I decided to put this article together to share with you my experience of using Retinoid/Retinol products, and to talk about their strengths and the differences between them. I hope you find this article interesting and informative.
Before I jump in, here’s my quick attempt to demystify some of the terminology.
What are Retinoids?
“Retinoids” (compounds derived from vitamin A) is the term that covers a whole bunch of skin care products that are proven to aid anti-ageing, treat acne, soften wrinkles and stimulate growth. Retinoid products include: Tretinoin; Retinol; Andapalene (better known as Differin); Tazarotene; Alitretinoin; and Bexarotene. To further clarify, Tretinoin (brand name, Retin-A) is also known as Retinoic Acid. The above products and compounds are often used interchangeably, which adds to the confusion.
All Retinoids work toward the same goal – helping to improve wrinkles, pigmentation, and, of course, acne. However, they are not created equally, especially in terms of strength. The term Retinoid is typically used to describe prescription-strength Retinoid products, such as Tretinoin and Tazarotene, which contain Retinoic Acid.
Retinoic Acid is the most active form of Vitamin A and, thus, the most potent form out there – which is why you typically need a prescription to get it.
Retinol is a synthetic form of Vitamin A – an ingredient that promotes skin renewal and enhances collagen production.
Retinol is gentler and thus available without a prescription. Retinol requires conversion to Retinoic Acid before being able to have an effect. The weaker the Retinoid, the easier it will be tolerated by your skin.
Retinol is considered the ‘gold standard” in age-targeted skincare. It’s important to know its potential. Knowing how it works may help you decide if it is right for you because it isn’t suitable for everyone. If you have particularly sensitive skin or a skin condition such as rosacea, this is probably going to be too strong for you.
When using any strength of Retinol, it should always go hand in hand with a highly effective sunscreen. I try new high factor facial sunscreens all the time and keep going back to Nivea SPF 50. I find it light, unlike other high factor sunscreens. It works well under makeup and it’s also great as an ordinary moisturiser during the day – especially in the warmer months. And, at £6.00 a shot, it’s a very good price.
Why I began using Retin-A
I started using Retin-A in March 2016. Back then, I was looking for something in the form of “skincare” which had been proven to give the best results in helping to combat ageing. I spent long hours doing my research. Time and time again, Retin-A (Tretinoin) seemed to be the active component cited as the magic skincare ingredient. I read that it reduces fine lines and wrinkles by increasing the production of collagen, while stimulating the production of new blood vessels in the skin – which improves skin colour. The additional benefits include fading age spots and softening rough patches of skin.
I read how important it is to use this powerful skincare ingredient, correctly. Otherwise, it can lead to side effects such as redness, dryness, itching and continuous peeling. I was also aware that it would take a good while for my skin to get used to the ingredients.
What I Learnt about Retin-A
I did so much research at the beginning of my Retin-A (Tretinoin) journey. I was prepared for the side effects such as peeling, redness, dryness, and irritation. Some people start with 0.025% strength. I wanted to dive right in. So, I began with the 0.05% cream version. I was unable to buy my Retin-A over the counter in the UK. So, over the years, I have bought it in Europe and Mexico. Last year, prior to the pandemic, I stocked up in Thailand while on holiday. Thank goodness I bought a good supply!
I have also asked friends to bring me tubes of it back when they have been travelling. This has always kept my supply in check – I will also mention the name varies around the world. For example, in Spain, it’s called “Retirides”. I know “Differin “(aka Adapalene) is available to buy over the counter in the US. Adapalene is, apparently, more tolerable and gentler on your skin, while still being effective.
The Method I used is:
There is both patience and, I guess, endurance needed in the process of getting your skin acclimatised to Retin-A. The side effects are mild irritation, dryness and sun sensitivity, which are normal as your skin adjusts. If you are too hasty and not careful, intense flaking, redness and burning will occur, which isn’t pleasant. I always use it in my PM routine only – I apply a pea size amount only around my eyes (never on the lids). I never apply any on the sides of my nostrils, below the brow bone and around the mouth, as these areas are very sensitive and are to be avoided. As I mentioned earlier, it’s a “must” and golden rule to always incorporate a high facial SPF into your daily routine. This is essential as new skin cells exposed to the harmful UV rays are a definite “no, no”.
Less Intense Retinol Products
If you’ve never used a Retinol product before and just want to test the water first, there are some great products out there with a lesser strength. These will give you a gentler introduction to Retinol – something like, “No7 Advanced Retinol Complex Night Concentrate”. I haven’t tried this myself but the reviews speak for themselves.
First, go for a low percentage cream. Start on the 0.025% strength, then apply once a week in the evening, for a month. No more than that, followed by a rich nightly moisturiser.
For the second month, use it twice a week. For the third month, three times a week, and so on. If you notice any persistent redness or irritation, reduce your application, go back a month, then build up again, slowly. Again, make sure to only use it at night.
It is a long journey building up the tolerance, and, this is not for everyone. The flaky skin can go on for weeks. I have reduced my application quite a few times over the years, as the flaky skin is not a great look. But I persevered. I did build up to using 0.1%, last year. Unfortunately, I was unable to buy the 0.05% strength in Thailand.
Prior to using Retin-A, I had several age spots on my cheeks from the years of sun damage. But, they have since faded. Don’t get me wrong, I still have lines and crow’s feet but, at 60 years old, it would be strange if I didn’t.
And, there is no eradicating the years of lying baking in the sun, which I did in my youth and over the years.
My mission is to look the best I can for my age and I will be happy with that. I have read other women say that Retin-A has improved their droopy eyelids. This may be due to the moisturiser spreading the Retin-A to other areas such as eyelids in a more condensed way.
Retin A is something you must never put on your eyelids. I have always naturally had a little bit of a hooded eyelid so I’m not sure if there are any improvements to mine
I know, personally, that, if I haven’t been sleeping well, eating the wrong stuff, and not drinking a good amount of water, it will show. So, that “Rock n Roll” lifestyle must go! Only joking!
In my opinion, Retin-A has improved my skin and has been well worth the journey. I am happy using it and will probably go on using it, forever!
Thank you for your time and I hope you have found this post helpful and informative!
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