The retinoid arena is an exciting place - but if you’re at all anxious, as I know many of you are, it can be hard to know what to do when you’ve been using a retinoid for a while - what comes next? And do you actually need a stronger one?
What are the signs? And if so, how do you choose?
It’s actually surprisingly easy to make this decision - let me share with you my helpful 2-step framework to know when it's time to up your retinoid game.
The first step is to set goals at the very beginning of your retinoid journey.
We can use retinoids for a number of issues :
- Clogged pores
- Fine lines and wrinkles
- Loss of radiance
Points 1 and 2 are related, as are 3 and 4; issue 5 can relate to either setting, or that alone might be your main goal.
Need a recommendation? Flawless Nightly Serum might just be the easiest starter retinoid around - no compromise on results needed. That’s due to its ultra-balanced formula combining anti-inflammatory ingredients like azelaic acid and niacinamide to create a calming environment for next-generation retinoid Granactive Retinoid to act.
The first thing to ask yourself is have you used it long enough, so that you’ve peaked, in terms of benefits?
I’d usually recommend that you stick with the same product for at least 2 skin cycles or 3 months, before evaluating what it’s done for your skin. When you start out, put your check-in date in your diary so you know when you’re due for a review. Taking bare-faced naturally lit selfies help immensely too - we are never objective when looking at our skin, so selfies help a lot!
At 3 months, check:
Has your concern got better?
If you’ve achieved resolution of whatever you’re treating, that’s great - you can happily sit tight, continuing with that product and maybe think about adding in complimentary products into your AM routine.
Have you reached tolerance?
Tolerance is a lovely place to be with your skin. It says your skin barrier is happy, there’s no dryness or flaking and that your skin is thriving on a once daily retinoid habit.
If you haven’t reached tolerance - meaning you’ve not managed to build up to using your retinoid every single day, you should keep going for an additional 1 or 2 skin cycles. Aim for 6 weeks of daily use without needing to take frequent breaks. Use techniques like buffering to aid in this process.
If you haven’t solved your issue and you have reached tolerance and are able to use your retinoid daily, this is the right time to think about changing to something stronger.
The ideal way to do this is to trade up by using a higher percentage of the same type of retinoid.
If you started with 0.3% retinol try 0.5% instead.
If you're using retinaldehyde, try increasing from 0.05% to 0.1%.
If you’re using Granactive Retinoid (hydroxypinacolone retinoate) try increasing from 2% to 5%. Interestingly, there’s very little increased irritation potential here, despite more than doubling the potency. This makes stepping up to Flawless Nightly Pro from Flawless Nightly Serum incredibly easy.
Be aware that when you ascend the retinoid ladder, you might experience more signs of retinization - they usually won’t be as noticeable as they were when you started, depending on the size of the jump, but dryness and some flaking are not uncommon. Use the same techniques of buffering and slowing things down - drop down to alternate day use again if that's' happening.
Allow a couple of weeks for a new equilibrium to establish itself. Try not to make any other changes to your routine at this time so you only have one variable.
This approach can be applied in repeated cycles until your skin reaches its limits in terms of the retinoid strength it can tolerate. Or you have control of the issue you were tackling and your skin is tolerant. This can of course take you into the realm of prescription retinoids. But the principles remain the same - this is the exact framework I use in the clinic.
This is the work of months to years - your retinoid journey is really one for life - so remember that and be kind to yourself on those days where skin is maybe a bit dry and flaky. Have the tools to help you manage them, so you don’t get discouraged and know that you’re doing all the right things to build healthy, beautiful skin.