A retinoid is a multitasking ingredient that builds new collagen in the skin. It thickens the skin, peels away dead skin cells, fights acne, unclogs pores, fades dark spots, etc. If you know all about this, then why are you still not using it?
As a beauty blogger, I have been hearing everyone saying “I cannot use retinoid on my skin because it’s way too irritating. But most of the time, they are absolutely wrong. You can tolerate a retinoid, you’re just not using it correctly. Or you may not be using the right retinoid for your unique skin type. But those days are long gone for you once you start following these 5 easy steps.
“Do take benefit of this educational roadmap to get more youthful and better skin through retinoid”
5 steps to successfully start a Retinoid
Step # 1- Answer “Is a retinoid right for you”?
If you ever go on for a survey, you may come across some group of people who should absolutely not be using a retinoid. So if you are trying to conceive, you should not be on a retinoid and the restriction of use is also for a pregnant woman and a breastfeeding mother. Beyond that, some conditions like active eczema should not be on a retinoid. I strongly recommend you get clearance from your medical doctor or provider before starting retinoid, even over-the-counter forms to make sure it’s right for you.
Step # 2- Pick your retinoid product
This is the step when most people get so overwhelmed with all the options and terminology and price points and just knowing which to pick. Let me make it super easy for you to understand and conquer this step. So the simple step is following my simple diagram. Trust me this is easy!
Adapalene is an over-the-counter retinoid that is actually a drug and it is FDA regulated and is not just a cosmetic like the others. The main difference between these two categories is that prescription products are generally in the retinoic acid form which means they do not have to go through any major conversions to work on your cells to do its job.
Now compare this to the over-the-counter forms which need to undergo one or more chemical changes to turn into retinoic acid and then do its job on the skin cells. Adapalene is different which works on a slightly different pathway and doesn’t need to be converted like the others. So for example retinol gets converted to retinaldehyde which is then converted to retinoic acid. These all end up as retinoic acid and affect the same type of change.
But the over-the-counter products need to do a little extra work to get to the usable form.
So what does all that mean?
My interpretation of this chemistry is that the prescriptions will be stronger and the over-the-counter forms will be weaker. It is important to understand that weaker does not mean ineffective.
For retinoids, weaker can actually be good things. The stronger prescription forms are more likely to cause a retinoid dermatitis or irritation on the skin which makes people quit using them.
Over-the-counter forms are easier to tolerate and still work. One can even make an argument that the weaker forms of retinoids work better than prescription because you can use them more often and long term. This is because they are less irritating and more tolerable.
What good does a strong retinoid do?
If you cannot use it enough to get results so keep in mind successful use of retinoids is a balance between the strength of the product and consistency of use.
You’ll also find that within each of these categories, the specific type of retinoid will often come in different percentages or strengths. Some over-the-counter products will have a specific concentration listed while others will not. An example of such products include products by Neutrogena and CeraVe and others including the Ordinary, Paula’s choice, etc.
If you resist the temptation to try to get immediate or fast results, by going with the highest strength you can find. This never ends well and I see this mistake almost after every time. Last is the formulation that the active ingredient is mixed in so you will see retinoid lotions, creams, gels, serums, and even oils. So just depending on your skin type whether it’s dry or oily, normal or sensitive skin, etc. you can choose a formulation that will feel the best on your skin and work for you.
My favorite Retinoids
If you are under the care of your dermatologist, you will only have the access to the prescription category. Otherwise, stick to the over-the-counter options and feel confident in this decision because over-the-counter products can provide amazing results.
I will be putting all the light on the over-the-counter category. I stick to either retinol, retinaldehyde, adapalene, or differen brand. And I do not generally go for retinal esters like retinal palmitate options because I think the effectiveness is likely too low.
According to my studies, I’ve seen there is much better efficacy with retinol in retinaldehyde and definitely with the adapalene. All of these over-the-counter categories that I just recommended, I am now going to tell you my favorite options.
- If you are new to retinoids or have sensitive skin, I’ll recommend the over-the-counter category. Choose the product that has retinol in a moisturizing lotion or cream bases like Neutrogena Rapid Wrinkle Repair Retinol Cream or the Olay Regenerist Retinol 24. These are more gentle and easier-to-tolerate options but still effective and you’ll notice results and they are super affordable.
I use Neutrogena rapid wrinkle repair on my neck and back of my hands. Since these are neglected areas, they always give away a person’s true age. I suggest using an anti-aging product in these locations to maintain a youthful appearance. I also use it on nights when I just want a simple routine and just want to apply one single product after I cleanse my skin.
Neutrogena rapid wrinkle repair is a combination treatment product and a moisturizer. So this will be plenty for my skin to deliver the retinol and provide moisture.
Another option that I use is Olay regenerist and I am super excited about this product as this has two options, i.e. Olay regenerist 24 and olay regenrist 24 max, so anyone can choose according to their skin type. You can use this product alone at night to serve as your retinol treatment and your moisturizer. So it’s really great for simple skincare routines. It has a retinol complex in of two types of retinoids, it has niacinamide (do check out do and don’ts of niacinamide), peptide blend, and its fragrance-free nature.
I’d generally advise anyone starting to pick one that is fragrance-free to further reduce your chance of irritation on the skin. Since retinoids can in and of themselves be very irritating of the retinaldehyde, these are a bit harder to find, there are not as many options out there, I like the avene brand, easily available on amazon. Click here to buy- Avene. Keep in mind that this brand is a bit pricier as there are not nearly as many options for retinaldehyde creams as there are retinol creams.
