Retinol 101 with Dr. Heather Rogers

Retinol 101 with Dr. Heather Rogers

What is a Retinol and why do you want one?

Retinol is a weaker, over the counter version of tretinoin, a prescription vitamin A derivative that is highly effective in reversing sun damage and signs of aging. However, quite a few people cannot tolerate tretinoin because it can be highly irritating and drying. Retinol is milder, so while the results may not be as dramatic, more people tolerate it well. Retinols been shown to do great things for troublesome skin issues:

  • Treatment of acne
  • Reversal of sun damage (photo-aging)
  • Improves skin smoothness and texture
  • Improves skin discoloration
  • Decreases fine lines
  • Tightens pores
  • Effective treatment for Rosacea, because it reduces inflammation

Using a Retinol: Getting started

If you are nervous, patch test before using it the first time. Put a small amount of cream behind your ear, just underneath your jaw or the inside of your arm and leave for 12 - 24hours. If there is no reaction, then try next time on your face.

The key is to start slow.

  • For the first one to two weeks, apply it 2 times at night
  • For the next two weeks, apply it every 2nd night. D
  • After 4 - 6weeks of use, you should be seeing benefits already and have a good idea of how your skin is tolerating it. If it's tolerating well, increase usage to nightly application.
  • Decrease usage any time you need to! Once skin's tolerance is built after about 8 - 12 weeks, it is fairly easy to use nightly. And this is when the real results start to show! 

Like tretinoin, retinol encourages skin cell turnover; this new skin is delicate and should not be exposed to the sun. That is why it is ONLY intended for night use. So, use it before bed and apply a pea-sized amount to your face, next and chest area. 

Pro tip: Consider starting your treatment during a cloudier season as you might notice photosensitivity when first used due to thinning of the stratum corneum (top layer of dead skin).

Most common side effects

Within a few days of first-time retinol use, you may notice side effects such as dry skin, peeling, scaling, flaking, burning sensation, erythema (redness), dermatitis, or as mentioned photosensitivity at the beginning of treatment. To lessen these side effects, avoid applying your retinol cream right after a hot shower or when your face is still hot from exercise.

Unless you have extreme redness, itchiness, rashes or irritation, don’t be deterred. With continued use your side effects will improve. However, don't be tempted to use any harsh exfoliants at the same time, as this will irritate skin further.

If used consecutively, in as little as 4 weeks your skin will appear brighter, smoother, and less pigmented. Still on the fence. Just consider that fact that I don’t know a single dermatologist who doesn’t use a retinol product on their skin. We’ve all read the studies and we all use it.

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Meet the author: Board-certified and practicing dermatologist, Dr. Heather D. Rogers, MD, is the founder of Doctor Rogers Skin Care and Modern Dermatology in Seattle, Washington. She studied at Stanford, University of Washington School of Medicine and Columbia University Medical Center. She lectures nationally, is well published, and an active member of the American Academy of Dermatology. Highly respected among the skin care community, Dr. Rogers has been annually named “Top 1% of Most Honored Doctors in the US” by Castle Connolly.

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