You Asked, We Answered: What Products To Use With Retin-A

It’s no wonder derms love retinoids — they treat acne, rev up cell turnover for smoother, more even skin, and they boost collagen, which helps make pesky fine lines less noticeable. Retinoids are a vitamin-A derivative, and they have been around for over 40 years. Besides retin-A, there are a ton of prescription strength retinoids sold under different brand names like Renova, Differin, and Tazorac. If you start using a retinol cream, your usual skin care routine might need a little tweaking, as one reader rightfully suspects.
Crystal M. from Los Angeles asks, "What is the best skin regimen to use with retin-A?"
The key is to think like an overprotective parent when you approach your skin: Be extra-cautious, and pay close attention to how your face reacts to the products and treatments you apply. As for what to use, I asked New York City-based dermatologist Dr. Heidi Waldorf for some guidelines. For a flawless complexion, just follow her tips.
Opt for a gentle cleanser and moisturizer
Although they work wonders, “retinoids are often irritating, especially when you first start using them or during the winter months when the weather is cold and dry,” says Dr. Waldorf. Your skin will tolerate the treatment better if you stick with a non-drying face wash and a moisturizer that contains glycerin. “It’s an excellent humectant ingredient that pulls moisture into the outer layers of the skin,” she says. SPF is also a must because retinoids make your skin more sensitive to the sun's rays, causing sunburn. Lastly, skip toners and astringents (they’re too harsh) and check with your doc before you use benzoyl peroxide — it might counteract the retinoid.
Cetaphil Daily Facial Moisturizer With SPF 50+, $13.90, available at
Slough your skin wisely
It’s totally fine to use a gentle cleansing brush or face scrub three times a week or as needed to help physically remove the excess skin cells that'll come off with retinoid use, but Dr. Waldorf cautions retinoid users to wait and see how your skin responds before you attempt intense abrasives or chemical peels. If your skin becomes super-sensitive, it might be best to skip exfoliating completely. “For milder procedures like a salicylic acid peel or microdermabrasion, I suggest you stop using your retinoid for two days before and two days after the treatment, even if you’ve had it before,” says Dr. Waldorf. The same rule applies with facial waxing, too. Otherwise, it could rip off your skin or even burn due to the rapid increase in cell turnover.
Clarisonic Aria Sonic Skin Cleansing Brush, $199, available at Clarisonic.
Apply your retinol cream right
Before bed, wash your face, pat it dry then apply your retinoid. “You only need a pea-sized amount to do the job — slathering on more will just increase irritation,” Dr. Waldorf explains. “If your skin is already on the sensitive side, use the product every second or third night and gradually up the frequency over several weeks.” Layer your moisturizer on top, and you’re ready to hit the sack.
CeraVe Hydrating Cleanser, $11.99, available at Target.
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