What I love about this brand is that it does have retinaldehyde which as I mentioned is the closest thing to retinoic acid only having to be converted one time. It is still gentle enough that you will be far less likely to get irritation from this than you might with prescription options.
Another thing I love about avene is they are transparent about their retinaldehyde concentrations and their products. This is so helpful for the consumer because you can choose a strength that is right for your skin. Avene has several options for you of varying strengths so you can start low and graduate to higher strengths as tolerated. I like to start with the avene 0.05 retinaldehyde cream and work up to the 0.1 creams if needed. These have peptides in them as well as vitamin E. I have used the Avene brand on and off for several years and have only good things to say about it.
But if this is out of your price range, definitely stick with a retinol cream and you will be just fine if anyone of you has any other retinaldehyde creams that you’ve tried and liked and is more affordable.
My last recommendation will be anti-aging retinoids, i.e. adapalene. It is a retinoid medication ingredient. One of the popular brands making this product is La Roche Posay and this is the only prescription-strength product that is available over the counter. It’s an FDA-regulated drug and all those mentioned above are cosmetics. All of them you may see are marketed as acne treatment and that is true. It is great for acne but these also treat aging and fine lines, wrinkles, and dark spots. Hence, the product is for both acne and anti-aging. This may be irritating for some skin types if you’ve never used any type of retinoid so definitely start slow with this.
Step # 3- Place the Retinoid properly in your skincare routine
Now that you have your retinoid, how do you use it in your skincare routine? This is very important if you are using it at the wrong time or with the wrong products, you will not get the result or you’ll get retinoid dermatitis and ultimately stop using it.
- Use your retinoid at night
Retinoids are an unstable ingredient and they can easily break down in the sunlight unless they are well-stabilized in the product. Even the prescription products like tretinoin or retinaldehyde, will break down in the sunlight so use this at night and you will get the full benefit of the full product and not worry about this.
- Use the retinoid after a gentle cleanser
Not a medicated or a treatment cleanser so pair this with something like CeraVe creamy cleanser or van cream gentle facial cleanser. Do not pair this with an exfoliating cleanser or an acne cleanser and definitely do not pair it with a face scrub. This will severely increase your chances of getting irritation from your retinoid.
- Apply to dry skin
The skin needs to be dry and not damp skin. So after you cleanse, wait about 10 minutes or so, then apply your retinoid. This important detail can really cut down on the irritation of the product. Damp skin absorbs more product and much more deeply and you do not want that with a retinoid. So wait for the skin to dry.
- Do not pair with topical acids like AHAs and BHAs
- Do not pair it with benzoyl peroxide because this can inactivate it
- Do not pair it with vitamin C in general that can increase the irritation. I love vitamin C products but I say to use the vitamin C in the morning and use retinoid at night so you want to separate these products by the time of day
- Keep your PM routine simple. This should be your only treatment product! Maximum 3 products in your nighttime routine, i.e. cleanser, retinoid, and your moisturizer in that order.
Or you can also get a combination of retinol and moisturizer. So you will have an even easier routine cleanser retinoid cream. Done! Start with a retinoid so for example don’t start a new exfoliating cleanser in the morning and a retinoid at night. Just do one at a time! And wait for a few days to a week or so and make sure you are tolerating it well before you add in new products.
If you are doing masks and peels facial or other procedures do not use a retinoid or other procedures do not use a retinoid at those times.
- Use a sunscreen
You must have sunscreen in your routine. If you are using a retinoid because this will increase your chance of getting irritation or a sunburn.
Obviously, you don’t want to undo all the positive benefits that you just built overnight with your retinoids. You are now exposing your skin to UV rays.
If you are having a hard time tolerating the retinoid, switch the order of the products. So cleanser first, then moisturize to damp skin. And then put your retinoid on top of the moisturizer, you’ll still get penetration of the product. But it can be less irritating for more sensitive skin types.
Apply moisturizer before the retinoid to reduce irritation. So it’s the cleanser first, then moisturizer to damp skin.
Step # 4- Start slowly
This is the initiation phase, start slowly! When you choose to successfully start a Retinoid, resist the temptation to use it too often or to use it or to use too much product! So first of all how often do you use it when you first start therapy? One time! That’s it. Now, wait and see what happens next time!
So your initiation phase looks like this;
Day 1- apply at one time
Then you enter a waiting period for a minimum of three days up to seven days depending on your skin type and your comfort level.
If you have really sensitive skin or rosacea prone skin, or if you’ve tried and failed retinoids on the past, wait the full seven days. Similarly, if you have acne-prone skin, oily skin, or maybe just normal skin and a balanced skin type, you may be safe and clear after just 3 days. But doing this, 3-7 days, you’ll be looking for signs of redness, flaking, irritation, itching, and Panadol. Then continue and apply it again.
If you tolerate the initiation phase when you are learning how to use your retinoids. Make sure you are the appropriate amount of it. So don’t make the mistake of using too much. A pea-sized amount of adapalene for examination.
If you are using the moisturizing combination product, you will use the usual amount of that to cover and moisturize the entire face. But if it is just a treatment product like adapalene, all you need is a pea-sized amount.
If you are using the whole of that, you can increase your chance of getting retinoid dermatitis.
Step # 5- Maintain consistent use;
During the maintenance phase, you can graduate yourself to a higher strength if you want. Knowing that you are still getting benefits, you just have to stay at the lower strength and also you will be increasing your risk of irritation.
You can continue to use them once you take the steps to successfully start a retinoid. But using them at night time is not a necessity. Using them in 3-4 weeks is good. Improve your chance of success with retinoids!