Ask Dr. Bailey: How to Apply Retinoids

Cynthia Bailey, MD|February 15, 2016

Ask DB Rentinoid_Main

AskDrBailey3Hello Dr. Bailey,

I have a question. I am considering getting a prescription retinoid, possibly renova in the lowest concentration since I think it is best for anti-aging purposes. My concern is that I really don't want the irritation and dryness that comes with using prescription retinoid. Is there any way to avoid irritation or is there a guarantee that irritation would occur if I decided to use prescription tretinoin? ~from Miyako

I love the impact of retinoids for slowing skin aging. I have used them myself for over 30 years and have thousands of patients using them too, including people with sensitive complexions. I have written extensively on why I love retinoids on both my blog and on the information-packed pages of our online store. I have also written on how I use them in my practice. Here, I want to recap the skin care benefits of retinoids:

Retinoids can help:

  • Boost your skin's collagen turnover to help fight wrinkles and skin aging
  • Increase epidermal cell turnover to brighten your complexion and to help prevent clogged pores, which is one of the key steps credited to starting acne
  • Even out uneven pigment in sun spots and melasma
  • Reverse the early steps in pre-cancer and skin cancer cell formation

The bottom line is that there are so many reasons to use a retinoid product that I prescribe them abundantly!  Remember, however, if you are using a prescription product, it is your prescribing doctor that is 100% in charge of how you use the medicine, including the steps you use to reduce or prevent irritation.

16 Retinol Intensive Night Cream

To help lower the risk of retinoid irritation and retinoid dermatitis, I counsel patients to "start low and work slow" to incorporate a retinoid into their skin care routine. This is because skin has to adjust to retinoid therapy. All other products used often need to be adjusted for sensitive skin to tolerate a retinoid. 

This advice applies to ALL retinoids. In my practice, I have patients on different forms of retinoid skin care products because both prescription and non-prescription products work well. Many people choose to use our non-prescription Retinol Intensive Night Cream for its convenience and because many people find it less irritating than Retin-A. Both I and my aesthetician incorporate our Retinol Cream into skin care routines as a night cream. Remember that retinoids are inactivated on contact with light, so they should be applied right before bed for the best results.

I always stress that any professional product like Tretinoin or my Retinol Night Cream be used in a supportive complete skin care routine for best results. This is particularly important with a retinoid used on sensitive skin. Also, retinoids can make skin more sun sensitive, so sun protection products have to be taken into consideration too.

To recap: with retinoid therapy, all products including cleansers, correcting products, moisturizers and sunscreens need to be chosen to support results and reduce the risk of skin irritation and sun sensitivity.

toleriane Toleriane Cleanser

In my practice, I build a complete skin care routine for retinoid use as follows:

Naturally Hydrating Pore-Minimizing Facial Toner Naturally Hydrating Pore-Minimizing Facial Toner

Skin Cleansing: I choose a cleanser that is not irritating for a person's retinoid treated skin. Options for sensitive skin include Toleriane Cleanser or other soapless cleansers designed for sensitive skin. For an extra level of clean, my Hydrating Toner works well to get the last vestiges of product, dirt and oil off skin without drying.

Oily and acne-prone skin often do well with my Foaming Acne Cleanser or Glytone Gel Wash Cleanser. Also, my simple Naturally Best Bar Soap works for many skin types and is super economical!  All these products can be used with a Clarisonic System, a facial Buf Puf, a wash cloth or your hands depending on which is best tolerated. 

Complexion Correcting Products: With retinoid use, I add water-binding and irritation-fighting products such as my Instantly Luminous Serum and my Green Tea Antioxidant Power of Three Cream. The combination helps to soothe early irritation. These are applied right after cleansing skin in the morning. At night, the correcting step is the retinol product which can be applied after the Serum and Green Tea or alone.

Instantly Luminous Multi-Action Serum Instantly Luminous Multi-Action Serum

Skin Hydration is balanced with the Serum plus a moisturizer that fits your complexion. Favorite options include my Facial Creams for Dry or Oily skin and my natural Lotion or Butter for extremely dry skin. These are compatible with all my products.

Sun Protection is critical, and the last product applied every day!!  Makeup, if used, goes on top and is NOT a substitute for sunscreen. Pick the right sunscreen matched for your complexion and product preferences using my sunscreen guide which helps you see the important characteristics that matter when choosing the sunscreen that is right for you.

All Natural Face and Body Butter Cream All Natural Face and Body Butter Cream

With retinoid use, I stress building a complete routine because, using one product alone, is not as powerful as using supporting products if you want good results. Patients and clients in our office tell us every day how happy they are with their complexion once they start using retinoids along with their complete skin care routine. Interestingly, the more years they use the retinoids, the more obvious it is that retinoids really do slow skin aging.

I'm a big fan of retinoid skin care, in case you haven't noticed! Whether prescription Tretinoin or non-prescription professional Retinol as in my Retinol Intensive Night Cream, almost every complexion stands to benefit from the power of topical retinoids.

Best wishes with your retinoid therapy!

Warm Regards,

Cynthia Bailey MD, Dermatologist

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