How to use topical retinoids

Written by chantel alise
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A lot of dermatologists consider retinoids (a derivative of vitamin A) to be one of the most important discoveries in skin care in recent years. Retinoids work to exfoliate dead skin cells as well as to stimulate the skin's natural collagen production. The end result is healthier, firmer looking skin with a reduced appearance in fine lines and wrinkles. But how are they used? Read on to learn how to use topical retinoids.

Skill level:
Moderately Easy

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Things you need

  • A lighted, magnifying mirror
  • Name of dermatologist or physician with expertise in skin care
  • Over-the-counter or prescription retinoid product
  • Skin cleanser
  • Water
  • Towel

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  1. 1

    Examine your skin in a lighted, magnifying mirror for fine lines and wrinkles, sun spots or other skin discolourations, acne and other unidentified skin conditions.

  2. 2

    If you identify skin conditions that you cannot self-diagnose, make an appointment with a dermatologist or physician who can help you identify those specific issues before moving forward with retinoid application. Although topical retinoids work well for many skin problems like psoriasis, flat warts, and certain types of skin lesions, the list is in no way all-inclusive. Therefore, in order to make certain that you will receive the results you want from retinoid application, you must understand your specific skin problem and its likely response to retinoids.

  3. 3

    Decide if an over-the-counter retinoid or a prescription strength retinoid will be required for your specific skin problem. For example, if you are merely treating fine lines and wrinkles or mild sun spots, a lower strength topical application may be sufficient. If, on the other hand, you are trying to treat an acne condition, it will most likely require a higher strength product. A dermatologist or other physician trained in skin care can help you make the right decision. Over-the-counter retinoid products contain lower amounts of vitamin A. That often means that they are far less irritating to the skin than those products with a higher vitamin A concentration. Therefore, anyone with extremely sensitive skin may opt for the lower dosage amount over prescription strength. On the flip side, less concentration may also mean the product will be less effective; requiring a pro and con analysis before determining which type of product to choose.

  4. 4

    Make certain any over-the-counter retinoid product you choose is properly packaged. Retinoids break down in sunlight. For that reason, retinoid products should be packaged in dark bottles or aluminium tubes that give the product adequate light protection.

  5. 5

    Choose over-the-counter retinoid products that also contain ingredients that will help to soothe the skin. Look for things like panthenol or vitamin E. These will help to counter balance the natural abrasiveness of the topical retinoid.

  6. 6

    Apply topical retinoids at night since these products make the skin very sensitive to sunlight.

  7. 7

    Apply the topical retinoid product according to the instructions given with each specific product. This will generally require that you apply the product directly to clean skin that has not been subjected to recent processes like microderm abrasion, other cosmetic treatments, or plastic surgery. In most instances you will be instructed to apply a pea size amount of the product to your hands. Then rub them together to evenly distribute the product before applying it to the skin in a circular, upward motion and patting it in gently. Be sure to avoid the eye area. In most instances, application will only be applied every other day.

  8. 8

    Always use a sunblock, preferably between a rating of 15 and 30, on skin that has been treated with topical retinoids.

Tips and warnings

  • Initial treatments of retinoids may cause your skin condition to flare up temporarily, but that should pass within one or two days.
  • Some people will experience a slight stinging, tingling, or burning sensation when applying retinoid products.
  • Skin could become temporarily discoloured (usually pink or red in colour) until it adjusts to retinoid application.
  • Do not purchase over-the-counter retinoid products that are not properly packaged against the sunlight.
  • Contact your dermatologist or physician if retinoid application causes undue or long-term irritation to the skin or causes any other unforeseen or unexplained side effect.
  • Never submit to cosmetic procedures like microderm abrasion, laser resurfacing, chemical peels and the like while also using topical retinoids.
  • Don't use retinoids if you are pregnant, planning to become pregnant, or breastfeeding.

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