What are retinoids?

Retinoids are compounds which are derived from or related to Vitamin A which exfoliate the skin. Instead of breaking down bonds between cells or breaking down sebum like AHAs and BHAs, retinoids help your skin with a process called hyperkeratinization. Hyperkeratinization is a big word which means helping your skin to slough off dead skin cells a little more quickly so the dead skin cells don’t bind together and stay on the skin or in pores.

Retinoids function topically to unclog pores, reduce fine lines, increase collagen, increase cell turnover, and even out skin tone. As with any ingredient, they do take some time to start showing results in your skin, but some can start making visible differences in as little as 4 weeks.

Examples of retinoids include:

  • retinol
  • retinal
  • tretinoin
  • retinoic acid
  • isotretinoin
  • alitretinoin
  • etretinate
  • acitretin
  • adapalenne
  • bexarotene
  • tazarotene

What kind of skin likes retinoids?

After the acclimation period, virtually every skin type likes retinoids. Highly sensitive or dry skin may need a longer and gentler acclimation period, as dryness, redness, or flaking may occur with discomfort.

There is a very small percentage of people with highly sensitive skin who will never be good candidates for retinoids. If this is you, don’t force it. Just use a gentler exfoliating agent (some AHAs or BHAs or enzymes would be great) a couple of times a week. You may also benefit from dermaplaning once a month or every other month.

Why should I use retinoids?

As mentioned above, retinoids help exfoliate the skin which encourages improved cell turnover. Improved cell turnover always translates to smoother skin texture, reduced fine lines and wrinkles, even skin tone, and clear pores. If you want any of this, you may benefit from retinoids.

If you’re not experiencing any of this yet, that’s great! If you want to prevent having any of that, retinoids may be a good preventative ingredient to add to your skincare routine.

When used consistently and long-term, retinoids keep skin clear, reverse sun damage, and prevent premature aging by making the skin function optimally.

How should I use retinoids?

I suggest using retinoids at night before bed. The ingredient itself is sensitive to sunlight, so it is also best to store it in a place without sun exposure (like in a cabinet).

The majority of skin types need to ease in to retinoid use – start off applying a low-percentage formula every third night, or a high-percentage formula every fourth or fifth night. Give yourself periods of two weeks at the intensity you are using, if you aren’t experiencing redness or flaking, increase your usage. After two more weeks, do the same. Eventually you’ll be able to use nightly with no problems, and lots of benefits. Allowing your skin time to acclimate and use the product properly is key!

Retinoids do not make skin more sensitive to sunlight – this is a very popular myth. However, they do exfoliate the skin, which can make skin a little more dry and more sensitive. So make sure you are still using a quenching moisturizer (look for hyaluronic acid in the ingredients) and keep the rest of your routine on the gentle side until your skin acclimates to the retinoid.

Have care

If you are using retinoids, you will need to discontinue use for a couple of days prior to getting any waxing done on areas you use the product(s). Waxing is also a form of exfoliation, and paired with retinoids it can take off more skin than you want (including healthy skin) and cause scarring.

Women who are pregnant or nursing should speak with their OB-GYN to confirm retinoid use is okay.

If you have sunburn or eczema, retinoids won’t be right for those areas, either.

And if you have any allergies to Vitamin A or Vitamin A Analogues, retinoids won’t be right for you.

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