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The 1-2-3 Retinoid Rule: How To Reduce Irritation When Starting Tretinoin

Learn why retinoids can cause skin irritation at the onset and how to utilize the 1-2-3 rule to reduce or avoid tretinoin irritation.

Read on

Retinoids are great, and they are in nearly every skincare maven’s beauty arsenal.

But, with lots of good things in life, you need to approach your venture into retinoid usage with care. Tretinoin is the most common prescription retinoid, and it can pack a punch in terms of fine line reduction, acne clearing, scar fading, and overall smoothing and brightening.

This powerful ingredient is pretty awesome at all the things listed above, but this strength can also come with a little (or a lot) of skin irritation at the beginning of treatment.

Read on to learn more about why retinoids cause skin irritation at the onset, and how to utilize the 1-2-3 rule to reap the beauty benefits without too much of a hassle in the beginning. (Hint: Listening to your skin is key.)

Why can retinoids cause irritation?

A lot of the power in retinoids comes from their ability to ramp up the speed of skin cell turnover, replacing old, damaged cells with bright, new, smooth, skin cells in their place.

All of this turnover and sloughing is new for your skin, and it can react by getting red, irritated, peeling, and feeling extremely dry. The stronger your retinoid, the more potential for this initial irritation.

So, if you want to go for the strong stuff for better beauty outcomes long term, be prepared for an adjustment period.

Luckily, this adjustment to retinoids tends to taper off after 2-6 weeks or so of using your retinoid treatment, and you can use some tips from the pros to help things go as smoothly as possible.

Read Related: Tretinoin Peeling: 5 Ways to Minimize Ugly Tretinoin Peeling

The 1-2-3 Retinoid rule to reduce tretinoin irritation:

Step 1:

The first week you start using your retinoid product, apply a pea-sized amount to your face at night once a week for one week. For example: If you got your product on a Monday, start it that night, but then don’t apply again until the following Monday at the earliest.

Step 2:

For the next two weeks, apply a pea-sized amount of your retinoid to your face a night twice a week for two weeks. Space these applications as far as you can from each other, say, every Monday and Thursday.

Step 3:

For the following three weeks, apply a pea-sized amount of your retinoid to your face three times a week. Again, space these out as much as possible. Try something like Monday, Wednesday, and Saturday.

If your skin gets irritated during one of these steps:

If at any point in these steps, your skin gets irritated, red, flakey, or just plain mad -- stop and return to the previous “step”. Then, just stay at the application level that your skin is ok with for a while.

Retinoids are a marathon, not a sprint, so take a month at the same step if that is what your skin wants.

Once you feel that your skin has fully adjusted to the step you retreated to, try stepping it up again until you settle into what works for you and your skin.

If you breeze through these 6 weeks, no problem:

If you have the skin of champions, and it breezes through these 6 weeks of the 1-2-3 retinoid rule with no issues whatsoever.

Congrats, you can now try to settle into your long-term retinoid groove.

Now, go for every other night for a month or two to see how it goes. If no problems are had with that, you can attempt a plunge into nightly usage.

Just keep in mind that if your skin starts having issues, just pull it back one step and hang out there for a bit.

Learn More: Should I Use Tretinoin Every Night? How To Schedule Your Tretinoin Application

Other tips for a smoother retinoid journey

The Retinoid 1-2-3 Rule is a great start to acclimating your skin to the retinoid of your choice, but there are a few other pointers that are just as important.

  • Wear sunscreen every day, since retinoids can make your skin more sun-sensitive, are more prone to burning.
  • Apply moisturizer liberally over your retinoid (after letting it soak in for 20 minutes).
  • Super-sensitive skin? Make a retinoid sandwich by using moisturizer - then the retinoid - then more moisturizer.
  • Apply retinoids to clean and fully dry skin for less irritation.

The 1-2-3 retinoid rule: Bottom line

Retinoids like Tretinoin are great, and the skin beauty benefits are real, but so is the irritation if you rush into things.

Listen to your skin and follow the 1-2-3 Retinoid Rule as a starting point to your beauty goals. If your skin gets irritated, red, dry, and flakey, pull it back a bit and go even slower.

Also, remember to utilize daily sunscreen and lots of moisturizer for a smoother transition into the world of retinoids.

Strut Health prescription Tretinoin formulations prescribed online and shipped free

Don’t know which retinoid product to start with? Strut Health has you covered -- have a free online visit with our doctors to help address your biggest skin issue, whether it is acne, scars, or fine line reduction, we have a Tretinoin formula to help.

Tretinoin formulas are prescription-only, so if our doctors find that you are a good fit for Tretinoin treatment, your prescription medication can be shipped to your front door with our free shipping.

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