You’ve heard people rave about topical retinoids like tretinoin, done the research, and now think you’re ready to try them. You also already know they’re the most effective treatment for photoaging that exists. However, with all the information out there, you’re still curious as to what you can expect. Here are exactly the benefits and possible side effects of tretinoin to expect as you embark on your skin-changing journey. 

How to Use

When you’re first starting your retinoid regimen or higher strength formulation than you’re used to, apply every third night initially. Listen to your skin as it tolerates the retinoid and gradually increase to nightly. After washing and drying your face completely, gently massage your retinoid onto your skin and follow with a moisturizer, preferably one that’s designed to work with your retinoid. 

What to Expect

The benefits of retinoids are vast (think clearer, brighter, and smoother skin) and long-term use and consistency are key. In the first couple of weeks, you might experience some temporary irritation or existing acne coming to the surface faster. Fear not, you’ll start to see noticeable results after 6 weeks of consistent use, but don’t stop there. After 6+ months of retinoid use, long-term benefits include tightening and thickening of the skin. This results in a major reduction of fine lines and wrinkles, hyperpigmentation, enlarged pores, and uneven skin tone.  

2-4 Weeks

It’s not uncommon to experience slight irritation or sensitivity as your skin adjusts. If you’re prone to acne, you may also experience “purging”, which is when existing acne buildup surfaces faster due to increased cell turnover. All of this means your skin is going through a process called “retinization.” These side effects of tretinoin are often totally temporary and can be greatly minimized with proper care.

Minimizing Side Effects

Be sure to use only a pea-sized amount of the retinoid recommended by your provider and don’t skimp on moisturizer afterward. As for breakouts, the acne under the surface was going to appear one way or another, but retinoids help get it out of the way quicker leaving your skin clearer than ever. Be patient and consistent—as your skin clears up, it’ll be worth it. Finally, retinoids can temporarily make your skin more sensitive to the sun (normalizing again after a few months) so don’t skip sunscreen when going outdoors. This is a great practice anyway as harmful UV rays are the number one cause of photoaging. Protecting your skin from further damage is integral to getting your best results, so just think of SPF as a continuation of your skincare routine.

4-6 Weeks

Now that your skin has adapted to its new routine for the past few weeks, you can increase the frequency of application. Your skin should be clearer, more even, and have a smoother texture at this point. You may even notice a decrease in discoloration. Enjoy these changes, but keep the retinoid party going because the retinoids never stop working.

8-12 Weeks 

By the 3-month milestone, you should see major changes in your skin’s texture from when you first started. In addition to the changes you can see, the deeper layers of skin are starting to thicken below the surface, resulting in a smoother, brighter, and clearer complexion. By this time your photodamage is lightening up and the appearance of big pores and fine lines are diminishing. Again, the benefits don’t stop there, so don’t quit while you’re ahead!

6+ Months and Beyond

By the time you’ve used your retinoid beyond six months, you’ll notice tightening and thickening of the skin and a significant reduction in the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles as well as hyperpigmentation. Even if you don’t see those initial side effects anymore, retinoids work forever and keeping at it will help in the prevention of photoaging. Over time, retinoids continue to boost your skin’s collagen production to give you a natural brightening effect. They also thicken the deepest layer of skin, where wrinkles begin to form.

When using retinoids to reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, the more consistent you are, the better the results will be. Any side effects you experience are temporary. Long-term use of tretinoin achieves and maintains your healthy, naturally glowing skin.

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