Retinoids 101

Should you be using a retinoid? Yes.
Retinoids are one of the foundations in the anti-aging skincare regimen. 


What are they?

  • Retinoids are Vitamin A derivatives that come in topical (think Retin-A, Retinol, Differin) and oral (this isotretinoin once known as Accutane) forms.

Why use them?

  • Retinoids increase cellular turnover, which causes your skin to regenerate more quickly thus making your skin look more youthful, vibrant, and refreshed. As we age our cellular turnover decreases significantly. When we are babies our cellular turnover is 2 weeks. Teens: 3-4 weeks. 20s- 40s: 1-2 months. 50s: 2-3 months. So obviously we want our skin to look like baby skin, which is why we use retinoids!

  • Because of this cellular turnover situation that is happening when you initially start using a retinoid your skin will become dry and flaky. I generally recommend patients gradually ease into them. Start three times a week for 2 weeks and then if your skin is tolerating it, increase to 4 times a week for 2 weeks until you are using the retinoid 5-7 times per week.

When do I use them?

  • Retinoids should be used at night on clean skin, the first thing you put on your skin after washing. In the AM it is important to wash (or tone) your face and make sure you apply sunscreen daily as retinoids make your skin more sensitive to the sun.

Retinol vs Retin-a explained here!




Using a moisturizer like Skinceuticals Triple Lipid Restore following your retinoid application can speed up the adjustment period when starting to use retinoids

The dry/flaky stage usually doesn't last longer than a week or two if you gradually add nights (the way mentioned above)

If you are over the age of 25 think about starting a retinoid or (no matter what age you are) if you struggle with acne you should definitely start a retinoid.


My favorite retinoids: 

  • Differin: perfect for teens/20's who struggle with non-cystic acne

    • If you are 30+ and have acne this is not the retinoid I would recommend as the main ingredient (adapalene) is mainly for acne and not for fine lines/wrinkles. While it may have some benefit with treating fine lines/wrinkles the other retinoids listed below are ideal once you are 30+.

  • Retinols (can be purchased over the counter):

  • Retinaldehyde: Retivance

    • This is a great option for people with more sensitive skin or who have been unable to tolerate retinoid use in the past. Also, safe to use around the eyes (upper and lower lids) and neck.

  • Tretinoin (only available by prescription or purchase at a medical office)

  • Bakuchiol ( a retinoid alternative to use during pregnancy/nursing - always double check with your OB/GYN!)