I’ve really been concentrating on anti-aging skincare lately. First I posted my 2-Year Retin-A Results, then my Morning Skincare Routine, followed by my Evening Skincare Routine, and I’m finishing it up with this post on how to use Retin-A Without Irritation in which I’ll answer your most frequently asked Retin-A related questions!
Retin-A (tretinoin) is one of the most effective anti-aging topicals you can use, but it’s also one of the most misunderstood. It’s got 20+ years of research to prove that it works, but it can also come with a host of side effects like break-outs, peeling, burning, redness, and inflammation which is why so many people stop using it or are too afraid to try it at all.
I’ve been successfully using generic tretinoin cream for 2 years with very few side effects, so I have lots of tips and tricks to help overcome the main obstacles to using retin-a! It wasn’t easy to do because even doctors don’t agree on what’s the right way to use it.
Question 1: Which Form of Retin-A is Right for Me?
Retin-A is one of the many name brands of tretinoin which comes in many vehicles and strengths. There are gels, creams and liquids in strengths ranging from 0.01% up to 0.1%. Most of the clinical tests were done with generic tretinoin at 0.05% in a vehicle cream so that’s a good basic place to start. Some products like Refissa and Renova are for extra dry skin. They’re in a more emollient cream base that usually contains mineral oil. If you have very oily skin, a stronger gel formula might be recommended. For those with extra sensitive skin, Retin-A Micro is a time-released gel that reduces irritation. I use the generic 0.05% tretinoin cream. It’s important to know your skin type and discuss the options with your doctor to help select the right formula for you.
Question 2: How Can I Get Retin-A?
Tretinoin is a prescription medication, so most people can get it by asking their doctor for a prescription.
Question 3: How Much Does Retin-A Cost?
If you go the prescription route, you may get lucky and your insurance will cover the medication, but that’s becoming less common. You can still get the prescription by paying out of pocket. The prices run anywhere from $50-$200 for a 45 gram tube. It’s best to shop around at different pharmacies for the best price, and keep in mind the name brands cost more than generic. You can download a coupon from www.goodrx.com for savings at your local pharmacy. In Mexico, Retin-A is over-the-counter so if you’re going there you can buy it in any pharmacy for around $10.
Question 4: How Do I Avoid Irritation and Peeling?
It takes 4-6 months with Retin-a to see results, so getting started without irritation is the key to long-term success. I figured if I’m willing to wait 6 months for it to work I’d use that time to acclimate to it and avoid irritation! Here’s how I did it:
Month 1: One night a week before bed I washed my face and waited 15-20 minutes for my skin to thoroughly dry (damp skin absorbs deeper, dry skin minimizes irritation). Then I applied a small pea sized amount of tretinoin cream to my face by dotting it on each cheek, forehead and chin. I rubbed that in avoiding my eyelids, under eyes, nostrils and mouth. There are different schools of thought on this but I apply my other serums and moisturizers right on top of my tretinoin. I think it helps with the dryness and it helps to spread tiny amounts of tretinoin to my eyelids and upper lip.
Month 2: After 4 weeks of applying it only once a week, I increased to two nights a week (sunday & wednesday) applying it the same way.
Month 3: I increased frequency of application to 3 nights a week still waiting after washing my face and avoiding areas with thinner more sensitive skin.
Month 4: I increased frequency to every other night. This happened to coincide with the start of summer so I elected to stay at every-other night for the next 3 months. Tretinoin thins the outer layer of the skin (the stratum corneum) which is made of dead skin cells that protect the deeper layers of the skin from the sun so it’s important to use extra sun-protection while on it. Use a broad spectrum sunscreen with spf 30 minimum every day. UVA rays (the ones that cause skin aging and skin cancer) come through glass and clouds so wear it all day, every day. If you’re not willing to do this, there’s no point in using Retin-A since you’ll be creating new damage while trying to fix past damage.
Month 7: Still waiting the 15-20 minutes after washing my face and avoiding eyes, nose, mouth, I started applying it every night… it was a success!
One Year: I continued applying the same way every night until I reach a year, then I stopped waiting the 15-20 minutes after washing to apply. Skin is more absorbent when it’s damp so applying right after toweling the face helps the active ingredient absorb more effectively (that’s why waiting reduces irritation)!
18 Months: After another 6 months I decided to try putting it under my eyes and between my upper lip and nose. It didn’t cause any new irritation, so now, 2 years in the process is streamlined for maximum absorption covering maximum surface with no flaking, peeling, redness, or stinging!
It was quite the process, but so worth it. Click here to see my 2-Year Results with before & after pictures.
Question 5: Can I Use Other Anti-Aging Actives With Retin-A
There are some products that should not be used with Retin-A because they will cause skin irritation, inflammation, and damage. Those products contain benzyl peroxide or salicylic acid. So check the ingredients on your face wash and moisturizers to make sure those aren’t in your skincare routine. Anti-aging actives like glycolic acid (AHA) and vitamin C serum can be used in conjunction with retin-a quite successfully, but because they also exfoliate they can cause irritation, so be careful not to overuse those.
Question 6: Is Retin-A Damaging My Skin By Making It Thinner?
There’s a misconception that Retin-A use thins the skin in an unhealthy way. It’s confusing because it’s partly true and partly false. Retin-A does thin the outermost layer of the skin (the stratum corneum), but it also thickens the deeper layers of the skin by improving collagen production. So, think of your skin like an onion. That papery outer layer is made of dead skin cells that fall off as part of skin’s natural regeneration process. Young skin replenishes itself every 15 days, but older skin takes much longer (45 days for 50 year old skin like mine), so the stratum corneum is naturally thicker in older people. The thicker layer of dead cells are what causes the skin to look dull and rough. Removing some of that layer helps skin to appear younger. It’s only harmful if you don’t provide adequate sun protection!
I hope this will answer the questions you may have or calm your fears about using Retin-A, and that you’ll be able to use it successfully and without irritation.