Did your dermatologist prescribe a topical retinoid for your acne? Wondering about the benefits of a retinoid for younger-looking skin?
Whether you are using a topical retinoid for the first time, or you’ve been relying on its anti-aging and acne-fighting benefits for years, you may be wondering how to maximize the benefits of a topical retinoid and whether you’re using the product correctly.
Here are some expert tips for using topical retinoids from Apex’s board-certified dermatology PA Megan Sevilla.
How to Apply Topical Retinoid
Due to the nature of this powerful skincare ingredient, there are some standard practices for the application that are important if you want to get all of its benefits.
Use only at night: Topical retinoids become unstable and are deactivated in sunlight so you should only apply at nighttime.
Apply to dry skin: If your skin is damp, the retinoid will absorb more deeply into your skin and may cause more irritation. Wait 20 minutes after washing your face to apply a topical retinoid.
Apply a pea-sized amount: It may not seem like enough product, but this is all you need for the retinoid to be effective.
Do NOT spot treat: Apply a small amount to your entire face to treat existing acne and prevent new breakouts.
Use a moisturizer: Create a moisturizer sandwich by applying moisturizer after cleansing and drying, then retinoid, then top with another coat of moisturizer.
Don’t apply every night when starting out: Apply every 3rd night to avoid excessive dryness and irritation. Slowly work your way up to using nightly if tolerated. If your skin is dry, peeling, and irritated, you should use it less frequently.
What are topical retinoids used for?
Topical retinoids are most commonly used to treat mild to moderate acne.
“Retinoids also decrease the appearance of wrinkles and help treat hyperpigmentation disorders such as melasma and post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation. Less commonly, a dermatologist may prescribe topical retinoids for psoriasis.”
How do retinoids work?
Retinoids are an effective treatment for acne because they unclog blocked pores and decrease inflammation. Retinoids work synergistically with topical antibiotics, allowing the antibiotic to penetrate pores and eradicate the bacteria that causes acne breakouts.
“Retinoids also help stimulate the skin’s collagen production and rate of skin cell turnover, giving the appearance of brighter and younger looking skin, and reducing the signs of fine lines and wrinkles. They also help even out skin tone and reduce the appearance of dark spots on the skin.”
Retinoid or Retinol: What’s the difference?
“Both retinoids and retinols are chemical derivatives of vitamin A. Retinoids are more potent and require a prescription, whereas retinols are widely found over-the-counter and do not require a prescription.”
Recently, however, an over-the-counter retinoid, Differin (adapalene gel 0.1%), has become available without a prescription. Some other retinoids frequently prescribed are Retin-A (tretinoin) and Tazorac (tazarotene). Retinoids are commonly prescribed to treat acne, reduce signs of aging, and more.
Retinols generally have a weaker effect and take longer to show noticeable results than retinoids. However, many patients find retinol to be a useful addition to their product regimen as they too can help reduce signs of aging, improve skin texture and help keep mild acne at bay. Medical-grade retinols are available here at Apex for purchase and come in a variety of concentrations.
Your provider can guide you to the best option for your skincare needs.
Who should not use a topical retinoid?
Topical retinoids are not safe for pregnant females. If pregnant or trying to conceive, talk to your dermatologist about safe alternatives to topical retinoids.
Otherwise, most skin types can use retinoids prescribed by a qualified dermatology provider.
Megan Sevilla is Physician Assistant certified by the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants. She was raised in Concord, Ohio, and graduated from Hawken School in Gates Mills, Ohio. Megan holds a bachelor’s degree in Spanish from Vanderbilt University, where she was inducted into Phi Beta Kappa Honor Society and graduated magna cum laude.
Following her undergraduate education, Megan moved to Washington, D.C., to pursue a master’s degree in international politics from American University. After working many years in government in Washington, D.C. and Madrid, Spain — at organizations including the U.S. House of Representatives, the U.S. Department of Defense, and the U.S. Embassy in Madrid, Spain — Megan returned to school and earned a Master of Medical Science degree from Baldwin Wallace University’s Physician Assistant Program in 2021.
Megan recently completed a physician assistant dermatology residency under the mentorship of Dr. Gregory Delost in Apex Dermatology’s Mayfield Heights location. Megan completed additional dermatology training at MetroHealth Medical Center’s Department of Dermatology during her clinical clerkship.