How to Use a Retinoid

All retinoids cause red, dry, and irritated skin. If you go slow and use them appropriately your face will adjust to them and red, peeling skin does not have to be your new normal. So how do you use a retinoid? You go low and slow.

You go low by using only a pea-sized amount for the entire face and applying a thin layer. Additional tips to help mitigate the dryness from retinoids is to ensure they are being applied to a dry face and to use a hyaluronic acid serum or moisturizer on top.

You go slow with retinoids by only using them every few nights. Start using it every 3rd or 4th night and then slowly increase to every other night and then nightly as tolerated. This may mean you are using your retinoid only on Monday and Thursday for 2-3 weeks and then increasing to Monday, Wednesday, Friday after 3-4 weeks and then every other night by 1-2 months of use. It may take 3-4 months to work up to using a retinoid nightly. A board-certified dermatologist can determine what strength your skin can tolerate and then slowly work you up in strength at follow-up visits every 6-8 weeks.

Another pro-tip is to use your retinoid everywhere. If you are using it for acne, do not spot treat your zits. Retinoids do not work as a spot treatment. Retinoids work to change the way your skin is behaving to prevent new acne from forming. Retinoids do not treat acne that is already present on the skin.

If you are using retinoids for anti-aging, maintenance and prevention, make sure you are also applying the retinoid in a thin layer to the entire face. For areas off-the-face, proceed with greater caution, since areas like the neck, chest, and backs of hands have less oil glands. On these areas, the retinoid will cause even more irritation and peeling, despite this, using a retinoid on these areas is fabulous, just recognize you may need to go even slower in working up your skin’s tolerance.

Many patients with acne feel like nothing works for them, but I find this is typically due to poor counseling. Patients need a little hand holding on how to use retinoids. This is why I no longer take insurance. I want to spend time with my patients, appropriately counsel them and be available when they have post-visit questions and concerns. Counseling takes time and reinforcement. It is normal to text and call our office with follow-up questions.

Recognizing that retinoids take 6-8 weeks to even start working can really help set patients up for success. I warn my patients, “you will be dry, irritated, annoyed and wonder why are we doing this, since it is not working and making your skin worse, but be patient!” It is worth the 6-8 week ramp up for a lifetime of beautiful, radiant skin!

If you want to learn more about why and how to use your retinoid, schedule with us online or give us a call. We are here for you and your skin.