my tretinoin sidekicks

There are 3 anti-ageing holy grail ingredients in skincare: Peptides, Vitamin C, and the mother of all the gold standards: tretinoin (with all its sister and cousin derivatives from Vitamin A).
It is also largely known as a go-to for acne treatment.

Many people try out retinol or retinoid products, and most are formulated in low percentages, and/or with buffers and other ingredients that soothe the harshest side-effects.
Yet, when jumping on to stronger retinols and topical tretinoin (better known by its commercial name, Retin-A), the side effects can be harsh.
There’s a whole method to this madness of trying to slow down the signs of ageing, and I’ll share what I’ve learnt with you.
This video goes deep into the products that I found are helping me to keep my skin soothed and as balanced as possible.

Also on this post, I’ll keep a little list of the things I have learnt so far (and I reserve the right to come back to this post to add or replace any information I can gather/correct.
I also encourage you to check out Caroline Hirons‘ blog, since she’s preparing a massive post (and maybe video) on this subject. She is a skincare encyclopaedia.

When starting with any kind of Vitamin A derivative:

  • Start slow and build up resistance. Even if you’re used to a lower percentage retinol/retinoid, when amping up for a stronger one, go back to square one: apply it once or twice a week and only add an extra day every 3 weeks or so — and only if your skin seems ok with it.
  • Don’t be afraid to pair down if your skin isn’t dealing with it well. Reduce the frequency or change milder product.
  • Some dryness and peeling are normal, especially if using prescription strength products, BUT feeling burnt, irritated, itchy or raw is not — those are signs to stop, treat your skin to recover its barrier function, and then restart with lower dosages or milder products, if at all.
  • Apply the product on absolutely dry skin. If there is any water residue on your skin, it will pull the product deeper into the skin with it, making it even more harsh. Wait for 15 minutes after cleansing your face before applying the tretinoin cream.
  • Use buffers: apply a simple moisturiser after cleansing and wait for 20 minutes, and then apply your retinol.
  • On the a.m. and “off” days, the main focus should be hydration and moisture, no harsh actives (like peeling acids) unless you know they’ll work for you.
  • Go for very simple, fuss and fragrance free skincare. Many products you may be used to in your normal skincare can feel too harsh or not effective enough for the nourishment needed. Avoid any evident irritants, like denatured alcohol, essential oils, and added fragrances. Any discomfort, set the product aside for when you’re not on tretinoin.
  • NEVAH skip SPF, and reapplying it. Even if it’s pouring outside. Your skin will be in a basically raw state.
  • This is usually at least a 3 month treatment, and you probably won’t notice any evolution before the first two months.
  • Milder products like retinoids have similar effects, just on a smaller scale and in a longer run. Some skins are not made for the shock therapy of tretinoin, and that’s ok.
  • Don’t buy prescription strength products on e-bay. Just… don’t. It can be frustrating that some countries have stronger products over the counter, but, when dealing with tretinoin… get. a. prescription.

products mentioned:

Clinique Take The Day Off Cleansing Balm
Pixi+Caroline Hirons Double Cleanse
Farmacy Green Clean Cleansing Balm
Lush Ultrabland (second cleanse/a.m. cleanse, not great for makeup removal)

Hada Labo Hyaluronic Lotion Moist
Garden of Wisdom Daily Hydrator

La Roche-Posay Cicaplast Pro Recovery Skincare (I’m having a tough time finding this, it’s not even in the LRP website… The balm from the same range seems to work amazingly for most people)

Super Goop Everyday Sunscreen SPF 50 (any SPF that is comfortable for you will do)
La Roche Posay Anthelios Invisible Face Mist SPF 50 (for touch-ups)

Garden of Wisdom Vitamin C 23% and Ferulic Acid (for “off” days)
Dermalogica Daily Microfoliant (if your skin needs a bit of a buff, and always mixed with a good oil-based cleanser)
Good Genes (lactic acid version, only available in the U.S. In Europe, there’s a Glycolic version, but I can’t speak to that, since I’ve never tried it).

This may seem basic, but it has helped me (hey, if I’m at the age when I need tretinoin, I might as well use a memory aid): make a calendar (even a simple week spread on a sheet of paper) and write down in pencil the a.m. and p.m. skincare for each day, so that you always know where you’re at. When making changes, you can just erase and start over. Keep it close to the place where you do your routine.

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