There are a couple of important things to know if you are looking to use a retinoid so let’s dive right in… First of all, Retinol products and a prescribed Retinoic Acid are both Retinoids and learning the differences between the two will help you be more clear about your goals and if this treatments is indeed the best course of action for you. The better you understand your products, the more successful you will be using them.

SO, before slathering  any retinoid on your skin, think about why you want it in the first place.  Is it to brighten hyper-pigmentation since the baby, reverse sun damage, improve collagen production or clear your acne? Be specific because specific conditions are better suited for a specific Retinoid.

Retinoid refers to Vitamin A and the many molecules derived from Vitamin A, which are referred to as Retinol. A really important thing to understand is the conversion process of your retinol because this conversion process  determines the efficacy of your product. So, Retinol converts to Retinaldehyde and then to Retinoic Acid. The less steps it takes to convert to Retinoic Acid, the more effective. For example, active ingredients like Retinal Palmitate, Retinal Acetate and Retinal Linoleate in your over the counter products are least effective because they all have to convert to Retinol and add an extra step in the process whereas Retinol as your active ingredient skips that first step.

Why Vitamin A?

Vitamin A encourages healthy skin cell development while inhibiting collagen breakdown, increasing elasticity, and improving moisture to the skin. It also soothes inflammation, regulates oil production and reverses the signs of photo aging.

And Vitamin A and C are best friends and benefit from each other so if you are taking a Retinoid boost your Vitamin C intake with more fresh fruits, citrus juices or a daily Vitamin C supplement. Another biggie is if you are taking a Retinoid to slow down the appearance of aging, make sure to eat less refined sugar during your process (and in general of course). Sugar is the number one enemy when it comes to wrinkles and it is in almost in every packaged food. Eat more living and complex carbohydrate foods to support your overall immunity.

Yes, Retinoids Will Initially Cause Peeling & Inflammation.

Retinoid Dermatitis is what the inflammation that naturally happens when using a Retinoid is called. Why this is happening is because your Retinoid has to work on a cellular level to influence natural collagen production, increase the potency of depigmenting agents for the treatment of melasma, sun and age spots, and post-inflammatory hypermelanosis (temporary pigmentation that affects those of us with darker brown skin after injury – picking at skin!) and treat another inflammatory disorder. Many people quit their retinoid when this happens but this is the last thing you want to do. Instead work through it as this is part of the process. However, if peeling / inflammation continues for 2-3 weeks try less product or a weaker formula.

Essential Tips For Having A Successful Experience With Your Retinoid:

  • Pregnant Or Trying To Get Pregnant? Do not use Retinoid products, whether over the counter or prescribed! Check in with your OBGYN and Dermatologist post-pregnancy before beginning treatment
  • Active Ingredient. If using an over the counter product, get the most bang for your buck by making sure Retinol is the active ingredient. Remember, Retinal Palmitate etc are not as effective because the conversion process is longer. As for the active ingredient in your Prescription Retinoid, make sure your dermatologist knows your goals so they can choose the active ingredient best suited to target them.
  • Go Slow. If you have a more sensitive skin, I recommend trying an over the counter product before a prescribed one. Also, try a plant-based version like Bakuchiol, known as “nature’s retinol” and derived from bakuchi plant seeds. It also has anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial properties and unlike retinol, it is gentle enough for the most fragile skin. AND, suss out your new product on your wrist area (thinner skin) and when ready to use on the face use 1-2 times a week and gradually add more days when you see your skin responding in a healthy & happy way.
  • Stronger vs. Weaker. Retinoic Acid is stronger because it is already in that final converted form to work on a cellular level. Refussa and Renova are known to be the gentlest of prescribed products and Tazorac and Tazarotene the strongest. AGAIN, Base your decision on your specific skin condition rather than what is gentler. Tazorac may be more intense but known to be more effective for improving acne scar tissue. You can discuss ways to balance/temper its intensity with your dermatologist.
  • Immune Boost. Before using a Retinoid, PLEASE boost your immunity. Do not begin a course of retinoids when you are not feeling well or your skin is going through an uncommon change on the surface. Prep for the process by eating more fresh whole foods, upping that vitamin C content, drinking lots of antioxidant-rich teas and eating less meat and other foods that tax the body’s digestion. Also, maintain a simple skin care routine prior and if adding retinoid, it should be the only active outside of SPF in your routine.  Try washing with cleanser in the evening only and use a hydrosol to cleanse in the morning and coddle the skin in nourishment, using products like our plant-based creams and oils, facial honeys and oils.
  • Less is More. Avoid retinoid -based day cream, eye cream, cleanser and definitely not an SPF. Have only one specific retinoid product that was well-researched.
  • Wait Until Bedtime. Apply Retinoids in the because they degrade in light and heat. Also, while the body rests is when it is best suited for a retinoid. Use in Autumn, when sunny days are shorter and end course come early spring.
  • Be Patient. With consistency following this advice expect results in 12-18 weeks for an over the counter product and approximately 12 weeks with your prescribed Retinoic Acid. While you may have results prior, expecting them before these benchmarks will set you up for disappointment.
  • Reaching A Plateau. After a year, you will reach a plateau with your Retinoid, so let go and relish in your results while continuing to boost your skin topically and the immunity  with your fresh foods and Vitamin C. Check in with your dermatologist after a six-nine month hiatus if you want to give it another run.


Apart from assessing the active form of retinoid in your product, also make sure to look out for the very ingredients you may want to avoid like PEG, Parabens, Phenoxyethanol, Petrolatum etc….

Please leave a comment if this helps and to share any tips you may have that I missed.


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