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Answering Your Questions About Retinoids

Hi, tribe! How are you all doing? Is your skin happy and healthy? Maybe it’s not where you want it yet, but do you see improvement? Or perhaps you’re trying to find the information you need in order to start your skin success journey. You’re tired of looking in the mirror and feeling disappointed by acne, hyperpigmentation, or other skin issues.

Wherever you are in this process, I’m here to help! You all deserve glowing, healthy skin — no matter your skin type or concerns. And the great news is that with the right products and information, you can achieve the skin of your dreams. 

Today, I’ll be talking about something that will help you tremendously in that journey! In this Friday episode, I answer all your pressing questions about retinoids and how you can use them appropriately for skincare success! 

For everyone who sent questions in, thank you so much! I love answering your questions, and I think it’s easiest to share them in the podcast so that everyone can benefit from them and have the clarity and consistency they need to take care of their skin. So, without further ado, let’s dive into the specifics of retinoids, how you should use them, and how they can help your skin. 

What Is the Difference Between a Retinol and a Retinoid? 

It’s so easy to confuse these terms because they sound so much alike, but while they are similar, there is a key difference.

First, both retinol and retinoids are Vitamin A derivatives that ultimately convert to an active ingredient: retinoic acid. Retinoic acid is what ultimately repairs your skin from damage. 

You typically find retinols in over-the-counter serums and creams since they contain a lower concentration of retinoic acid. On the other hand, you can get retinoids from your dermatologist via prescription because they have a higher concentration of active ingredients. The only exception to this rule is the retinoid called adapalene, which you can purchase over the counter in the U.S. (more on that later!). 

So, to sum up:

  • Retinols have a lower concentration of retinoic acid due to their molecular structure. It’s designed in such a way that it takes more steps in the whole enzymatic pathway process for a retinol to be converted into active retinoic acid, which makes the retinol a less intense product. They usually cause less irritation to the skin as well.
  • Retinoids have a higher concentration of retinoic acid due to their molecular structure. For retinoids, the conversion process happens very fast, allowing for a greater concentration of active retinoic acid. Retinoids can sometimes cause some skin irritation; however, the benefit is that they can show reparative effects more quickly than a retinol. If you are prescribed a retinoid by your dermatologist, be sure to follow the application instructions in order to maximize the benefit of the product. 

Now when I mention retinols and retinoids, you’ll know the difference between the two! These two products are great for repairing sunspots, reducing hyperpigmentation, reversing aging, and even treating acne. If you’re interested in trying one, read on to see what starter products I recommend. 

What Retinol and Retinoid Products Do You Recommend? 

RoC’s Retinol Correxion Deep Wrinkle Night Cream is absolutely amazing. It not only moisturizes your skin throughout the night, but it diminishes the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles through retinols. It’s over-the-counter, so you can find it online or at a drugstore near you! 

Are you interested in trying a retinoid? Remember that I mentioned there was a retinoid you could buy over the counter (without a prescription)? That product is called Differin Gel (generic name is adapalene). Differin Gel really helps to clear and prevent acne while also brightening your skin tone and creating a more even texture.

Tribe, retinols and retinoids truly are the secret weapons of skincare success, but keep in mind that they won’t cure all of your skin concerns overnight. In order to see changes, you have to apply them consistently to see benefits. It will take longer to see benefits with retinols (around 8-12 weeks on average), but retinoids will offer a faster treatment plan (6-8 weeks on average). 

If you’re interested in learning more about retinols in particular, check out Episode #25 or read the blog post! And if you missed Episode #33, definitely check that out to get a high-level overview about the power of retinoids! 

As always, consult with your dermatologist to recommend and/or prescribe the skincare products best suited for your skin. The last thing you want is to further damage your skin instead of heal it, which is why your dermatologist should be your go-to expert regarding skincare success! 

Should You Switch Between Different Retinoid Products Within Your Skincare Routine?

The specific question I received was, “Could (and should) you use both Differin Gel (an over-the-counter retinoid) and Retin-A (a prescription-strength, stronger retinoid) alternatively in your skincare routine?” 

I thought this was a really interesting question — after all, you may be tempted to think that by switching between these two retinoid strengths, you may achieve faster results. However, in my opinion, there would never be a good reason to do that. 

There’s no real advantage to alternating between retinoid types because they ultimately go down the same pathway and you could potentially cause more irritation because it’s difficult to keep track of your application process. For example, maybe you thought you used Differin Gel last night, but you used a prescription retinoid instead. It’s easy to forget skincare specifics, especially when you have a lot going on. Unless you write down your retinoid schedule, you’ll get confused really fast, which could cause you to hurt your skin rather than heal it.  

Here’s my recommendation to you — pick one and commit to it. When you stick to a retinoid for six to eight weeks, you’ll start to see the benefit. You just have to be patient and consistent. Alternating between retinoids will only confuse you and throw off the process. In my opinion, a simple skincare regimen is a much better one! 

Can Retinoids Make Your Skin Flakey? Is That Normal?

If you’ve been experiencing flakey skin since you started using a prescription retinoid, maybe on your forehead or chin, know that this is completely normal! 

Remember how retinoids contain a higher concentration of retinoic acid? This acid works wonders, but a side effect is sometimes flakey skin. Thankfully, that actually means it is working! 

A lot of people give up on their retinoids because of the flakey skin phase, which usually occurs around week three. If this is happening to you, please don’t give up! By consistently applying moisturizer, you can easily reduce the amount of flakiness. Also, don’t forget to apply sunscreen every day to protect your skin from harmful UV rays, which can prolong the flakiness. 

If you apply your retinoid consistently, your skin will thank you! Soon, your friends will start asking you about your “secret” to achieving glowing skin! 

Remember — if you find yourself in need of a retinoid, you can try Differin Gel or consult your dermatologist to discuss a prescription option with a higher retinoic acid concentration. And if you don’t currently have a dermatologist, you can find one here

Retinols and Retinoids Are Your Skincare BFFs

And there you have it, tribe! I hope these answers provided insight and clarity for all of you — whether you asked questions or didn’t! There is so much more to learn about retinols and retinoids, so I might do another Q&A episode where I answer some questions and share some quick tips. Definitely keep on the lookout for that! I can’t wait to hear your questions! 

One quick announcement – there’s an exciting new BRAND UPDATE that’s going on with my site and podcast, and there’s also a course on the way! In other words, I have a lot of work to do, and I want to make sure that everything is ready to launch ASAP!

If you enjoyed this episode, be sure to let me know on Instagram! Tag me, @drnikoleta, with a screenshot of the episode and your greatest takeaways. I’d also really appreciate it if you would subscribe and leave a five-star rating on Apple Podcasts — that helps us share the podcast with more wonderful women like you!

And if you’re looking for a community of like-minded individuals who prioritize skincare, self-care, and healthcare, check out the podcast Facebook Community. We’d love to have you join us!

As always, my goal is to teach you, serve you, and hopefully make your skincare choices easier by empowering you and educating you to break that cycle of skin cover-up. Tribe, I want you to feel confident and glowing in your skin. I want you to look in the mirror every day and go, “Wow, I love my skin!” You deserve that. 

Until next time, have an amazing day and Step out with Confidence®! 

I'M DR. NIKOLETA BRANKOV!

I am a board-certified dermatologist, CEO and Founder of Healthy Skin Blueprint, an acclaimed podcast host, best-selling author, and nationally recognized skin, hair, and nails expert. Welcome to the Skin Talk with Dr. Nikoleta blog.

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