When I was younger I always thought that when I reached adulthood all of my skincare problems would miraculously vanish. Acne and oily skin was just a teenager problem, right? Well, ignorance is bliss, sometimes. Anyone reading this knows that I was just kidding myself. If we’re lucky enough to have overcome acne, we now deal with wrinkles, sun spots, and dull or uneven skin. While there are tons and tons of products out there to help you “cure” these, you really only need two products…
A retinoid & a moisturizer
Yeah, that’s pretty much it. But putting anything on or in your body without thoroughly understanding it is never a good idea. So, I put together some tips.
Tip 1 – Understand retinoid products:
Topical retinoids are one of the most effective anti-aging compounds. Originally FDA approved for acne over 40 years ago, they’ve since been prescribed by dermatologists and other healthcare professionals for their anti-aging benefits. They promote open pores, even out skin discolorations and minimize lines and wrinkles. Sounds good, right?
Tip 2 – Understand retinoids vs. retinol:
Retinoids are found in over the counter products in a form called retinol. Retinols are less potent than their prescription-strength counterparts. They are contained in many anti-aging creams and offer similar, albeit less impressive results. Prescription strength retinoids come in different formulations and go by the generic names of tretinoin (most common), tazarotene and adapalene.
Tip 3 – Should you get a prescription-strengh or OTC retinoid?
There are a couple things to consider here, cost and efficacy. First, a trip to the doctor sans health insurance is not cheap. If you’re going to see your PCP anyway and decide that you want to give retinoids a try, your costs will obviously be more reasonable. A tube of the cheapest prescription strength retinoid (tretinoin) will set you back about $45. This lasts for 2-6 months for most people (depending on usage, see below) and works extremely well. OTC retinols widely vary in price and efficacy. My suggestion would be to get the prescription strength retinoid and search for your perfect moisturizer.
Tip 4 – What to know if you do use a retinoid:
- Application: After washing your face at night, wait 20-30 minutes for your face to completely dry. Apply one pea-sized amount evenly between your forehead and cheeks (don’t overdo it, you only need a little!). Rub in. Avoid the eye area. Follow with your moisturizer.
- Frequency: If you’re just starting out, use this twice per week, max. The nights you’re not using it, make sure to still use that good moisturizer!!
- What to expect: You might not notice anything the first few times you apply it. Most people eventually notice that their skin begins to “slough off” somewhat. This is normal. Make sure to protect your skin with sunscreen and hydration. If you start to experience redness or dryness that you can’t combat with the moisturizer, decrease the frequency until your skin recovers. Remember, you can discontinue the retinoid at any time! I’ve gone on and off of it plenty of times in the past 10 years.
- Sun exposure: I’d always recommend using a sunscreen. Technically, if you apply this at night and wash your face normally in the morning, you shouldn’t have increased sun sensitivity.
Tip 5 – Know when you should pass on a retinoid:
If you are pregnant/ lactating, don’t use these. Retinoids are category C drug, meaning its not proven to be safe in pregnancy. Skincare is not worth harming your baby, even if its a super tiny risk.
Tip 6 – Finding a great PM moisturizer:
Sheesh, easier said than done, right? If you have a great moisturizer that you’re happy with it, you can probably continue to use it. Just make sure that is doesn’t have any active (drying/ irritating) ingredients such as retinol, AHA or salicylic acid. And if your skin is even a little bit dry right now, you’ll definitely need an additional moisturizer when you start using the retinoid.
Your moisturizer can be as cheap or expensive as you choose. Eucerin and Cetaphil are the two drugstore moisturizers that are recommended the most. I use Eucerin for my daily body moisturizer and it has never irritated my skin. Aquaphor can also be used for extremely dry and irritated skin, but its an ointment and is therefore greasy and will sit on top of your skin to protect it (great to use on hands and feet at night with gloves or socks over for super-soft skin in the morning). On the more expensive end, Darphin would have to be my favorite. I am gradually switching over to all Darphin products because they work better than anything else I’ve tried. Their Aromatic Care is amazing. I love the Jasmine one the most (and it also has raving reviews on Makeup Alley), but I also switch off with the Tangerine, which smells amazing!! Those tiny bottles last forever! I have yet to use one up. I also use their Fibrogene serum and moisturizer, both of which are also wonderful.
Tip 7 – What about the other stuff?
You’ll still need a few other products, but these aren’t so important. Finding a non-irritating face wash with no beads or exfoliating properties is essential. If you already have one, great. If not, there are many out there to choose from. I’ve been using Clinique’s bar soap for ages and love it. That bar lasts half a year! Some people want to use a gentle toner, and that’s fine. I have one that I’ll put on a cotton pad if I need to get extra makeup off. Right now I’m using one by DHC. You can probably continue your same morning moisturizing routine unless you notice your skin is feeling tight or looking dry during the day. I switch off between two amazing serums (Dior & Darphin) and add a light lotion on top (make sure to wait ~5 minutes to let this set in before putting any makeup on your face). This stuff makes my skin look so clear and firm and works beautifully under makeup. If you use an eye cream, you can continue to use it if you want. You should be avoiding the delicate skin around your eyes when applying the retinoid cream, anyway.
Thanks for reading! There are tons of resources out there for you to do additional research, and you can always ask your PCP! Retinoids aren’t for everybody, but they work wonders on most people. Have you tried them?