Today I’m going to discuss the one miracle product that has recovered my problematic skin. I’ve mentioned it a couple times in other blogposts, but I have extremely oily skin. Anyone blessed with oily skin knows what kind of torture it is being soaked in oil before 12 pm, the constant breakouts, huge pores, and blackheads. Above that, I also have an olive skin tone, which means that my skin scars very very easily. Every time I used to get a pimple, it would leave a brown spot (post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation) for up to a year! The pimples would disappear, but the brown spots and textured skin would just stay forever and ruin the way my skin looked. That’s when I started using retinoids. Today, after about a year of using retinoids, my skin has no issues (other than still producing mass amounts of oil -.-), I have no spots, no blemishes, and my skin feels smooth and has no rough texture anymore. I am so so so happy about the results and wanted to write a post telling you all about retinoids. I certainly would have appreciated it if someone had told me about retinoids before, so I hope that this post will be of help to at least some of you dealing with the same issues.
What are Retinoids?
Retinoids are a group of vitamin A derivatives that unclog pores, boost collagen to reduce fine lines, and accelerate cell turnover to even out discoloration and smooth skin. Retinoids have been used to treat acne and reduce wrinkles for over 40 years. For now, there are 3 retinoids available on prescription, including Tretinoin, Tazarotene, and Adapalene. All three show amazing results, but Tazarotene seems to be the strongest (and most irritating), and Adapalene is the gentlest (but may be less effective). I personally used Tretinoin, but more about that later.
There is one over-the-counter available retinoid known as Retinol. Retinol is commonly used in high quality skin care products in concentrations typically ranging between 0.05-1%. Unlike prescription retinoids, Retinol itself is inactive. When applied on the skin, Retinol first needs to be converted by skin enzymes to its active form retinoic acid. The conversion of Retinol into retinoic acid can take several weeks, which is why Retinol is about a 100x less effective than prescription retinoids. It can take up to 3-6 months of daily use for Retinol based products to make a noticeable difference, while it takes retinoids only several weeks.
How do Retinoids work?
So how exactly do retinoids work against so many skin concerns? There are several ways in which retinoids improve problematic skin:
1. Retinoids make the skin turn over cells more rapidly. Old cells are removed to boost new cell growth. This leads to smoother skin texture, it improves the appearance of discoloration by sloughing off brown spots, and it makes pores appear smaller.
2. Retinoids have demonstrated anti-inflammatory effects and reduce acne by preventing dead skin cells to clog pores.
3. And finally, retinoids thicken deeper layers of skin. They stimulate collagen production and help connective tissues weave together and become denser, improving firmness and reducing lines and wrinkles.
Source image: http://amaci-health.blogspot.nl
The dual effect of boosting cell growth while also thickening skin makes retinoids the gold standard for improving skin and is the reason why almost every dermatologist in the world is preaching the use of it.
Which Retinoid is better?
While prescription retinoids are much stronger and more effective, not everyone necessarily needs it. Some people find that adding only Retinol to their skincare routine gives them all the results they need, while others have more serious concerns and might need a visit to their dermatologist for a stronger retinoid.
The type of retinoid and the concentration and strength that is best for you depends on:
-Your skin type
-Your skin condition
-Your skin concern (some retinoids work better against aging while others are better at fighting acne).
-What your skin can tolerate (retinoids can be very irritating, not everyone’s skin can tolerate it).
Please discuss your concerns with your doctor/dermatologist to choose the best option for your specific skin.
How to use Retinoids + precautions
A few notes to keep in mind if you’ve decided to incorporate retinoids into your skincare routine:
1. Retinoids are light-sensitive. Sunlight can render retinoids inactive, so preferably use retinoids at night.
2. Your skin needs to adjust to retinoids. If you start using retinoids daily at once, undoubtedly you’re going to get a lot of irritation. Start using retinoids in small concentrations 2-3 times a week and slowly work your way up to using it every day.
3. Retinoids make the skin more sensitive to sunlight because they remove the top layer of skin. Make sure you’re using SPF when you’re going out in the sun.
4. Be aware of the side effects. Retinoids can be very drying and irritating. Retinoids commonly cause moderate peeling, redness, itching, and irritation that may last up to several weeks before your skin becomes accustomed to the retinoid.
I wanted to end this post by sharing my personal experience with retinoids. I got prescribed Tretinoin (0.05%) for my acne and post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation. I have sensitive skin, so you can imagine what my skin looked like for the first few weeks of using Tretinoin. My skin got super red and irritated, which wasn’t that bad because it was coverable with a little concealer. The worst part was the flaking! My skin shed like crazy! If you’re going to start using prescription retinoids, I recommend stocking up on (physical) exfoliants and rich, creamy moisturizers. After about a month the flaking stopped and I only suffered from dry and reddened skin where I applied the Tretinoin, nothing a moisturizer and a little concealer can’t fix. I stopped using the Tretinoin after about a year of using it because I felt like my skin didn’t need it anymore. I don’t have any textured skin, no pimples, and all of my brown spots have faded. I do still keep a tube of Tretinoin just in case I get a pimple and want to prevent it from turning into a scar.
I hope this post has been helpful and I’ll see you next week!
Dermatologic Therapy, September 2006, pages 272-279.
Dermatology, May 2014, pages 314–325.