I continually receive questions from readers about how to use Retin A and the other prescription tretinoin products. It’s time for a roundup of my information on how I use tretinoin in a complete skin care routine.
My readers and patients know that I’m a big tretinoin fan; I love the results you get from this powerful anti-acne and anti-aging skin care product. It’s tricky to use though. Tretinoin doesn’t combine with some other key skin care ingredients, it’s light sensitive, you have to train your skin to get used to tretinoin, and your skin has to be perfectly dry before applying tretinoin or else it will cause even more irritation.
These three recent questions from different readers show how much confusion surrounds the use of this powerful skin care medicine:
Reader #1, Lori
(My dermatologist) gave me a prescription of generic Tretinoin .025%. I’ve been using it for about 6 weeks now. My question is, is it strong enough to minimize these lines or am I wasting my time on this dose?
Reader #2, Jan
Can use the Green Tea Antioxidant Therapy product with my Retin A. (Retin A at .05% doesn’t do anything to my face, so I just bumped up to .1%) Q–So correct me if I’m wrong, but the order to apply these at night would be: 1) Retin A, 2) green tea product, and 3) moisturizer (do I need a moisturizer)?
Q–How much time do you need between applying 1 and 2 and 3 since I also read on your blog you should wait 15-30 minutes after you wash your face for the Retin A? Don’t want to be up all night…
Reader #3, Anna
I started using Retin A about a month ago and have had good results as far as the acne goes. I also bought your anti-aging antioxidant skin care kit, Replenix Eye Cream, Daily Moisturizing Face Cream for oil/normal skin, and the Calming Zinc face soap. My question is, what morning and evening routine would you recommend for me to get the best anti-aging results? I want to use the products correctly to get the best bang for my buck, if you know what I mean.
What are the essential tips for correctly using tretinoin in your skin care routine?
Tips for Retin A#1: Tretinoin goes on at night.
It’s light sensitive so apply it at night before retiring. Wash it off in the morning then apply your other skin care products.
Tips for Retin A #2: Some ingredients will interfere with tretinoin.
Don’t mix glycolic acid, vitamin C, benzoyl peroxide, or salicylic acid with tretinoin cream. (Retin A Micro is less fragile, but it’s not my favorite product for anti-aging because all the really pivotal anti-aging studies were done on the cream formulation.)
You can still use these ingredients but apply them in the morning after washing off the tretinoin you applied the night before.
Tips for Retin A #3: Skin has to be totally dry before you apply tretinoin.
Apply compatible products first, one right after the other, then wait 15 minutes or more before applying tretinoin. This lets the excess surface water evaporated from your skin, and that seems to matter for minimizing tretinoin-induced skin irritation. It means that if you are using products such as Green Tea Antioxidant Skin Therapy and the Daily Moisturizing Face Cream those products are applied right after washing. Wait 15 or more minutes, then apply the tretinoin. I recommend keeping tretinoin on the bedside table and applying it right before going to sleep.
Tips for Retin A #4: Tretinoin-treated skin must be sun protected every day.
Tretinoin makes skin more sun sensitive. If you’re going to use it for all the good things you get from tretinoin treatment then you need to be committed to using broad spectrum sunscreen and a hat when you’re in the sun. I’m a big believer in mineral zinc oxide being the best sunscreen ingredient. Read more to see what products I recommend for my patients.
Pick your product based on your skin type and skin needs. See my sunscreen comparison chart for a summary of key features in zinc oxide products.
Tips for Retin A #5: Work your way up to the highest tretinoin level your skin can tolerate.
Your skin has to be trained to tolerate tretinoin, and more is better meaning you get more benefit from higher strength levels of the medicine. I tell people it’s like a weight training program because you have to start with weights you can lift and slowly, over time, you’ll lift heavier weights as you gain fitness. It’s the same with tretinoin. You start with .025% twice a week and eventually work to 0.01% nightly. I give you more detailed information in my post on How to Use Tretinoin Correctly.