While I firmly believe Vitamin A topicals have their place in skincare, they are not necessarily for everyone, nor do they need to be used daily.
Consider retinoids as an adjunct therapy rather than a daily use treatment.
Here are 3 examples of Retinoids, which some people generically refer to as prescription Vitamin A cream or gel:
- Tretinoin (example: prescription brand name Retin-A)
- Adapalene (example: OTC brand name Differin)
- Tazarotene (prescription only)
Mistake #1: Using retinoids in the morning
Why? Retinoids make your skin more sensitive, especially to sunlight, which is why they're prescribed for use at bedtime. ALWAYS use Retin A's at bedtime... no exceptions.
Mistake #2: Not using sunscreen
Why? Even though you're only using retinoids at bedtime, you'll still need to wear sunscreen everyday, as these drugs make your skin very sensitized to sun damage... even if you are only receiving small amounts of sun in the winter -or- you are using small amounts of the A's intermittently. Guess what? The radiation from the sun is accumulative! Small, frequent exposures can be as bad a long exposures when your skin is not protected with sunscreen.
If you are prone to acne, make sure your makeup is labeled "non-comedogenic" so that the inflammation from the A's do not make acne worse. If you have sensitive skin, make sure you look for sunscreens that only contain physical sunblock ingredients, that are truly fragrance-free, and that are low in allergens. And if you're prone to dark marks, make sure that you're using a broad-spectrum sunscreen that contains physical sunblock ingredients such as zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. These are important to block visible and invisible light, which can make hyperpigmentation worse.
Mistake #3: Using a harsh cleanser
Why? Since retinoids can cause redness and dryness, it’s important to use a gentle cleanser. This might be a gentle foaming cleanser or a hydrating cleanser, depending on your skin type. Most people will have to avoid medicated cleansers at bedtime. That's because the ingredients in certain medicated cleansers, such as salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide, can increase your risk of skin irritation and damage. Skin irritation over time can stimulate tissue break-down, and stimulate hyperpigmentation.
Mistake #4: Using the products on top of damp skin
Why? Retinoids are meant to be applied to dry skin, unlike HA and moisturizer. After washing your face, gently pat dry. Most people should wait an extra 5-10 minutes before applying their retinoid. Mixing moisturizers with A's alter their chemistry and is not recommended.
Mistake #5: Using them every night right from the start
Why? Most dermatologists will recommend that during the first two-three weeks of using a retinoid, you should only apply it every other night. Even that can be too much, even if it is only "low-dose". Supposedly, spacing gives your skin time to adjust. Assuming your skin adjusts well, then most people can start using it more frequently. For some people, though, this is still too irritating. They might only be able to handle the drug if they apply less frequently. Please understand, we do not have Retin-A deficiencies - it is a drug. As we age, many natural processes and substances slow down or stop, and some natural-to-the-body topical actives like Vitamin C, Niacinamide, and ALA help improve skin. Retin-A is not one of them. Applying a strong drug which alters skin chemistry and is not a natural substance, can actually break down the skin instead of building it up. Don't buy into the fact that Retin -A makes MORE collagen. The skin actually has to replace the collagen the Retin-A tears down. If your skin isn't producing HEALTHY collagen, the worst thing to do is destroy what you have in anticipation that a healthier version will magically replace it. It's always better to address improving the skin health naturally at a cellular level, rather than causing it to breakdown. There are some instances where short, low-dosing of intermittently-applied A's can help with some conditions such as acne, and hyperpigmentation, but it is not the panacea of anti-aging treatments in my opinion. Who ever heard of damaging something to break-down something supportive, in hopes it will repair and heal itself better? Would you do that to a damaged knee...?
Mistake #6: Using too much medication on your face
Why? This is a common mistake, and can really cause problems. A little bit goes a long way when it comes to retinoids. In fact, only a small pea-sized amount is used for the entire face. Then rub in to provide a very thin and even layer over the whole face. Never use any other actives like glycolic acid or benzoyl peroxide at the same time.
Mistake #7: Applying the medication close to the eyes to treat fine lines and wrinkles
Why? This is very tricky. Drugs like Retin-A and actives can migrate under the skin to surrounding areas. For most people, the skin around the eyes is extra-sensitive, and they won’t be able to use retinoids too close to the eyes or the mouth. Nothing worse than dry, cracked burning lips, and tender corners of your eyes & lids. You can get yourself into a real cycle of irritation and long-term sensitization, which is hard to treat if this happens. Your esthetician can recommend a different product to use on/around the eye area. This product may contain a lower strength of retinoids, or may not contain any retinoids at all. It may also have a more moisturizing base, or in the case of peptides, be more water-based.
Mistake #8: Applying an extra dose of retinoid cream to a pimple
Why? These medications work deep in the live tissue to prevent the formation of new pimples. If used on an individual pimple, they'll only inflame your skin. And, if you combine other actives with a Retinol, you can severely burn your skin and sensitize it.
Mistake #9: Using during pregnancy
Black Box Warning
Isotretinoin was a pregnancy category X drug under the previous FDA system and is contraindicated in women who are pregnant or who may become pregnant. There have been severe, documented congenital disabilities when pregnant women have taken isotretinoin.
Why? These drugs should never be used topically or taken orally during pregnancy and while breastfeeding. Prescription oral retinoids (Accutane/isotretinoin) have been shown to increase the risk of birth defects.
Mistake #10: Expecting antiaging, overnight results
Why? It may take as long as 6-8 weeks for the drug to begin creating the new collagen it tore down, so you would need to continue using it for at least that long to see results. Using Retinoids for other conditions have different dosing schedules and term-of-use time depending upon what is being treated.