Tag: Skin Care Regimen

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

Mask Off: A DIY Mask Showdown pt. 1

When it comes to the facial mask, many of us are comfortable doing these ourselves at home. There are hundreds of DIY recipes for face masks across the internet which makes the process easy.  But just because we can find these DIY face mask ingredients in our refrigerators and cupboards, it doesn’t necessarily mean it belongs on our faces. Skin care masks are generally formulated in such a way to address issues without compromising our pH or destroying our protective barrier. The food around our house… not so much.

Ingredients You Definitely Don’t Want On Your Face

Please, keep the following in your refrigerators/cupboards: lemon, baking soda, cayenne pepper, cinnamon, and toothpaste.

Lemon is the culprit that upsets me the most. Many amateur beauty bloggers tout the benefits of lemon as a “natural” means of skin lightening to correct scars. However, lemon is too acidic to be placed on our skin. The moment you add that into your DIY mask mix is the moment you start stripping away your acid mantle. Plus, too much time in the sun and your DIY lemon mask/salve/tonic will literally burn your skin. Drinking lemon water? A perfectly fine way to detoxify the skin. Putting lemon juice on your face (or under your arms, or anywhere else on your body)? Pump your brakes. And stay away from limes, too (for the same reasons).

Baking soda is the opposite. With a pH of 9, it’s too alkaline for our skin and can actually lead to more breakouts. In DIY recipes, baking soda gets your skin so smooth because it is quite literally stripping your skin (or, the protective barrier of your skin) away. Basically, baking soda is the premier DIY ingredient for premature aging.

Okay, so you’ve found a DIY mask recipe that doesn’t mention lemon or baking soda. You think you’re in the clear. But then you see the recipe calls for something in your spice cabinet. What’s that? They want you to put cayenne pepper on your skin? It calls for just a tiny amount so you figure it can’t hurt but you’ll soon find out they were wrong about that. Most DIY recipes that call for cayenne pepper tout it’s ability to “increase blood flow”. In reality, cayenne prevents blood clots and even then it must be ingested to take effect. So really you’re just giving yourself a mild first-degree burn. Cayenne peppers contain capsaicin—a highly alkaline irritant to all mammals—which causes that immediate burning sensation. You’ll find some studies that show the benefits of cayenne (or rather, capsaicin) for treating psoriasis but even that holds some debate in medical circles. Cayenne is great in your diet but on your skin? No thanks.

Cinnamon is one of those ingredients I sometimes see in mask recipes that makes me think the author slid in for fragrance only. The cinnamon we have at home generally is not enough to be used for an effective skin care treatment. In order for it to be effective, you would need an extremely high concentration of cinnamon (think cinnamon extract)… and a professional. While the spice smells delightful to some, it is absolutely irritating on the skin and can result in dermatitis.

Toothpaste is for your teeth. It’s in the name. And it actually isn’t as effective at zapping zits as you may think. You are much better off dabbing tea tree oil or benzoyl peroxide on them instead.

These are some ingredients that you could use in a very light moderation (like every 1-3 months):

  • Sugar—this is totally okay to use in a DIY scrub on your lips, hands, and feet. While our lips seem delicate and soft (or, at least, we want them to be) they actually are quite resilient. And a nice sugar scrub on calloused hands and feet can’t hurt.
  • Egg whites—these are actually a lot more safer to put on your face than a lot of these other ingredients BUT they have to be fresh eggs. Otherwise you’d just be giving yourself a salmonella mask instead.
  • Hydrogen Peroxide—keep this on hand for cuts, not for your face mask (and not for your toner either). Prolonged use of hydrogen peroxide can break down the protective barrier of your skin, cause sensitivities/irritation or all three.

So, before you run to the kitchen to test out the latest Pinterest or Instagram face mask recipe, make sure you really understand how those ingredients really affect your skin. Or just book an appointment with your favorite esthetician and save yourself the drama. Got any questions about DIY ingredients? Leave them in the comments below and check back next week for part 2!

Image credit: Instagram user @easyb via Black Boys Rock on Tumblr

A Case of the Exfoliants

Smooth complexions and softer skin don’t just come from facial cleansers and moisturizers alone. Exfoliants really help give us the glow by sloughing away dead skin cells on our skin’s outermost surface. There are two types of exfoliants: mechanical and chemical. Mechanical includes scrubs that contain micro jojoba beads, crushed almond shells, or sugar; pumice, and any abrasive facial sponges, brushes or loofahs. Chemical includes acids, enzymes and peels. Trust me, it’s not as scary as it sounds. Let’s break it down.

When should I exfoliate?

If you love to beat your face and wear heavy makeup during the day, then nighttime exfoliation may provide the best results. On the other hand, if you tend to be oilier in the mornings when you wake up, you may want to exfoliate as part of your morning routine.

Normal, dry/dehydrated, sensitive, and aging skin types should use a mechanical exfoliant at least once per week. Oily/acneic skin types should exfoliate no more than three times per week. And no matter what, you should pretty much never exfoliate everyday. Over-exfoliation is the quickest way to dry out your skin which can cause fissures and possibly give yourself wrinkles prematurely. None of us want to age too soon. So that Clarisonic you’re obsessed with? Yeah, there really isn’t a need to use it everyday.

Chemical exfoliants are on a slightly different timeline. For the best results, you’ll want to use chemical peels in a series. A chemical peel series typically lasts 4-6 weeks and most clients take a 6-12 week break between series. Your esthetician will likely suggest the right chemical peel regimen for you. Pro tip: do not attempt to perform your own chemical peel. There are plenty of horror stories on YouTube if you don’t believe me.

There are some chemical exfoliants that may be used at home and those are enzymes and acids. The most common of these used at home are papain (papaya) and bromelain (pineapple) enzymes and glycolic acid. Check with your dermatologist to ensure that you are not allergic before use.

Which exfoliant is best for me?

Scrubs with sugar and jojoba beads are generally the safest mechanical exfoliants for any skin type. If you’re looking to correct texture and smooth your skin, try using a pumice very lightly on dry skin before cleansing.

Enzymes and glycolic acid are great for sensitive, dry, and aging skin types especially. If you’ve got oily or acneic skin, you’ll want an exfoliant that contains salicylic acid to help balance oil production while clearing out pores. You can find these combined in a scrub or available by themselves. Again, check with your dermatologist to ensure there isn’t an allergy.

Book an appointment with your esthetician today to learn more about the right exfoliation techniques for your skin.

Image Credit: Freda Mily by Riccardo La Valle via Freda.Mily Tumblr