If you’ve even glanced in the direction of a dermatologist, chances are that they’d recommend you use retinol. It’s their ‘desert-island’ product. It helps with skin texture, acne, fine lines and wrinkles, discoloration. You name it, and retinol can fix it.
But what KIND of retinol should you be using? What’s the difference between the over-the-counter retinol products and the prescription stuff? Is prescription always better? How do I even get a prescription? Does expensive mean better?
Here’s the one takeaway that you need to know, in case you maybe kinda sorta don’t make it to the end of this article… Unless told otherwise by your dermatologist, you pretty much always should go with the prescription version of retinol, which is actually called a retinoid. It’s actually cheaper and more effective than all those fancy schmancy retinol products lining the shelves of Sephora.
Retinols and retinoids work by promoting skin cell turnover and boosting collagen. I won’t go into the details because I’m not a dermatologist, but it’s been well-verified and documented. This isn’t some fly-by-night ingredient making a whole lot of promises it doesn’t keep. It’s not my ex.
Retinoid is essentially just a stronger version of retinol. Retinol can help lighten some dark spots and minimize acne, but it’s just not concentrated enough to significantly boost collagen or treat wrinkles. It’s for that reason that you really should get a retinoid prescription.
Obviously, you should seek out a dermatologist for this. If your insurance won’t cover that for any reason (‘cause that neeeverrrrrr happens in America, right?), you can definitely ask your primary care physician about writing you a script. Retinoids are fairly innocuous and shouldn’t pose too much of a problem. There are online services that provide retinoid prescriptions, such as For Hers. I tried them and found it to be a ripoff. The amount they send you doesn’t last the 30 days it’s supposed to, and the cost per ounce is several times more expensive than standard prescription. I cancelled after two months.
The prescription you should get is for tretinoin, which comes under many brand names (e.g. Retin-A). Tretinoin is the generic name for prescription-strength retinoids. The available concentrations strengths are 0.025%, 0.05%, and 0.1%. It’s always recommended to start with the lowest strength first, and slowly build your way up. Why? This stuff is STRONG. In fact, you’re advised to start off using a couple times a week, and then slowly build up to every night. Once your skin acclimates to it, then you can begin to start advancing to the stronger stuff.
Be forewarned. At first, you’ll break out. Like BREAK. OUT. As the tretinoin increases your cell turnover, your pores essentially start ejecting some of the gunk inside them. Sounds great, right? Yes, but the gunk doesn’t just fly out into space. It typically comes to the surface of your skin and creates a whitehead.
In addition to breaking out, your skin will also very likely begin to flake off.
I know. It totally sucks, but quarantine is kinda the perfect time to start because no one is going anywhere or doing anything.
Be sure to use a noncomedogenic moisturizer (aka one that won’t clog pores) when using retinoids. Also, be sure to only use retinoids at night. Since the retinoid is causing your skin to slough off its top layer, it makes your skin VERY sensitive to sunlight. If you use it in the morning, you risk exposing your newly fresh skin to the damaging rays of the sun. You could be CAUSING more damage. So, nighttime only.
It can take at least 6 weeks before you start seeing any results. So be sure to remain consistent and patient. This is a marathon, not a sprint. Just like using sunscreen everyday, retinoids should be a part of your skin maintenance routine. Trust me, your future self will thank you.