Getting Dry in the Winter? How to Manage Retinization and Irritation


As the cold winter months approach, many retinoid users experience increased dryness, irritation, and rashiness known as retinization. By managing moisture levels, protecting from sun exposure, and seeking professional guidance, these side effects can be minimized for smooth, healthy skin all season long. 


For those using prescription retinoids like tretinoin or over the counter retinol, the dry winter air can spell disaster for your skin. Flakiness, redness, irritation, and even a rash can flare up when your skin is vulnerable. This inflammatory reaction is referred to as “retinization”, a process that can occur upon starting retinoids or be exacerbated by environmental factors like winter weather (1). While uncomfortable, these symptoms are not dangerous and can be managed with some simple adjustments to your routine. In this post, we will break down the ways winter can impact retinization and provide tips to keep your skin healthy and hydrated all season long. Consulting with a Sapien Skin & Beauty esthetician provides customized guidance to gracefully manage the ups and downs of retinoid use.


Retinization: What is it and Why Does Winter Worsen It?


Retinization refers to the irritation, inflammation, dryness, and increased cell turnover caused by retinoids (2). It occurs as the vitamin A derivatives work their magic by accelerating skin cell renewal. While these effects make retinoids powerhouses for anti-aging, they can also be harsh on the skin, especially when beginning treatment. Environmental conditions like dry, cold air only further tax the skin, making it more vulnerable to damage (1). The compromised moisture barrier allows products to penetrate more deeply, worsening irritation. On top of this, scratchy fabrics like wool and dry indoor heat create friction and zap moisture (3). As if that wasn’t bad enough, scratching and picking at the irritated skin only worsens the problem. So in summary, winter is kind of a perfect storm for exacerbating retinization. But don’t lose hope, with a little extra TLC you can sail through the season with smooth skin.


Battling Dryness: Hydrate From The Outside and Inside


The antidote to this onslaught of irritation is moisture, moisture, and more moisture! While retinoids thin the stratum corneum skin barrier over time, we can shore it up with proper hydration (4). Crank your humidifier up day and night to replenish environmental moisture. Reapply your thick, emollient moisturizer liberally and often. Occlusives like Vaseline can provide an extraprotective barrier overnight (5). Drink plenty of water and eat foods with healthy fats like avocados and nuts to hydrate from the inside-out (6). Avoid excessively hot showers and switch to gentle cleansers to minimize stripping. With these simple adjustments, you can drown dryness and retinization in hydration!


Slather On The Sunscreen


Another essential product for managing retinization is broad spectrum sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher. Sun protection serves several key functions. The mineral filters zinc oxide and titanium dioxide provide a physical barrier and soothe skin while antioxidants fight free radical damage (9). Second, oxidative stress from sun exposure activates the AP-1 transcription factor, which retinoids like tretinoin suppress (10,11). So UV light essentially works against what the retinoid is trying to accomplish! Applying adequate sunscreen prevents this issue. Lastly, zinc promotes wound healing, re-epithelialization and decreases inflammation – exactly what retinized skin needs (12)! For extra relief, apply a thick layer of SPF as a moisturizing mask.


Manage Retinization by Partnering with a Sapien Babe


While retinization can be uncomfortable, with careful moisture balance and sun protection, retinoid users can sail through the dry winter unscathed. But we recommend partnering with an experienced Sapien Skin & Beauty esthetician for personalized guidance. Our expertise provides the best practices for your unique skin needs. Retinoids don’t have to mean flakiness and irritation. Book a consultation today to discover how Sapien can help you seamlessly incorporate these anti-aging powerhouses into your routine. With knowledgeable pros guiding you, avoiding retinization is smooth sailing!



Kristen McNary




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9. Pappas A. (2009). The Relationship of Vitamins C and E, Copper, and Zinc Levels to Antioxidative Defense Mechanisms and an Index of Free Radical Damage in Humans with HIV Infection. Journal of the American College of Nutrition, 28(2), 146-153.

10. Fisher GJ, Datta SC, Talwar HS, Wang ZQ, Varani J, Kang S, Voorhees JJ. Molecular basis of sun-induced premature skin ageing and retinoid antagonism. Nature. 1996 Jan 25;379(6563):335-9.

11. Lowe NJ, Breeding J, Boixeda P. Retinoids and photodamage. Clin Dermatol. 1992 Sep-Oct;10(5):121-8.

12. Agren MS. Percutaneous absorption of zinc from zinc oxide applied topically to intact skin in man. Dermatologica. 1990;180(1):36-9.

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