Tag: retinol

From Retinol to Reti-NO! The Spooky Side of Retinol and Tretinoin

Clear skin often takes dedication and a knowledgeable esthetician. But sometimes you need an added boost in the form of high-performing ingredients available in prescription medicine and topicals. When it comes to clearing up blemishes, acne, or smoothing out fine lines and wrinkles, the top performing ingredient estheticians and dermatologists recommend is Vitamin A. Vitamin A is an important antioxidant that’s not just essential to achieving clear, glowing skin but also helps our immune system and vision. Dr. Des Fernandes, leading plastic surgeon and founder of Environ Skin Care, notes that Vitamin A is the only known molecule that keeps the skin healthy and helps to provide anti-aging benefits. While that is all well and good, retinol and tretinoin can make for a scary sight if it isn’t administered properly.


The everyday skin care enthusiast might be familiar with one of the many Vitamin A derivatives most commonly known as tretinoin (retinol), Retin-A, Accutane, and Differin. Vitamin A is distributed through the body via retinoids (absorbed through animal-based foods) and carotenoids (absorbed through plant-based foods). Skin care products utilize Vitamin A derivatives in special formulations and some can be more potent than others.


In order to achieve the skin-clearing, wrinkle-reducing benefits of Vitamin A, a chemical conversion must take place within the body, which ultimately converts a Vitamin A derivative into retinoic acid. Retinoic acid is the only form of retinol your body will accept into your cells via cell receptors. You need to absorb retinol at the cellular level in order to see improvements in your skin because your skin is made up of a bunch of cells.

Retinoids work to exfoliate the skin, even skin tone, reduce oiliness, control acne, build collagen, restore elasticity, and improve the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. Topical prescriptions like Retin-A are extremely effective because the retinoids are immediately accepted into the skin. The down side? They can be extremely irritating causing redness and even peeling. If you are using topical retinoids it is important to note that they should be used alone, no entourage needed. You definitely do not want to layer products on top of a retinoid as those other products will likely cause more irritation.

With all of this exfoliation and increased sensitivity happening, broad spectrum sunscreen will be your BFF! Without it, you are far more likely to experience sunburn.


If you are using any form of retinoid or tretinoin there is a good chance that you can’t do anything else with your skin (gasp!). Even simple things like waxing your brows. Nearly everything is basically a no-go when using retinoids. Here is a complete list of services that can’t be performed if you have been using retinoids in the last 4-6 weeks.

Waxing*–If you’re using a strong derivative like Retinaldahyde 0.05% or higher, it can cause your skin to be really thin. During a waxing treatment, this means your skin might be removed with the hair–no matter what type of wax you use or the derivative of Vitamin A you are taking. This is why estheticians have all clients sign a release form stating that they are not currently taking any form of retinol.

* This type of thinning can happen with any retinoid but is more likely to happen when using Retinaldahyde.

Chemical Peels–You’ll be peeling more than superficial layers of the skin when you mix chemical peels with retinol. So unless you’re going for the decayed, exposed tissue look, it is best to wait 6-8 weeks after stopping use of retinol to start a chemical peel series.

Microdermabrasion–Two words: permanent scarring. Even though you may barely feel the suction (or the crystals) as the microdermabrasion is taking place, it can be too rough for skin that has been sensitized by retinoids. While scars may first appear as simple “redness”, you will later begin to see more pronounced scarring leaving traces of hyperpigmentation behind.

Microneedling— Similarly to microdermabrasion, microneedling can leave some visible scarring. But it can also lead to fissures in the skin.

Facials–Okay, so you can still get facials but disclosing your use of retinoids will be crucial before starting the facial appointment. Many facial products contain Alpha-Hydroxy Acids (AHAs). You don’t want to mix AHAs and retinoids. Ever.

Laser treatments–You’ll definitely be feeling the burn (literally!) if you do this.

In addition to nixing these services, you also want to avoid any products containing AHAs, Salicylic Acid, Benzoyl Peroxide, or highly concentrated serums such as Niacinamide, Vitamin C, and polyphenols. Ignoring this advice and getting one of the listed treatments above or using any of the aforementioned products can result in you looking like the Crypt Keeper.


