Wouldn’t it be amazing if we had a time machine and could see how we’d look 20 years from now if we used all the right stuff? Like retinol.
Well, I’ve got something like that.
I want to introduce you to Catherine, one of my lovely readers. She started using vitamin A in a form or another since the ’70s, when it was first discovered it could treat acne and wrinkles. No wonder her skin looks amazing now!
In this interview, I chat to Catherine about her experience with vitamin A, how retinoids changed throughout the years, how she makes them work for her sensitive skin and much more:
1. How did you first learn about retinoids?
In 1974, when I was 23, I visited a dermatologist at a medical research foundation affiliated with a medical school where I was working part-time while attending college. I was able to see him free of charge, as he was part of a team of researchers searching for a treatment for acne and the search was on for research subjects.
I had always been interested in skincare and cosmetics and had recently started using a new line called “Clinique.” We were all enthralled with the idea of scientific skincare based on skin type, but I was disappointed that it didn’t get rid of the blackheads/clogged pores on my nose.
2. What was the first retinoid you used and what did it do for you?
I went to see the dermatologist even though I did not have acne and became one of his research subjects. He explained that a vitamin A derivative had been developed that seemed to really help clear acne so he told me to put just a drop on my palm, rub my palms together, then apply it very thinly to the areas where I have breakouts. The bottle he gave me to use was your standard 70s-era glass medicine bottle – the kind that used to contain prescription cough liquids. This one, though, was filled with a thick, clear, bright yellow liquid that had the consistency of syrup. I was to use it only at night and was not to use anything else with it.
3. Did you experience any side effects and, if so, how did you deal with them?
The Vitamin A syrup promptly dried and reddened the areas where I applied it, including my nose. I was really disappointed by the results and even though I kept the bottle and used it on breakouts from time to time, I didn’t give the dermatologist a glowing report on my results…His explanation: The Vitamin A was too strong for my skin which even then tended to be thin and delicate…
4. What forms of retinoids did you try over the years? Did any of them work better or were gentler than others?
About ten years later, I started getting regular facials to clear my clogged pores. The esthetician told me I had many closed comedones all over my face and encouraged me to go to a dermatologist for a prescription of Retin A, which would clear them.
So, I began using it a few times a week – – but no more than that, as it irritated my skin. The Retin A caused my complexion to purge for about two months off and on, and at the end of it, my skin was clear, but reddish. So, I began using sunblock and a better quality of cleanser, toner and moisturizer, as well as an eye cream.
I used it twice-weekly for the next 15 years or so, switching from Retin A to Renova. I quit using the prescription Retin A abut 10 years ago because the irritation worsened and because I was in my 50’s by then, I didn’t have breakouts of clogged pores anymore. Besides, regular facials took care of whatever clogs I did have, so I have been happy without it up until recently…
5. Have you tried any of the new generation of OTC retinoids? How do they compare to prescription retinoids?
I was never interested in OTC retinoids, as I figured they couldn’t compare to a prescription formula, and since prescriptions were too strong, I stopped using anything. Then, about two years ago, I heard about Avibon Vitamin A ointment; French women use it. I liked its moisturizing properties a lot, but again, irritation is a problem!
Then, about three months ago, I got The Ordinary Advanced Retinol 2% after reading about how mild it was. I have found it a fairly good product; non-irritating, which is a big plus, and I use it 2-3 nights a week to address the rough skin texture on my neck and chest…
It’s helping a lot with those! I don’t use it on my face more than once a week, though, as my skin is very thin and dry now, and when I have a skin reaction, it takes at least a week to recover from it, so I am very careful!
6. What is, in your opinion, the best form of retinoid on the market? Can you recommend any products?
The best form in my view is the prescription version. No OTC can really beat it when it comes to acne or clogged pores. For people with sensitive skin, though, I think The Ordinary Advanced Retinol 2% does a fairly good job.
7. What’s your current skincare regime and how do retinoids fit into it?
I use Sisley Paris cleansing milk, Biologic Recherché P50 exfoliating toner for sensitive skin, and several different moisturizing balms in rotation. I like the Sisley eye balm and the Joelle Ciocco Eyelisse eye cream.
I like to make my own oil blends; experimenting has taught me which ones work best for my skin. And I use sunblock – the non-chemical kind – because it isn’t irritating. My favorite brand has been discontinued so I’m using the LaRoche Posay at the moment.
These are OTC retinol products I have used over the past few years:
- Avibon A313: I love the A313 by Avibon the best as it is the most moisturizing but also the most irritating…I think, though, that I will purchase it again and use it once a week or so when I’m not using The Ordinary as it might give me better results on my neck and chest than The Ordinary does because in my view A313 is the closest thing to retain A available OTC without a prescription.
- The Ordinary Advanced Retinoid 2%: The only reason I use a retinol now is because this new OTC version isn’t irritating.
Retin A in all its forms is to me the gold standard – the best option – especially if the user has thick skin and moderate acne, wrinkles, age spots, etc…I don’t have those thanks to my early and consistent use of Retin A throughout my 30’s and 40’s so this would be my recommendation for most people. I see there are other versions for people with dry and sensitive skin, so a dermatologist could prescribe the best strength and type.
8. What advice would you give to someone interested in starting to use retinoids for the first time?
Visit a dermatologist for advice, then follow it. Be consistent in your use and make sure to use a sunblock every day without fail. If drying and irritation results, back off from how much and how often you use it but don’t stop using it altogether. Respect what your skin can handle and proceed slowly. And – be consistent with skincare. There’s no point in having a prescription for Retin A if you’re going to go to bed with your makeup on!
Thank you, Catherine!
What’s your experience with retinoids? Share yours in the comments below.