A frequent complaint that I hear from clients is that they can not tolerate retinol/retinoid products.  I have a prior post going in to detail on these Vitamin A derivatives.  Irritation is a known side effect, but worth working through to receive the long term benefits of this proven ingredient. (stimulates collagen, minimizes wrinkles, reduces break-outs, sheds pre-cancerous skin lesions)

Because retinol/retinoids convert to retinoic acid in the skin, they do create irritation as they increase cellular turnover.  I find that the irritation subsides once an individual has acclimated to the product.  I frequently hear clients say they go on and off their retinol/retinoid because of the irritation, but then the benefits are so diminished.  So, here are some suggestions.

Whether it is an over the counter retinol or a prescriptive retinoid it is beneficial to gradually increase the use of the product.  This is a possible schedule to try:

  • Twice a week for two weeks
  • Three times a week for three weeks
  • Four times a week for four weeks
  • Every night as tolerated

It can also be helpful to start with a lower strength product and gradually increase the strength of the product as you get used to it.  This can mean starting with over the counter retinols and then going on to prescription strength retinoids.  With prescriptions there are numerous products available with a range of % of retinoid.  Perhaps starting on a lower % and then increasing the strength if you and your skin care provider think it would be beneficial.

The other factor that can be helpful is that many forms of retinol/retinoid are available in micro-sponge technology.  This is a technology in skin care where the active ingredients are slowly released in the skin.  I find this to be very helpful to clients who are sensitive and have difficulty tolerating vitamin A products.

Finally, one of the effects of retinol/retinoid products is suppression of sebum production (which is why it helps those with acne).  This can lead an individual with normal to normal/dry skin to really struggle with the drying effects of the product.  It is important to moisturize your skin to help alleviate this side effect.  Some individuals find it helpful to apply the retinol/retinoid on top of the moisturizer to minimize the dryness.  Additionally, as you start on a retinol/retinoid and experience areas that are particularly irritated an over the counter hydrocortisone cream can be used to minimize the irritation.

Ultimately, the benefits of using a retinol/retinoid are well documented and have been considered an important tool to use in skin care to help with the signs and symptoms of aging skin.  I encourage MOST of my clients to be on one of these products. (there are exceptions, such as an individual with Rosacea)

We carry several retinols at TOC Medical Spa.

  • Neocutis Nouvelle- A 0.6% retinol which also contains skin brightening ingredients.
  • SkinMedical Retinol- Both a 0.5% and 1% retinol also contains antioxidants and anti-irritants.

If you are not currently utilizing this star product I would reconsider.  Discuss with your skin care provider what would be a good starting point for you.


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