Retinoids are a part of the Vitamin A family. They are most widely known for treating acne, prescribed in an oral form as the trade name Accutane (isotretinoin). A slightly different chemical form is prescribed to treat aged skin--tretinoin, commonly referred to as Retin-A, which is a topical treatment. On a cellular level, tretinoin works to reverse aging by increasing the collagen content in the deeper layers of your skin, as well as by reorganizing the more superficial layers to create an overall improved smoothness and even tone.
Qs and As
When should you incorporate tretinoin into your daily beauty routine?
Usually by our 30s we start to notice the effects of aging, largely due to sun exposure: fine lines around the eyes and across the forehead, discoloration, and roughness.
Can I start using tretinoin before my skin starts to show these signs of ageing?
Yes, you can. However when you are younger, your best plan of action for wrinkle prevention should be sunblock, and avoiding/cessation of smoking.
Prescription or over-the-counter (OTC)?
Most OTC retinoid products actually contain retinol, which is a less active form. Less active=less results! For the greatest (and most studied) clinical effect on your skin, prescription dose is the way to go. Most docs will start you on .025%, as this will be the least irritating to your skin. More on that below!
How do I start using it?
Because tretinoin will make you more sensitive to the sun, and can be inactivated by exposure to it, it is best to incorporate its use into your evening beauty routine. After washing your face with a gentle cleanser, apply a thin (pea-sized amount) layer over your entire face. You may follow that with a plain moisturizer. The goal is to get to nightly application; however due to side effects such as redness and itchy, flaking skin, (known as the “retinoid reaction”), most find it best to start with every other night, or twice weekly, and slowly increase the number of nights of application as your skin acclimates. It’s ok to use a moisturizer that has other anti-aging properties in it if your skin tolerates this, however if you notice that you are unable to increase the number of nights applying a week, try switching to something without all the extra additives, such as Cetaphil.
How long before I see results?
For retinoids, PATIENCE IS A VIRTUE! It takes your skin 3 months to change on that cellular level, and many people don’t notice a difference in their complexions for at least 6 months. In fact, studies have shown that it actually takes a full year for a measurable increase in collagen to occur. Therefore slow and steady wins this race against the ticking clock of aging.
Once I see an improvement, can I stop using it?
Not exactly. If you completely stop retinoid therapy, many of the good effects bestowed upon your now-more youthful visage will be lost. While there is no consensus as to what optimal “maintenance” therapy means, continuing to use the product at least three times weekly will ensure your skin is looking its best and brightest for years to come.