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What are retinoids?

Retinoids are AWESOME.  This family of medicines includes the topical medications tretinoin (Retin-A), adapalene (Differin), and tazarotene (Tazorac).  In addition to being the cornerstone of most acne treatment plans, they have the delightful side effect of reducing fine lines and wrinkles and evening out pigmentation.  Because of this, they are often used as part of anti-aging routines.  Finally, retinoids are mildly effective at getting rid of some precancerous lesions.

Is there a downside?

Yes.  Redness and peeling.  Many patients call to complain that they are having trouble with redness and dryness.  This isn’t so much a side effect as it is a sign of too much of a good thing.  You see, one of the things that retinoids do is to exfoliate the skin.  This is where the peeling comes from.  So in some ways, peeling means it is working, but perhaps working too much.

You shouldn’t suffer through this.  Instead, follow these tips to help get the most from your retinoid:

Getting the most from Retinoids

1.  Put them on hold for awhile.  Ideally, you would use your retinoid every night, but if you are getting red, dry, or peely, take a break for at least a few days.  Once your skin has gone back to normal, restart the medicine every 2nd or 3rd night.  Then, over the next month, try to work your way up to every night.

2. Stop other medicines that cause dryness.  Anything that contains benzoyl peroxide, salicylic acid, or glycolic acid also cause dryness.  Any kind of toner or astringent will also cause dryness.  You may want to stop these for awhile.

3. Try mixing the retinoid with a moisturizer.  Try something gentle like Cetaphil or Cerave for the face.  You can either put the retinoid on first and then apply moisturizer or you could mix a little bit of both of them together in your hand and then apply it.

4.  Try not washing your face before applying it.  Washing your face will remove a lot of your natural oils.  If you don’t have makeup or sweat to remove, you might try washing your face in the morning but not at night.  That way, when you put the retinoid on at night your skin is protected by its own oils and you probably won’t have as much trouble.

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