Most dermatologists agree that retinoids, or topical Vitamin A, are key to an anti-aging skin routine. When used regularly over several months, retinoids can partly reverse damage from UV exposure by helping to: 1) increase the production of collagen (the substance of the skin) and elastin, 2) increase skin turn-over to exfoliate, and 3) even out skin color. These changes effect several benefits, including reducing fine lines and pore size, improving breakouts, and exfoliation, all leading to brighter and clearer looking skin. Topical Vitamin A is available over the counter as retinol. Stronger versions are available as prescriptions (such as tretinoin, adapalene, or tazarotene). These products are safe for most skin types, though they should not be used during pregnancy.
Retinoids can make your skin more clear and lovely… after you get past the initial irritation that they cause: redness, peeling, the feeling that your skin is tight and dry, some increased sun sensitivity. Because of these side-effects, I am often asked if retinoids thin the skin, when in reality they are working to plump the skin. But, stick with it – for most people, their skin gets used to retinoids after a couple of months, and these side-effects go away. And, in dry climates (hello Minneapolis in December) or for people with sensitive skin, we can adjust our strategy. With some tricks, most people get used to their retinoids for a happy and long-lived relationship.
Here are some tips!
Use your retinoid in the evening. After you wash your face, let it dry thoroughly. Wait fifteen or twenty minutes, then apply about a pea-sized amount of your retinoid (in total) to your forehead, nose, cheeks and chin. Avoid the skin around the eyes and the upper lip – areas that are more sensitive. If you’re using a milder retinol, you can also treat your neck, upper chest, and backs of your hands (about a pea-sized amount per area). Follow with a moisturizer, unless your skin is oily and you don’t need it.
And if your skin feels dry or looks red even with moisturizer, try the following tricks:
- Start with an over-the counter strength Retinol – look for one for sensitive skin.
- Use your retinol or retinoid every other night or even every third night.
- Apply a thin layer of moisturizer BEFORE you apply the retinol or retinoid. You can apply one after, as well.
- Apply your retinoid, then wash it off in thirty minutes with a gentle non-soap cleanser. Then apply moisturizer.
- Stop or reduce the use of other exfoliating products, such as scrubs and toners – your retinoid is exfoliating. If you are able to tolerate your retinoid every other or every third night, you could try gentle exfoliation on the other nights.
- If you’ve tried retinols in the winter and they were too harsh, give them a shot during the humid summer months – it’s a great time to let your skin get used to these products.
- If all else fails, use your retinol or retinoid only to areas that are oilier, such as your forehead and nose. You’ll still get the benefits of retinoids by following these strategies.
Finally, in the morning, remember to use a moisturizing sunblock with an SPF of 30 or greater. It’ll make your face happy