Retinol uses vitamin A derivatives that boost collagen to reduce fine lines and speed cell turnover to even out discoloration and smooth the skin. Most see a difference in 4-6 weeks. It can take at least six months to see the full effects of a retinoid cream, so either commit fully or do not go through the trouble.
There are three prescription-strength retinoids: tretinoin (brands include Atralin, Avita, Retin-A, Retin-A Micro, Renova), tazarotene (Avage, Tazorac), and adapalene (Differin). Many dermatologists find tazarotene stronger (and potentially more irritating) than tretinoin; adapalene is the gentlest but may be less effective.
If you’re a redhead with sensitive skin, it is very important that you follow the following rules when using retinol:
1. Do your research: When you have sensitive skin, especially rosacea and eczema, retinoids can penetrate more than they should causing irritation. Before buying a retinoid, take two weeks to strengthen your skin’s barrier by abstaining from stripping cleansers (use a cream instead of a gel or foam) and all forms of exfoliation.
2. Wear sunscreen before, after & during: Before you start using a retinol, prep your skin with an SPF. Sunburnt skin + retinol = a dangerous combination. When you begin to use retinol, always apply SPF after using it to keep skin safe. Continuously apply SPF for the best results.
‘Redhead Friendly’ recommendation: Avene SPF50 Mineral Light Hydrating Sunscreen Lotion glides on smoothly without leaving a white residue. Kiehl’s SPF 50 features a non-greasy, non-pore clogging formulation that is safe for sensitive skin.
3. Start with an over-the-counter Vitamin A cream: Barring bad acne or severe wrinkles, most dermatologists will start sensitive types out with an over-the-counter vitamin A cream. It is less intense than prescription retinol/pure retinol and prepares the skin for what is to come.
‘Redhead Friendly’ recommendation: Dr. Dennis Gross Skincare Ferulic + Retinol Anti-Aging Moisturizer.
4. Take it easy: Start out using your retinol potion just two nights a week, adding a night every other week as tolerance develops. Night is key, as sunlight deactivates vitamin A.
Before applying a retinoid, always apply a moisturizer that is for sensitive skin and has very few ingredients. After moisturizer, squeeze out a pea-size drop of retinoid and smooth it over your forehead first, then cheeks, nose and chin.
Avoid the corners of the mouth, nostrils and upper eyelids. The skin of the forehead and cheeks is thicker, less sensitive and doesn’t have any folds where retinoids can pool and intensify.
5. Know Your Skin and Its Balance: It can take about 3 weeks for skin cells to adapt to retinoic acid and begin building their tolerance. If it gets worse than redness, itching or light peeling, dial back to once-a-week use, or switch to a weaker formulation. A drop in humidity can dry out the skin, causing unexpected bouts of irritation when using retinol.
6. Know How to Handle Itching, Redness or Light Peeling: It’s best to have the following on hand in these circumstances: Hyaluronic Acid (mix with moisturizer, it helps the skin to absorb more moisture), Hydrocortisone cream (dab on your worst spots, twice a day, for up to three days) and a sheer tinted SPF/moisturizer to keep skin looking beautiful, even and always protected.
7. Always Avoid: Harsh cleansers, toners, AHAs and BHAs (glycolic, lactic, salicylic acids) and zit creams with benzoyl peroxide, which can actually deactivate retinol.
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