Retinol and retinoids are both vitamin A derivatives. Retinol is an essential part of any anti-ageing skincare routine and retinoids are possibly the most critical topical therapy for acne because they reduce blockage of pores and also have direct anti-inflammatory effects. Although they are both very useful tools in the management of acne and skin ageing, the use of topical retinoids and retinol may be limited by side effects such as dryness, peeling, redness and irritation. They have also been associated with photosensitivity i.e. causing the skin to be more sensitive to the sun. These side effects can all be much easier to tolerate if the steps below are followed.
1. Use a gentle skin cleanser morning and evening. Apply to a wet face and rinse off with lukewarm water. Do not scrub vigorously.
2. Apply your retinoid or retinol cream at night before you go to bed. Do not apply it in the morning as it can make your skin more sensitive to the sun. Take precautions to avoid sunburn by applying a non-comedogenic, broad spectrum SPF 50 sun protection moisturiser in the morning before you put on your make-up.
3. Introduce the product gradually. Start off by applying it twice per week at night. It is normal to have a bit of redness or peeling after a few days. After a couple of weeks, increase application to alternate nights if tolerated. This can subsequently be increased to every night after a further two to four weeks if you are tolerating the treatment with minimal irritation.
4. If skin irritation is severe, stop the cream for a few days until it has settled before attempting to reintroduce it even more gradually.
5. Most people will eventually be able to apply their cream every night without any ongoing discomfort, however some will only ever manage alternate nights or twice per week at the most. Do what you can – some treatment once or twice a week is usually better than none at all!
6. Apply the cream (or gel) in a very thin layer to cover all of the areas that you want to reduce fine lines or tend to get the acne, not just onto individual spots. The quantity really doesn’t have to be particularly large as this will just increase irritation.
7. Avoid the area directly around your eyes as the skin is more sensitive.
8. If your skin is dry or irritated, you can apply a moisturiser at night by layering it on top of your retinoid or retinol cream. Ideally you should wait 15 minutes or so between these steps to prevent it being diluted by your moisturiser. Look for a moisturiser that is labelled non-comedogenic to prevent any pore-clogging.