Tolerating Topical Retinoids

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Topical retinoids are creams and gels used to treat acne and photoaging while improving overall skin texture and dyspigmentation. Commonly prescribed topical generic retinoids include tretinoin, tazarotene and adapalene.


Collagen in the skin is downregulated by sun exposure and aging. On the contrary, collagen is upregulated by topical retinoids. This serves as a great antiaging tool by improving fine lines and wrinkles over time. Retinoids also increase skin cell turnover which treats and prevents clogged pores (ie comedonal acne) and slowly improves hyperpigmentation.


Common side effects of retinoids include skin dryness, redness, scaling and sensitivity. It is very important to ease into use of a retinoid, otherwise the side effects can easily discourage patients from discovering its full potential. Here are some tips on how to tolerate regular use of a topical retinoid:


1. Wash face with a gentle, hydrating, non-fragranced cleanser. While chemical exfoliants such as glycolic acid and salicylic acid can be helpful in improving skin texture, they should not be used while first starting a retinoid. 

2. Wait 15 minutes after washing and drying face before applying a retinoid. Do not apply retinoids to wet skin.

3. Apply a pea-sized amount of the retinoid evenly to the entire face. Retinoids take 2-3 months to work, so they should not be used as a spot treatment. 

4. Once the retinoid has been evenly applied over the face, apply a non-comedogenic moisturizer to the face and neck. Some providers may advise you to moisturize before and after applying the retinoid.

5. Avoid the use of retinoids to sensitive areas such as eyelids and corners of the mouth unless otherwise instructed. It can be helpful to apply a thin layer of Vaseline or Aquaphor ointment to the eyelids before applying a retinoid.

6. Take nights off from using the retinoid. Start by using retinoids 2-3 nights weekly and on “off” nights, just moisturize. 

7. Keep moisturizing!



For an appointment with Megan Quinn, PA-C, please call our offices at 215.361.3376 and press option 1.   Megan sees patients in both our Fort Washington, PA and Lansdale, PA locations.