If you’re just now taking an interest in retinoids, you are not alone. Starting a retinoid can be intimidating. There are all types of questions like what do they do? Why do they cause flaking? Can they cause damage? Are they rough on the skin? For instance, Cassandra’s skin did not fare well with retinoids because they used to make her skin flake up. Another reason they made Cassandra’s skin flaky is that she didn’t know how to layer them. Furthermore, you have to use a retinoid that caters to your skin needs (Which retinol is best for my skin type?). Retinoids can be used for many things like acne, acne scars, fine lines, wrinkles, hyperpigmentation, and even rosacea.
The Ordinary .5% retinol in squalane -$7.50
The Ordinary Retinol in Squalane 1% -$7.50
Why do retinoids cause skin flaking?
When you first get on a retinoid, there’s a retinization period. It's a normal period of time where your skin feels, wet, flaky, and irritated.Topical retinoids speed up the skin cell turnover cycle meaning they get rid of old layers of skin faster than usual. This causes your skin to become dry and flakey, as your skin purges and peels to become adjusted to the retinoid.However, this happens more with prescriptions than OTC retinols.
How often should you use retinoids?
There are different options like creams and oils, but remember that the most important thing with skincare is using it regularly so it can work. Finding a formula, a brand, or even a smell that you like helps with consistency. If you don't enjoy the process, you're not going to stick with it or enjoy the results as much. So, we want to identify something that is within our goals, budget, and tastes. Another thing you should consider is taking before and after photos. If you want to see progress, you’ll have tangible evidence.
As mentioned before, retinoids require consistency, and you can use them 1 to 3 times a week. It’s best to mark the days on your calendar that you’ll use them. Most importantly, find a retinoid that works for you and put it on 1 to three times a week. You can increase as time goes on.
Start with a pea-size amount two to three times a week. And after 3 to 4 weeks, you can start using it every other day. Then finally, you can use it once a day. That way, you're not shocking your skin, and you won't get a lot of unexpected peeling. How quickly you should work up also depends on the formula's percentage of retinol.
When you do incorporate these into your routine, make sure that you have a really good sunscreen on hand for daytime use. All retinoids need to be protected from the sun, and SPF is your BFF.
How do you put on a retinoid?
When you’re applying your retinoids, make sure that you're following either doctor's directions or the manufacturer's directions. If you’re just starting a retinol, it is helpful to apply it on top of a moisturizer or a hydrating serum.
If you're using a prescription retinoid, apply a pea-size for the entire face. For a retinol oil, use about three drops and spread it over the face evenly. Upon first starting a retinoid, one of the most important things is to know whether or not you need to layer a retinoid. Layering a retinoid is when you put a moisturizer on your face first, then a retinoid, and then another layer of moisturizer to lock it in. As a second option, you could just apply a moisturizer on the bottom, and then, a retinoid on top. The reason why we layer our retinoids is because they could potentially be a lot more irritating to the skin if we don’t.
Especially if you have sensitive skin or if you’re just starting a retinoid, you want to put a moisturizer barrier on top, then a pea-size amount or retinol, dab it all over the face, a little bit on the cheeks, the nose, forehead, chin, etc. When trying to target certain things such as smile lines, acne scars, or blemishes, make sure that you tap a little bit on that area too. You can use a finger to smear and tap the retinol without getting it inside of your eyes or your mouth. Retinoids do travel, and they can get into these areas, but spreading on a thin layer really nicely is a great way to start. Here are some of Cassandra’s favorites for acne-prone and oily skin. This is one from Bubble. It’s the Level Up Balancing Moisturizer. This is a nice lightweight gel texture, and it works very well for oily skin.
Level Up Balancing Moisturizer -$15
However, if you are someone who's super sensitive to skincare or has a damaged skin barrier, the Pacifica Vegan Ceramide is one of Cassandra’s favorites. This product has a beautiful, fluffy formula, and it’s very nourishing to the skin.
If you are someone who likes buttery, smooth treatments, slugging with retinoids is actually a great idea. You can use vegan Vaseline or petroleum jelly as a base. Next, you put a retinoid on top of that barrier. This is especially helpful if you're just starting a retinoid, if you have sensitive, or dry skin.
You could also put a retinoid underneath petroleum jelly to lock it in, but that could be very irritating. Petrolatum and retinoids are the oldest combo in the book, and dermatologists have been recommending it for years. However, it can be greasy, especially if you have oily skin. But, if you want to control flaking, putting petrolatum underneath retinoids is going to be your best friend.
Solimo Potroleum Jelly -$3.07
If you don't want to use something so thick, you can put a hydrating serum beneath the retinoid.
For example, this is a Ceramide-infused pH Balance and Calming Toner from PURE'AM. It feels like a liquid moisturizer, but it also feels like there's nothing on your skin. So, if the idea of slugging or putting something on top of a moisturizer seems unpleasant, this is a great choice for layering underneath a retinoid.
pH Balance Calming Toner - $28
Retinoids are also excellent for rosacea and hyperpigmentation, and you can put them together with other ingredients to make them more effective. With prescription retinoids, your doctor may start you with a specific percentage. With something like the Ordinary’s 0.5%, 1%, or 2%, retinol, it’s not essential to graduate up, but it may be really helpful with irritation.
Retinoids do degrade in sunlight, but some are more photostable. It’s best to use retinoids at night. So, make sure that you are finding a sunscreen that works for you and goes along. And last, always remember you are beautiful both inside and out!
Coverphoto cred: PROSTOCK-STUDIO / GETTY IMAGES