How To Avoid Irritation When Starting A Retinoid

What is retinoic acid?


The term retinoids include retinol, retinaldehyde, and retinoic acid, but retinoic acid is the most powerful. Retinoic acid or tretinoin is known to be more potent because it is bioavailable. Well, what does bioavailable mean? Bioavailable means “ready to be used by the skin.” As opposed to retinol, retinoic acid doesn’t have to go through any changes to be used by the skin. While this makes retinoic acid very useful, it is very potent so it can also cause irritation. which can show up as redness, peeling, dryness, and irritation. This happens because retinoids speed up skin cell turnover, and they increase the thickness of your skin within the deep layers. Retinoids bind to the inside of our skin to specific receptors, and they actually cause changes deep within the skin.

A lot of people think that retinoids are exfoliating because when you use them, your skin feels like it’s peeling or sloughing off, but that’s not actually exfoliation. It’s your skin turning over, shedding off because new skin is being created. It looks like your skin is becoming thinner, but it’s becoming thicker in the deep layers called the dermis which is why retinoids have been known to be so helpful for things like acne, scarring, or pigmentation. 

How do you acclimate your skin to retinoids?

One of the best ways to avoid irritation is titration. Titration is when you start slowly. First, you start with a pea-sized amount, and you use it once or twice a week in the evening. Then, you can build up to 3 times a week. And eventually, you will graduate to daily use once a day. It’s always best to talk to a prescribing physician though.. Dermatica connects you with a dermatologist online who can give you a customized treatment plan. So, if you have a question about how you should titrate, they can answer that for you.  

The next thing that can prevent irritation is sandwiching your retinoids. It’s one of Cassandra’s favorite ways to use prescription-strength retinoids, especially when she’s reintroducing retinoids or bumping up the amount. Sandwiching a retinoid means putting on a layer of moisturizer, then putting on a retinoid, and lastly, using your moisturizer again.

Vegreen Mucin Cream 

This is a moisturizer you can sandwich your retinoids with. It’s made of yams.


Skin Inc Pure Deepsea Hydrating Overnight Mask - $36.75 

If you have super dry skin, this can be fantastic.

You can also sandwich retinoids with other things. Vitamin C can be combined with retinoids if done correctly. But, if you’re just starting a prescription-strength retinoid, just use the retinoid.


Speaking of that, what ingredients should you avoid mixing with a retinoid?

This can be very complex, but avoid mixing very harsh actives like benzoyl peroxide and vitamin C with retinoids. When it comes to the perfect ingredients to mix with retinoids, Cassandra always recommends things that are fragrance-free and support your skin barrier. We’re talking about ceramides, glycerin, hyaluronic acid, fatty acids, squalane, or squalene. These ingredients are also created naturally within our skin. You’ll want to find formulas to build the skin barrier. A great option for this is Dermatica. Dermatica just launched its own line of skincare products, and it is different than their custom skincare products.

While Dermatica has made custom-blended formulas for years, they now have ready-to-go skincare products. Cassandra would say that these are perfect for mixing with your prescription retinoid.

Dermatica Restoring Ceramide Skin Balm 

This is a lightweight ceramide balm that you can put all over irritated skin.  If you’re someone who’s prone to skin irritation, Cassandra would absolutely recommend the ceramide balm. When Cassandra has a pimple or irritation, she can just use it as a spot treatment on irritated areas

They even have a balancing glycerin gel cleanser. This product can be good for acne-prone skin on a prescription-strength retinoid. 

Dermatica Balancing Glycerin Gel Cleanser 

If you have acne, and you’re using a prescription-strength retinoid, this cleanser is definitely  non-irritating, non-stripping, fragrance-free, and supportive to the skin. On the other hand, if you have very dry skin and need something even more hydrating, they have this caring squalene cream cleanser. It’s amazing for mature or dry skin. 

Dermatica Caring Squalene Cream Cleanser -$14.95

Just remember, when you start using a retinoid, your skin may react in unexpected ways, that’s why it’s important to talk to a physician, and fortunately, platforms like Dermatica take the guesswork out.