Retinoids- A Beauty Essential and How to Use Them Correctly
You’ve heard that retinoids are absolutely essential to a good skin care regimen, but now you’re using them and your skin is dry, red, and peeling? Well, more than likely that’s because you’re not using them correctly. Retinoids unclog pores, build collagen thereby diminishing wrinkles and preventing fine lines, and speed cell turnover which evens out discoloration and brightens skin. They are magical, tried and true, youth-giving, damage-repairing products. There are many types of retinoids that exist in different forms and are converted in your skin to the active form, retinoic acid.
When you apply a retinoid product that is retinoic acid (these include prescription retinoids which come in a variety of strengths such as Retin-A, Tretinoin cream, and Renova), your skin is able to use it immediately because it's already in the proper form. However, if you use a product with retinol or retinyl palmitate (including most over the counter options such as Rodan and Fields, Oil of Olay, Roc Retinol Correction, Neutragena Anti-Wrinkle, etc), the retinol must first be converted into retinaldehyde and then the retinaldehyde must be converted to retinoic acid before your skin can use it. During each conversion step, much is lost in terms of the retinoid benefits, rendering the product basically a ‘glorified moisturizer’. While moisturizers may feel nice on your skin, they have no anti-aging benefits in terms of collagen regeneration or cell repair. One notable exception is the retinaldehyde form of retinoids such as the physician-dispensed Retrinal by Avene. With Retrinal or other retinaldehyde products, very little is lost in terms of efficacy during the conversion to retinoic acid, but a LOT is gained in terms of tolerability. Therefore, a retinoid such as Retrinal is a great option for those with dry, sensitive skin who still want the antiaging benefits of retinoids.
So how do you use retinoids the right way?
- Use a Pea Sized amount
- Less is more when it comes to retinoids. All you need is a pea sized amount to cover your whole face. I like to squeeze that pea sized amount of retinoid out of the tube (some types have pumps that dispense the perfect amount in one pump), divide that pea into small dots on my forehead, nose, cheeks, and chin, then gently blend the dots over my entire face. You need to do this fairly quickly or product will dry and not spread. The point is to use as little as possible to thinly cover your entire face.
- Start Slow
- Give your skin a chance to adapt to retinoids by starting slow. For the first 2 weeks apply the product every third night, then increase to every 2 nights for the next 2 weeks, then every other night gradually working up to nightly. If you become dry or irritated, back off for a couple days and gradually increase again. This gives your skin time to adjust to the product which reduces irritation. It may also decrease the initial acne flare that can happen in those using retinoids to treat acne.
- Wait 30 minutes after washing your face before applying (when you first start using retinoids)
- Applying retinoid to a damp face causes more to be absorbed which can increase irritation. Also, when you wash your face the natural barrier of your skin is temporarily disturbed and waiting gives it time to recover. This waiting may not be necessary with a retinaldehyde product like Retrinal due to the aforementioned increased tolerability.
- Apply in conjunction with moisturizer
- To minimize dryness you can apply a moisturizer. Ideally, apply moisturizer after your retinoid to avoid decreasing its penetration and effectiveness. However, if you’re noticing irritation you can apply moisturizer before the retinoid. Less will penetrate but it will be better tolerated.
- Be consistent!
- You have to be committed! It takes 3-6 months to see benefits and if you don’t use it you lose it. So use retinoids consistently (although not when pregnant!).
- Wear Sunscreen
- Retinoids make your skin more sensitive to the sun so apply at night and wear a good sunscreen every morning. You don’t want to undo the great anti-aging benefits you’re getting by using them!
Dr. Heidi Anderson-Dockter