Some of the most touted beauty treatments come with an uncomfortable break-in period. The viral foot peel Baby Foot, for instance, works wonders but makes your feet shed horrifying sheets of skin for a few days. Retinoids, which are basically the skincare gold standard in fighting dullness, wrinkles, and hyperpigmentation, often cause temporary facial dryness, flaking, and irritation before the results kick in.
But if you’re practicing social distancing, that period of irritation is no big deal. Why? No one will bear witness to your flaky, peel-y journey. So if you were considering incorporating a retinoid into your skincare routine, now’s a very convenient time to do so.
What is a retinoid (and is it the same as retinol)?
If you’ve looked into the world of retinol before, you may have seen the terms “retinol” and “retinoid” used interchangeably. This isn’t quite true: Retinol is technically a type of retinoid, or a chemical compound derived from Vitamin A.
The terms’ generally accepted meanings , though. When people say they use a “retinoid,” they’re probably referring to a topical prescription medication like Tretinoin. When they say “retinol,” they’re probably referring to one of many over-the-counter options, which are less powerful than their prescription siblings.
How they work
Despite the skin-peeling side effects, retinoids are not exfoliants. Instead of sloughing off dead skin cells, they work to increase cell turnover, which makes it harder for your pores to get clogged and stimulates collagen production. Common results include a reduction in acne, a more even skin tone, and plumper skin in general, though of course everyone’s face is different.
These results aren’t instant, though. Depending on the product’s strength, effects can take anywhere from four to 12 weeks to really be noticeable — and you may experience the aforementioned peeling in the meantime.
How should I get started?
First, determine what type of retinoid is best for your skin. It’s probably not a great idea to go to the dermatologist for a prescription right now unless it’s an emergency, so an OTC option may be your best bet for the moment.
Be sure to introduce the new product slowly.
RoC’s Retinol Correxion Deep Wrinkle Night Cream is an affordable favorite for retinoid beginners, as is The Ordinary’s Granactive Retinoid 2% in Squalane. If your skin isn’t sensitive and you really want to go for it, Avène makes a retinaldehyde and glycolic acid combo called TriAcnéal. And of course Into the Gloss is chock full of other recommendations.
Whatever you choose, be sure to introduce the new product slowly. Shani Darden, a skincare expert and esthetician whose Retinol Reform is a celebrity favorite, recommends applying your retinoid once a week to start, then increasing the frequency by one day each week as long as the irritation remains minimal. (Remember, there will probably be a little irritation no matter what.)
“Build up to as often as your skin can tolerate,” she says.
FYI staying home & social distancing is a great opportunity to add retinol into your skincare routine without it totally ruining you for a week or two
— ecl (@pizza_please17) March 17, 2020
If you’re really too nervous to try a retinol at all, Darden advises using a product with the milder retinyl palmitate. (She makes one called Texture Reform, which also contains lactic acid and aloe vera.)
Luckily, only you and whomever you’re self-isolating with will bear witness if you accidentally overdo it. Just be sure you’re using a hefty moisturizer and hyaluronic acid if you have it, especially if the air in your home is dry. And, as always, drink a lot of water.
Pausing exfoliation — chemical and physical — is also advisable, though Darden says lactic acid (which is in her products) pairs well with retinol as a gentle exfoliant.
It’s also best to apply your retinoid at night, as they can break down in the sunlight. Though it’s a myth that retinoids make skin more prone to sunburn, it can increase the skin’s sensitivity in general, and it is not an excuse to skip sunscreen. Even if you’re inside all day long, you should be wearing sunscreen all the time no matter what.
Finally, don’t feel pressured to start a retinoid just because it seems like a convenient moment to try one. Skin flare-ups like dryness, flaking, and acne can cause a lot of stress — even if you know they’re only temporary — and it may not be worth it to take on a big skincare project if you fear it might affect your mental health during social distancing.
Sure, it’s nice that others won’t be able to see any retinoid mishaps you run into, but at the end of the day, skincare isn’t for others. It’s for you. Do what makes you feel best!
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