This is the second part to the Retinoids & Skin Lightening series. Since making the introductory post, I have received several questions regarding the use of retinoids. Instead of answering each e-mail or message individually. I’ve decided to compile the most common questions and answer them here, so others can get answers to these frequently asked retinoid questions.
Let’s jump right in!
1) Are retinoids only supposed to be used at night?
Ideally, yes. Retinoids exfoliate the skin, which can make it more sensitive to the sun. In fact, all exfoliating agents make the skin more sensitive to the sun temporarily. This reason alone makes it wiser to use a retinoid in the evening, and sunscreen in the daytime.
Also, natural retinoids such as retinol, retinyl palmitate, retinaldehyde, and tretinoin break down in the presence of UV light. Natural retinoids can also make the skin vulnerable to phototoxic damage.
2) Do retinoids lighten skin?
The exfoliating properties of retinoids decrease the the accumulation of melanin deposits within cells, which in turn can make the skin lighter and more even.
There are several studies proving the effectiveness of retinoids for the treatment of various forms of hyperpigmentation. Retinoids have been shown to lighten age spots, melasma, as well as overall skin tone (non hyperpigmented skin).
3) What is the purging stage of retinoid use?
The purging stage refers to the worsening of present blemishes and pore issues (the whole ‘it gets worse before it gets better‘ notion rings true with retinoids!). The skin purges because retinoids slough off surface layer dead skin cells, which allow comedones, trapped bacteria, and sebum to rise to the surface, which can manifest into pimples, cysts, and whiteheads.
The purging stage is temporary, and typically occurs in the first few weeks of retinoid use. Many people are discouraged during this phase, since the skin will appear worse, but it’s important to realize that it is a natural side effect. The duration of purging varies from individual to individual, but once it ceases, the skin will continually improve.
To deal with the purging process, use acne treating products and ingredients such as salicylic acid and topical antibiotics (dermatologists often prescribe these to Rx retinoid novices).
4) How do I apply retinoids? How much per application?
Apply once daily, at night. As for the amount per application – less is more. For most people, a little more than a pea sized amount should suffice for the whole face. For me, the size of a dime is required. What I do, is apply little dots over my face with my index finger and blend in.
Remember that applying more does not equate to faster or more profound results. Retinoids should be handled very gingerly, as being overzealous can lead to irritation, and excessive dryness and flaking.
5) How long does it take to see results from a retinoid?
Results vary from individual to individual. In regards to anti-aging (i.e. increase in collagen, decrease in fine lines and wrinkles etc.), a minimum of 6 months is required to see results. For acne, the timing can vary, but it is often quicker than anti-aging results.
I would say that the benefits of retinoids are cumulative, rather than instant.
6) What are some ways to minimize the irritation?
There are several ways to minimize and prevent irritation from retinoids. One method can be by setting up a schedule, so that retinoids are weekly (or monthly) treatments as opposed to daily applications. Some people use retinoids on non consecutive nights (every other day, or every 3 days), and find this works to cut down on irritation.
Another method is waiting a full 20 minutes after washing your face to apply the retinoid. Skin can be very receptive when damp, so applying a retinoid to dry skin reduces the absorption rate, which in turn reduces the chances of irritation. Other methods which I employ are mixing a retinoid with a moisturizer or serum (in the palms of my hand), or buffering by applying a moisturizer or serum first to the skin, and then layering the retinoid on top, which creates a barrier to the skin.
7) What is Short Contact Therapy (SCT)?
Short Contact Therapy (SCT) is a technique that involves applying a synthetic retinoid to the skin for a short duration of time (2 minutes to 2 hours) and then rinsing off. It has been proven to deliver the same benefits to the skin, but without the adverse effects. The effectiveness of Short Contact Therapy was demonstrated in a study involving Tazorac Gel (tazarotene).
8) What is the main difference between rx retinoid creams and rx retinoid gel versions?
The main difference lies within the inactive ingredient list. Cream versions contain emollient and thickening ingredients, while gels are typically alcohol based. Although all skin types can use cream versions, normal to dry skin types may favor cream formulations, while oily skin types may favor gels.
9) What is the difference between Retin-A and Retin-A Micro?
Retin-A (gel/cream) and Retin-A Micro both contain tretinoin, however the delivery system is different. While Retin-A delivers the tretinoin at once, Retin-A Micro contains micro encapsulated tretinoin which is time released into the skin. This sustained release allows retinoic acid to be in the skin for a longer period of time, as well as produces less chance of irritation.
10) What is the best online vendor to purchase an Rx retinoid?
I strongly suggest going to a dermatologist to obtain an Rx retinoid (Retin-A, Differin, Retin-A Micro, Tazorac). However, there are some online vendors that sell prescription strength retinoid products such as AlldayChemist.