I've been thinking about making this post for the last few weeks and I finally feel comfortable and confident enough to do so. I've been taking a perscription brand tretinoin called Stieva-a since the end of July 2012 and have been using it consistently since, so that's a little over 8 months. I know from experience how difficult it is to stick with a retinoid, especially when your going through the initial breakouts and I know when I was going through them, there weren't too many posts that talked about what happened to users skin over the longterm. People had either given up after four months or people had good results immediately and then didn't share anything afterward. That's why I'm sharing my own experience, so that anyone who is currently struggling and debating whether or not to continue with this product might find a bit of encouragment.
Firstly, I was never perscribed Stieva-a myself. It was a product my mother was using for her own adult acne and wrinkles and something I had suggested to her, because I'd read such good things about Retin-a. From what I understand Stieva-a is a lot like Retin-a but it's not quite the same formula, though the tube says tretinoin. What I use is a cream formula at .05 so almost the strongest percentage.
So, I guess I'll get right to it. I've been using this same product at the same strength for a little over 8 months and I'll be honest, for most of those months it was an up and down battle. Some months were better than others and from what I've seen with other posts, that's how it seems to work. The first two months are the hardest for sure. You might get by for a week or two without breakouts and then the initial breakout starts. For me, it was a handful of little whiteheads every day. They'd pop up and start to dry up by the end of the day, but when I'd wake up the next day there' was a new crop, on another part of my face. I broke out a bit on my neck which I never had before this product. After a few weeks the initial breakout calmed down and after two months the breakouts were more minor and would only happen every few weeks.
Currently my skin is about 90% clear I'd say. I have a lot of redmarks because I'm very pale and I used BP to calm down the really nasty pimples. However, despite the marks that i know will fade, I have barely any active pimples and some blackheads that have been there for years that are only just now starting to face. I haven't really broken out for quite some time and when I do it's only a few pimples and their small. The retinoid even seems to calm down my hormonal acne.
The thing I really want to get across, to anyone reading this long, rambling mess, is that you HAVE TO BE PATIENT. It's the most important thing. If you're starting it, don't give up. If it seems like your skin isn't getting worse or better, don't give up, stick with it. I don't go by what they say on the label about giving it a few months, if I did, this product wouldn't have given me the results I have now. I imagine it as it's slowly exfoliating layers and layers of skin. Imagine all the peeling it's doing, getting deep into your skin to scrub out your pores and all the dirt and the dead skin that's just sitting there? It's going to take time.
Some of the things I found that personally helped me and that I still use with this product were:
*Benzoyl Peroxide - when I had the initial breakouts I slathered this on the active pimples and all over to try and kill the bacteria on my skin. You can't use this at the same time as the retinoid because they'll cancel each other out. I would use one in the morning and one at night or use it every second day. It can be overdrying and make your skin more red though when you are first starting out with the retinoid, so be careful.
*Cetaphil Wash & Moisturizer- Any kind of gentle face wash I think is key. I find Cetaphil to be the best and the moisturizer is gentle enough on my sensitive skin. You absolutely need a great moisturizer with retinoids because you will be dry and you will flake!
*AHA- Again this could be over drying and more irritating than good for some people. I have extremely sensitive skin and this was a product I used before the retinoid, but I found this helped with red marks and helped take away any flakes and dry skin in the mornings when I was not using the retinoid. It exfoliates like the retinoid so I wouldn't use it at the same time and I'd use it sparingly.
*JoJoBa Oil- I know Dan recommends this on his site and I competely agree. If there's anything you should include in your regimen it's this! I wasn't sure if borke me out at first but I stuck with it and this is my holy grail of skin products! It really helps my skin, especially when using the retinoids! It calmed down the redness and kept most of the flakiness at bay. It even takes off layers of foundation and cover up like nobodies business!
*Honey/Cinnamon Facemasks- This is one of those homemade DIY facemasks that anyone with acne should use. I swear by just a normal honey facemask but for the last month I've been mixing a tablespoon of cinnamon in with several tablespoons of honey and spreading it on my face as a mask for about 15-20 minutes and it has really helped the overall appearance of my skin. It heals dryness, it's antibacterial and I swear it keeps new pimples away and helps with my redmarks. And one batch lasts for a long time, I just covers it in plastic wrap and keep it in the fridge until the next time I want a mask. I do it everyday or every other day.
Anyway, those are the things I incorporate into my regimen. Those are things that I've found work for me and maybe some of them will work for you. I highly suggest you incorporate other products into your regimen and don't just depend on the retinoid to do everything. I know a lot of people use antibiotics when they're starting out and that's probably a good bet as well.
I've suffered with acne since I was 11 years old and at 24 I'm starting to finally feel like it's getting under control. If you made it through this long post, I hope my advice and my story helped you and if you have any questions just ask. Good luck with your skincare journey!