinoid will help with peeling skin. Emollients are essentially moisturizers that soothe and soften the skin, treating dry and peeling or flaky skin. We have a derm-tested moisturizer rich with ceramides and hyaluronic acid that is designed to complement retinoid use. You can also try applying a moisturizer before or mixing it with your retinoid. If you’re not sure if you should use retinol before or after moisturizer, check out our blog post. 


Another thing to make sure is that you’re only using a pea-sized amount as using more doesn’t increase efficacy and only increases your risk of peeling.You may need to adjust the frequency of application, reducing it to every other day or as advised by a dermatologist.


Internally, remaining hydrated by drinking plenty of water is necessary. Tretinoin, being a potent retinoid, can contribute to skin dryness. As such, sufficient water intake is crucial in maintaining skin hydration from within. Drinking an ample amount of water helps counteract the dehydrating effects of Tretinoin and supports the skin's natural moisture balance.


Tretinoin is known to make the skin more sensitive to sunlight, so even though you may be using the retinoid product at night, you need to remain diligent in using sunscreen every morning to avoid Tretinoin peeling. 


Remember that there is a learning curve for your skin when first using retinoids, so remain patient and understand that peeling skin is completely normal and won’t last forever.


It is important to remain gentle with your skincare routine when using retinoids. You’ll even want to be aware of the temperature of the water you use on your face. Hot water can inflame your skin further and strip your skin of oil, making it even dryer. Even though you may want to exfoliate or pick at your peeling skin, this will only continue to irritate and exacerbate the issue. It is best to keep a “hands-off” approach, keeping your hands away from your face and also being mindful of what products are making your skin peel even more. 

It is recommended to avoid using benzoyl peroxide and AHA/BHAs during this learning curve to avoid further peeling and irritation. When your skin has gone through the adjustment period, you can incorporate these products back into your routine. Just make sure you use benzoyl peroxide in the morning and alternate nights with AHA/BHAs.

Peeling skin is making way for, hopefully, clearer, brighter, and smoother skin! It’s a temporary reaction and can be mitigated. Keep at it because consistency is key when using retinoids.


Night Shift

Retinoids like Tretinoin have several benefits, including protecting the skin from sun damage and brightening damaged skin. Night Shift from Dear Brightly allows you to get a Tretinoin prescription online. It’s formulated with Niacinamide, an anti-inflammatory healing compound that calms redness and prevents moisture loss and dehydration.

Daily Sip

Daily Sip is specially designed to complement retinoids, exfoliators, and skin in harsh, dry environments. Developed with five ceramides and hyaluronic acid, Daily Sip helps effectively strengthen the skin barrier while preparing it to handle treatments like retinoids better, minimizing Tretinoin peeling.

NeverSkip Tinted

As the saying goes, the best treatment is prevention. Starting each day with a full coverage mineral sunscreen for face like NeverSkip Tinted is crucial to avoiding sunburn and sun damage, two things that can cause skin peeling. This tinted sunscreen applies smoothly without a white cast while protecting your skin from UVA and UVB rays.