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What Are Retinoids?

It seems like physicians are always pushing retinoids (Retinol and Retin A) and patients are frequently pushing back. Statements like “I have some, but I don’t really use it” or “I can’t use it because it made me peel” are commonly what we hear when we suggest it as part of a medical skin care regime. For people who are serious about getting improvements in the appearance of their skin, retinoids provide scientifically proven results. Understanding what they are, how they work, and help troubleshooting the early and temporary side effects may encourage you to dig it out of your drawer and get started.

  • Do not use retinoids if you are planning to get pregnant, are pregnant, or are nursing.
  • Retinoids speed up cell turnover, which slows with age.
  • They encourage the layer of dead and dying skin cells (the “ugly “ layer) to slough from the surface of your skin, thus the peeling. The thicker that layer, the more you will peel (and obviously the more you need it).
  • The higher cell turnover also results in improved cell function as these fresh and robust cells increase in number and produce even more collagen, which also typically decreases with age. The “pretty” layers of your skin can more than double in thickness.
  • Use of retinoids also leads to more collagen retention because they prevent the rise of enzymes that break down collagen after UV exposure (reducing sun damage).
  • This improved cell turnover can also reduce precancerous cells in the skin, unclog pores, treat acne, and lighten hyperpigmentation or brown spots.
  • All people will experience a retinoid reaction when starting these products, which includes flaking, dryness, irritation, and more flushing or redness when in the sun. These side effects will decrease with time (typically 3-4 months) and can very easily be managed with additional products that hydrate, moisturize, and protect (antioxidants and sun screens) your skin. It is nice to know something you are using is actually working!
  • Always stop your retinoid at least 5 days before facial waxing, and discuss stopping a couple of days before lasers or Microneedling procedures with your provider.

Picking The Right Retinoid Product

  • Retin A (Trentinoin or Retinoic Acid) is the more active product that comes in several strengths. All forms of Retin A require a prescription or can be purchased from a physician’s office.
  • Retinol is its weaker and less irritating cousin. Your body will convert retinol to the active form once applied, so there can be quite a bit of variability from person to person. While lower doses of retinol are available in over the counter products, don’t waste your time. Prescription strength products are considered about a hundred times stronger and more effective.
  • The up side of starting with a retinol is that there tends to be less irritation, so it is a great place for newbies to start. Typically starting 3 times per week will allow your skin to adapt without too much irritation. After a few weeks try to increase in frequency.
  • We would prefer you use a weaker product daily rather than one that is too strong only a couple of times per week. As time goes on you can likely increase from retinol to Retin A, again starting at a lower strength and gradually increasing over time. Each time you are ready to purchase a new bottle or tube, ask yourself if you think it is time to increase in strength.

Where To Start

  • The following products are listed in ascending order of strength. If your skin is typically dry and sensitive, start with weaker products and as time goes on use them with more frequency (daily is the goal). For those with naturally more oily or heartier skin you can certainly start with stronger products.
  • Don’t forget your neck and chest! While these areas will be much less tolerant of retinoids due to having less oil glands they deserve some love at least a couple of times per week.

Nouvelle + Retinol Correction Cream- This Neocutis product is the best place for those with very sensitive skin to start. It contains 0.6% retinol plus Melaplex, which also helps to reduce brown spots. You should be able to get to daily use pretty quickly with this product.

Retinol Complete- Revision skin care has combined time-released 1% retinol with five antioxidants a blend of botanical extracts that protect your skin and also enhance the effects of the retinol.

Renova- Now you have made the jump to Retin A, the active ingredient. Renova contains .02% retinol, and is the weakest strength that we carry.

Retin A .05%- This is some powerful stuff! You will certainly appreciate the anti-aging effects with this strength. Studies show continued improvement in the skin for even four years after starting Retin A.

Retin A .1%- Not everyone can make it to this level. It might take years for some, but if you have more oily and sebaceous skin you may need something this strong early on. Remember, the stronger the Retin A, the better your work out!