Topical retinoids are very effective anti-acne AND anti-aging products. They transform your skin cells over time, speeding up the rate at which skin cells form and making them less "sticky". Retinoids also increase collagen production. Long-term retinoid use results in smoother, more even and glowing skin. Topical retinoids are not effective spot treatments, but are meant to be used all over your face, and on a regular basis.
A lot of people get started with retinoids but give up quickly -- usually because they have not been properly taught about how retinoids work, and what to expect in the early weeks.
Here are some key things to remember:
Topical retinoids are irritating to the skin, and you MUST ease into them gradually. Here is a general schedule that I suggest people follow when first starting out:
Week 1: once every 3 days
Week 2: once every 2 days
Week 3: 2 out of 3 days
Week 4: daily
Pay attention to your skin! Red, sore, "sunburned"-looking skin and excessive peeling are signs of irritation. If you experience either, STOP using the retinoid until your skin has gone back to normal. Then pick up the schedule where you left off.
Moisturizing with emu oil (or just adding it to your favorite moisturizer or sunscreen) will help to reduce redness, dryness and inflammation.
2) INITIAL BREAKOUT
Retinoids work by forcing the comedones that are clogging your pores to come to the surface. It takes about 3 months for your pores to clear, and during this time, you will probably see some breakouts. Blackheads may appear larger and more noticeable as they surface; small hard bumps may form; and if you are prone to inflammatory acne, you will probably get pimples. (A short course of antibiotics can help people with inflammatory acne get through this initial breakout, but I do not recommend taking antibiotics for more than 2-3 weeks.)
3) SKIN FRAGILITY
Retinoids make your epidermis thinner and more fragile (don't worry, though, because they actually thicken and strengthen the underlying dermis). DO NOT PICK AT YOUR SKIN! Trying to squeeze out a blackhead can leave you with a red mark for weeks. Be patient.
Be sure to use a very mild cleanser with no other active ingredients while you are getting accustomed to the retinoid, and cleanse your face with lukewarm water no more than twice a day. Once is probably better. Retinoids compromise your skin's barrier function, and excessive washing is going to result in dehydrated skin. You can reinforce your epidermal barrier and reduce dehydration by supplementing your diet with fish oil and moisturizing with emu oil.
4) PEELING SKIN
Some peeling is normal. Not only are your skin cells regenerating very quickly, but they are not sticking together as cohesively, and you will see surface peeling. Gentle exfoliation can help get rid of the shedding layer of skin; you can use a soft facial brush or a silica microbead scrub. BE GENTLE! You can do a lot of damage if you aren't.
5) SUN SENSITIVITY
Retinoids increase your skin's sensitivity to the sun. Wear sunscreen during daylight hours. If you are getting laser or light treatments, be sure to tell them you are using topical retinoids; you may need to avoid product use for a week or so before a treatment.
6) PRODUCT APPLICATION*
You should apply retinoids to clean, dry skin and wait at least 10-15 minutes before applying moisturizer. Many retinoids degrade in sunlight (Differin is an exception, as it's not a true retinoid), so it's best to use them at night.
If you are also using benzoyl peroxide as part of your regimen, do not apply it and the retinoid at the same time, as BP oxidizes retinoids. Usually, you'll want to use BP in the mornings, retinoids at night. Differin (adapalene) is an exception to these rules.
Salicylic acid and retinoids work very well together. (SA loosens comedones; retinoids push them out.) You can use SA in the AMs, retinoids at night, or you can layer the products at night. If you are layering, the general rule is to cleanse; apply SA liquid or gel; wait 30 minutes; apply retinoid.
*A pea sized portion should be used for the ENTIRE face, not a pea sized portion for each section. More product will not make skin cell turnover happen faster or better. Overapplication of product will irritate the skin.
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