Retinization is a term used by dermatologists to describe the initial adjustment period that people go through when they first start a retinoid treatment. These effects may be minimized or avoided by using hydrating skincare, or by slowly introducing retinoids.
In this article, we are going to outline what retinization is and how to navigate the side effects.
Retinoids are well known for increasing skin cell turnover, boosting collagen production, brightening skin, smoothing over scarring and wrinkles, and are considered the backbone of efficient acne treatment.
Most people are saying “Um, yes, please. Sign me up.”
But it should be known that with great retinoid benefits comes a period known as retinization, or even more to the point, “the retinoid uglies.”
Yes, it does seem counterintuitive to continue to use a product that causes redness, irritation, flaking, and peeling - because those are all red flags that a product is not working, right? Well, not always with retinoids.
If your skin is peeling, itching, and dry during your initial weeks of retinoid treatment, it’s actually an indication that the retinoid is working (as long as it isn’t too intense).
The retinization process is just another word for the adjustment period that your skin goes through when you first start using a retinoid such as tretinoin, Retin A, or adapalene.
When you use a retinoid, your skin cells start to behave differently.
In order to achieve smoother, brighter, fresher, clearer-looking skin your skin needs to speed up the rate at which it creates new skin cells.
So one of the first steps in this retinization process is getting rid of old skin cells from the surface of your skin. Which may cause peeling, flaking, scaling, and dryness.
The good news is, it’s only temporary. Your skin will likely acclimate to the retinization process over time.
Generally speaking, the retinization process side effects can last 2 to 6 weeks. However, if you ease your skin into retinoids, your side effects might be less severe, but the process might last longer.
This time frame varies from person to person. Some people don’t experience a retinization side effect period at all while others do.
To minimize the severity of your retinization side effects, it’s important to ease into using retinoids.
For first-time retinoid users, taking your adjustment period slow is one of the most helpful things you can do for your skin. Yes, it might lengthen the amount of time you deal with the “initial” side effects, but they will be less severe than if you jumped into the deep end.
You can ease your skin into using retinoids by starting with twice-a-week treatments and then increasing frequency while listening to the limits of your skin.
You can also use the “buffer method” to minimize side effects. This method suggests putting on moisturizer before your retinoid to help reduce retinoid potency.
This helps give your skin a “taste” and allows your skin to slowly adapt.
The higher the retinoid concentration the more severe your retinization side effects might be. It’s recommended to start low and then slowly increase your retinoid concentration.
The retinization period is not for the faint of heart -- it can feel disheartening to use a product that is seemingly making your skin worse. But, with retinoids, things tend to get worse before it gets better.
Using retinoids requires patience and commitment (results can take months). But, after a few months, you might be left with some of the best skin you’ve ever had.
Tretinoin is a great treatment for anti-aging, wrinkles, age spots, skin discoloration, scarring, melasma, and acne. For most skin conditions, it can take around 3-4 months to see results, but your initial side effects should start to taper off around week 4.
If your new to retinoids and your skin is peeling and flaking, this is not a sign to stop (unless it gets severe). It’s likely a sign it’s working.
1. Use simple, hydrating products rich in ceramides and peptides -- these can help build up your skin barrier.
2. Use hydrating cleansers that are fragrance-free and alcohol-free. You want to keep stripping products and irritants out of your skincare routine.
3. Use topical niacinamide (vitamin B3). Niacinamide has been proven to help reduce retinoid irritation. You can use your retinoid and niacinamide separately or buy combination products that are designed for reducing side effects.
4. Moisturizers are going to be your best friend. In the AM you’ll want something light with humectants like hyaluronic acid. At night, a heavier, nourishing cream like the Cicaplast Soothing Repairing Balm is best.
5. Take sun protection very seriously. Retinoids make skin more photosensitive and sun damage can further irritate your skin during the retinization process. Use a daily SPF 30 or higher.
6. Know when to back off the retinoid. If you’re experiencing a lot of irritation, back off the retinoids and switch to a more skin barrier boosting and nourishing approach for the time being. Give your skin some time to recover.
Tretinoin is a prescription-only retinoid that is well-loved by dermatologists everywhere.
If you want to try our formulas, simply complete a questionnaire-based online doctor's consultation to see if our treatments are right for you.
If our doctors find this is a good fit for you, we’ll ship your prescription to your doorstep.