Tips for Adjusting to Tretinoin

Back in late August/early September of last year I started using Tretinoin prescribed by my dermatologist. I started using Tretinoin to help with hormonal breakouts as well as doing something anti-aging for my skin. I’ve seen a huge difference in the overall health of my skin and I know the long term benefits are worth the downside. If you’ve ever used any form of Tretinoin on your skin, then you know it’s quite the process to adjust to. There are a number of side effects that your dermatologist should discuss with you. The most common side effect is dry and flaky skin. Most people only experience this dry and flaky skin phase for up to a year. For me, it was pretty bad for a solid 3 months. It’s gotten better partly because my skin is adjusting, but also because I have learned what helps reduce or prevent this. I am not a dermatologist so you should discuss the strategies below with your dermatologist to evaluate what might work best for your skin type.

  1. Start On a Low Dose I’ve never heard of a dermatologist starting someone on anything other than the lowest dose of Tretinoin (TBH this is kind of a red flag and you should consider seeking a second opinion from another dermatologist if they do that).
  2. Start Off Slow The benefits of Tretinoin are exciting so I can see why you might want to dive right in an use it every night, but I promise you’ll regret that. Tretinoin is something you adjust to over time (like I said it took me a solid 3 months). Most people that start off using it every night end up with bright red, painful, sensitive, and extremely flaky skin. Then they have to stop, then start again more slowly. It’s usually recommended to start off using it once a week, then after a few weeks applying it twice a week and so on. This is something you should ask your dermatologist about how often you should use it.
  3. CeraVe Healing Ointment There’s a method called the sandwich technique where you apply a layer of moisturizer, then a layer of Tretinoin, then another layer of moisturizer. This technique is great for reducing overall sensitivity but I found that it’s not super effective in the flaky skin areas. What has worked for me, is applying the CeraVe Healing Ointment in the extremely dry areas (corners of my mouth and around the nostrils) before applying the Tretinoin. This is similar to the sandwich technique but rather than creating a light barrier I’m really just preventing the Tretinoin from touching those areas. Obviously you don’t want to do this on your entire face, otherwise there would be no point in even using Tretinoin. Only use it in areas that are extremely dry and flaky.
  4. Use a Great Moisturizer Tretinoin changes your skin in many ways including oil production. I used to have oily skin but now I’d say my skin is more normal/combo. When I had oily skin I almost exclusively used gel like moisturizers. While I still love the moisturizer I used when I had oily skin, my skin has different needs now. I now prefer a heavier cream moisturizer. Be prepared to change up your moisturizer.
  5. USE SUNSCREEN There are tons of reasons why you should be using sunscreen every day anyways, but it’s particularly important when using a Tretinoin. Tretinoin makes you more sensitive to the sun so it’s extra important to use a sunscreen EVERY DAY.

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