The Inescapable Reality of Retinoids (Part III)

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On our third and final blog post about  “The Dark Side of Retinoids,” we will delve into the adverse effects of retinoids.  which are endless, yet mandatory to understand.

 If you haven’t read Part I and Part II of our “The Inescapable Reality of Retinoids” series, you don’t want to miss out! 

To start off, let’s begin with the side effects associated with retinoids on the cutaneous level:[1][2][3][4][5][6]








Swelling (edema) 

Erythema (redness)

Sensitivity to sunlight

Unusually warm skin

Mild or severe dryness

Skin cancer and tumors

Acne or Rosacea flare-up

Pain at the application site

Proneness to sunburn

Atopic dermatitis (cause or exacerbate it) 

Lightening, darkening, or yellowing of the skin

Irritation may be aggravated by exposure to harsh environmental conditions (sun, wind, cold, etc.) and cosmetics (soaps, astringents, exfoliants, etc.) 

Hold-up, Did You Mention The Phrase 'Cancer'?

Unfortunately, you did! When the skin that has been exposed to retinoids undergoes UV radiation, cancer or photocarcinogenesis can develop[7].  This happens because retinoids are extremely unstable, so when they break down into free radicals under sunlight or UVA, they can damage the DNA and lipids of the skin, which can ultimately lead to the production of tumors that can turn malignant[7].

What Are The Systemic Side-effects Of Retinoids?

Unfortunately, there are! The most dangerous side effect is birth malformations; however, there is a long list of other mild side effects as well:[7][8][9]















Hair loss

Brittle nails

Blurry vision

Eye dryness

Weight loss

Bone thinning

Liver damage

Bleeding lips

Sleep disorders

Bone and joints pain

Night blindness (nyctalopia)

Raised intracranial pressure

Tinnitus (noise or ringing in the ears)

Nocturia (frequent need to urinate at night)

Hypercalcemia (excess blood calcium levels)


Elevated levels of liver enzymes and blood lipids (triglycerides and cholesterol)



Such side effects occur as a result of long-term usage at high dosages and there have been many testimonials by people who used retinoids as per the recommended instructions, yet still suffered from negative reactions.

Question: Do Retinoids Promote Premature Aging?

As per Leonard’s Hayflick Theory of Aging, cells divide around 40-60 times before becoming senescent or stop dividing[10]. With each division, the ends of the chromosomes of the cell —also known as telomeres— shorten. It is a very well-known fact that aged cells exhibit short telomeres[11]. So, the aim is to somehow delay this process and not accelerate it.

As retinoids encourage cell turnover, it is believed that they can potentially speed up the cell division cycle and promote the accumulation of senescent cells[10]. This can interfere with the renewal of the tissues; hence, causing the skin to look saggy and wrinkled[12].

Critics of the Hayflick theory have noted that the limit only affects cells that can differentiate: those that change from one cell type to one that is specialized[10]. Hence, the Hayflick limit does not include the stem cells, which are located at the deepest and innermost layers of the skin (epidermis)[10]

Even if the Hayflick limit does not affect stem cells, several studies have proven that they are not “immortal” as previously thought[13]. They actually have a limited division capacity[13]. We can only imagine the negative impact retinoids would have if they are started at a young age.

To conclude, the use of retinoids is an extremely controversial topic with many people suffering from reactions and side effects.  Hence, it is best to make decisions without being misguided by an obsession with immediate benefits.  We should focus on long-term results where our health and wellness are our main priority!  Learn more about our skincare know-how and expertise by following us on Instagram, Pinterest, Facebook, and LinkedIn platforms.















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