  • The best way to avoid the side effects of retinoids and tretinoin is to follow the directions for use verbatim. Of course, that is easier said than done. Another area of importance is in knowing your dose. Retinoids can range in efficacy based on the percentage of the Vitamin A derivative included in the product. Retinols are largely prescribed anywhere between 0.17% and 0.7% the lower the percentage is the more effective (and expensive) it will be.
  • Retinoids should only be used at night. Remember earlier when I preached for a bit about wearing sunscreen? Yeah, I wasn’t joking. You’re definitely going to need it. But, as you may also remember from a few hundred words ago, you should never layer products when using a retinoid. Using your retinol product at night allows you to increase effectiveness and see results quicker.
  • Try limiting retinol use to every other day when you’re first starting out to help build your tolerance. Vitamin A derivatives are really strong and something you should be careful with.
  • Last but definitely not least, do not use retinoids if you are pregnant.


What is your experience with using retinoids? Share with me in the comments below. If you’ve got questions about retinoids, connect with me (I’m @FairyGlowMother on Twitter) and we’ll talk all about it.


Skincerely Yours,

Fairy Glow Mother

Getting Serious About Serum

Life was so much easier when we were all using Noxzema (gasp!) and Oxy (yikes!) however, these days, simple cleansing just won’t cut it. As we begin our graceful ascent into our later years—the graceful glow as I like to call it—we should all add a serum into our daily routine. Serums are highly concentrated formulas containing active ingredients designed to penetrate the deepest layers of the skin. They can target specific problem areas within your skin because the molecular structure of a serum is much smaller than what can be found in your everyday skin care products. The majority of serums are water-based which can work well for nearly every skin type, but there are a few that are oil-based.

If you want to get to the root of your skin care concerns, you often have to look beneath the skin. The blemish or signs of aging we see on our faces are just the visible signs of skin damage that could have been weeks or months in the works. This is why serums are essential to a good skin care regimen. The not-so-awesome news: highly concentrated active ingredients are a bit more costly than other skin care products. So be prepared to spend quite a lot of money on what appears to be not so much. Don’t worry, the saying big things come in small packages holds true for serums—a little goes a long way.  And while, yes, you are adding one more product into your daily or nightly (or both?) routine you’ll find that it’s totally worth it.

You want to place serums after cleansing and before moisturizing. If you’re thinking you can skip a step by just adding your serum into your moisturizer, sadly, it doesn’t work that way. Mixing a serum with any other products cuts the efficacy of the serum. Pressing a serum into your skin will garner the best results. Let’s get in to what kind of serum you should use and at what age you should start using it.


It’s likely that you won’t need to start exploring different serums until your reach your late twenties. This is a good time to incorporate a serum containing Vitamin C, resveratrol, and ferulic acid. Vitamin C helps increase collagen production and has antioxidant properties. Reservatrol is a polyphenol antioxidant found naturally in red grapes, nuts, and berries. It is particularly useful in protecting against UVB damage and increasing the effectiveness of your sunscreen throughout the day. Ferulic Acid is a hydroxycinnamic acids that helps fight free radicals.


Now is the time you want to get one step ahead of your wrinkles. You’ll want to use serums that target anti-aging containing ingredients such as Vitamin A, malic acid, and Coenzyme Q-10. Vitamin A is a good source of retinol which helps to reduce wrinkles by boosting collagen and elastin. Malic Acid is an alpha hydroxy acid (AHA) found naturally in apples that helps restore a youthful glow promoting collagen formation and helping to even the skin tone. Coenzyme Q-10 (or CQ-10) also promotes collagen production and is an antioxidant.


This is around the time our skin begins to get drier. Look for serums fortified with hyaluronic acid, vitamin Eniacinamide, and ceramides. Hyaluronic acid is the great hydrator that is found in most skin care products. As a serum it really helps to retain moisture in the skin as it can hold up to 1000 times its weight in water. Vitamin E is an antioxidant that protects the skin from free radicals. You can actually reverse the visible signs of aging with niacinamide. Derived from niacin (also known as vitamin B3), this antioxidant prevents Trans Epidermal Water Loss (TEWL) and restores the skin’s elasticity. Ceramides help form the skin’s protective barrier, lock in moisture, and protect against sun damage.


If you’re experiencing some hyperpigmentation look for serums containing kojic acid, bearberry, lactic acid, or licorice root. For breakouts you’ll want a serum that contains salicylic acid, zinc, and retinol. If your skin is super sensitive look for ingredients like aloe, chamomile, and lavender.

When you visit your esthetician, it’s likely that they will use a few different serums to treat different problems. Now that you know about serums, book an appointment to learn more about which serum will work best for your specific skin concerns and skin type!

Image Credit: Instagram user @Itsbankhead via Blackhaiirstyles on Tumblr