Retinoids are derivatives of vitamin A compounds that treat acne & reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. However, they often come with side effects including dryness, redness, flaking & irritation. Gentler, over-the-counter retinol can be found in cosmetic skin-care products like night creams, serums & moisturizers. Adapalene, a synthetic retinoid, is available as the over-the-counter drug Differin. Prescription-only retinoid acid (Retin-A) is more effective, yet harsher on the skin & available in different strengths.
Get started with retinoids by using an over-the-counter product it three times per week to see how well your skin tolerates it. If you can use it that often without any issues, you can increase your usage to three to four times per week. If you need something stronger, due to severe acne or signs of aging, consider using Differin or a prescription retinoid. Experiment with using lower-strength formulations once or twice a week, then consider adjusting upward in strength and frequency.
When using a prescription product, you must follow your dermatologist’s instructions. In general, using just a pea-sized amount on dry skin in the evenings after cleansing will keep the product from causing too much irritation. Follow that with your moisturizer or mix your retinoid with the moisturizer to help buffer it.
Experts caution against exfoliating and using retinoids together because both can cause irritation, especially when used one right after the other. If you want to use both, try exfoliating and using your retinoid on alternating evenings, or exfoliating in the morning and using the retinoid at night. Also, because retinoids increase your sensitivity to the sun, make sure you’re always using a broad-spectrum sunscreen with at least 30 SPF. Lastly, avoid retinoids if you’re pregnant.