All Hail the Retinoids

Retinoids (or retinol), initially used to treat my teenage acne, are now a part of my weekly skin care regimen to halt wrinkles and lessen the appearance of sun damage. Made from retinoic acid, which is derived from vitamin A, it’s sold under many brand names from Retin-A to Tazorac, and for the more sensitive types, Differin (aka Adapalene).

Unfortunately, the side effects to human skin as a result of retinol use are peeling and flakiness, added sensitivity causing redness, and (if not careful) skin prone to sunburn. Having used retinol for as long as I, one would assume I’d figured out the appropriate routine for attaining perfect skin without said side effects.

But, this is not so and I continue to battle the peeliness; unsure if it can really be avoided.

Here is what I’ve been advised by my doctor; advise, which I have taken:

1. Choose a gentle face wash like Cetaphil for removing makeup at night.

2. Wait until face is completely dry (about fifteen minutes) before applying a thin layer, careful to avoid the skin around the eyes. In my experience I have (once or twice) applied my gel too closely to the sensitive eye area, resulting in a stinging sensation (to the eye balls!) the following day.

3. Apply at night, every third day at the start, every second night after a few weeks. Some people, not as sensitive, are able to apply it nightly. I’ve yet to meet a person who is able to do this, though.

4. Do not spot treat. It’s better to smooth a thin layer over the entire face and neck than spot treat, which leads to uneven flakiness.

5. Wear sunscreen, preferably with a higher SPF.

6. Moisturize with a non-comedogenic formulation for sensitive skin.

7. Take a break during the summer.

This is one rule that has been in dispute. Some doctors believe that using retinoids in the summer months is a better time to begin, and as long as proper sunscreen usage is adhered to, the “humidity is less likely to dry out the skin.

I am not a doctor, but as I user, I disagree. I am a regimented sunscreen user, and even still find that I am exposed to much more sun in the summer months, regardless of my best efforts to faithfully reapply my SPF.

No matter if you are a teenager with acne or a forty something mom looking for help with your skin, retinoids are a good place to start.

Just be advised, from a woman who yesterday prayed that no moms would talk to her at pre-school pickup due to my peeling mess of a face, there is a price to pay for the long-term benefits of clear, beautiful skin.

Do you use retinoids? Why or why not?


I’ve heard that people worry about the expense of retinoid creams and gels. This small tube, however, has been in use for over a year (probably past the expiration date). The stuff lasts forever.

One thought on “All Hail the Retinoids

  1. I use the over the counter kind – and once burnt my skin very bad because I forgot SPF! Cetaphil was actually what healed the burns! I am more careful now and wear it sparingly. But love the effect it has on my ‘aging” skin!

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