So, it’s week 6 of trying tretinoin for acne. For 6 weeks I’ve been trying out tretinoin and reporting everything I experienced in a tretinoin field guide. This week, even after years of writing about skincare science, I found myself wondering, “Is tretinoin an exfoliant? Because there is dead skin that is just not sloughing off.”
Tretinoin is in fact an exfoliant, but now that my skin is acclimated to tretinoin, it doesn’t feel as ridiculously smooth and exfoliated as it did at first. So, in the effort to keep my skin looking good, I answered the question -- to exfoliate or not to exfoliate while on tretinoin?
Keep scrolling to see how my 6th week on tretinoin went.
It’s true that you shouldn’t be using physical or chemical exfoliating products during the first few weeks of tretinoin acclimation. After about 6 weeks, however, it’s okay to slowly begin introducing very gentle exfoliation again if your skin can handle it.
This week I thought it was a good time to incorporate some gentle exfoliation since my skin is reacting really well to the 0.05% anti-aging formula and showing no signs of redness, itching, or tenderness.
Week 6 irritation level: 0/10
Before starting tretinoin, I was an exfoliating queen -- frequently used AHAs, BHAs, and clay masks. This helped to keep my acne in check and kept my skin looking fresh.
I stopped all use of exfoliating products when I started tretinoin. During the first few weeks of tretinoin, my skin looked and felt very exfoliated by the anti-aging formula. But now, after the acclimation process, it’s time to test the waters of a once-weekly exfoliation.
If you too are finding tretinoin to be non-irritating by week 6, and you feel like you need to reincorporate gentle exfoliation, start by exfoliating just once a week.
Gentle exfoliators include:
Make sure you aren’t over-exfoliating. If your skin becomes very dry, or irritated, stop the extra exfoliating treatment and switch to hydrating treatments.
Now that I’m past the initial weeks of irritation, I am not so rigid about my use frequency. It’s good to have a schedule at first so you don’t overuse (or underuse) the product.
Frequency use during week 6
Now, I use tretinoin either:
To help decide which frequency route I’ll take, I keep an eye on dryness, peeling, or irritation levels. So, if I need to, I can back off the tretinoin or increase soothing treatments.
In the mornings, I take my hydrating skincare very seriously, which might be why my skin has taken so well to 0.05% tretinoin.
In the morning I use a hydrating cleanser, humectants (on a wet face), and emollients. Sometimes I massage on grapeseed oil before washing (like an oil cleanse), just to give my face a little love.
If I have areas that are drier than others, I use a shea butter-based balm to keep those soothed and protected.
Keeping your skin barrier happy is - everything.
Exfoliating during week 6
Early in the week, I used a washcloth to physically exfoliate the skin. I had some dry areas where dead skin wasn’t sloughing off -- but this did the trick.
Late in the week, I used a salicylic acid wash, which in hindsight wasn’t a great idea. It was just super drying so I was fighting extra dry skin for a few days after.
I think I’ll stick to a washcloth for now if I need extra exfoliation.
Well, folks, we are still experiencing some tretinoin purging. It’s relatively mild, but it’s still there. Nothing like the big bloom during week 3, but pimples are still popping up here and there.
Week 6 pimples aren’t happening in high frequency like in week 3 but they are considerably deep pimples that are taking a while to resolve.
I’m happy to report that areas of hyperpigmentation are continuing to brighten up.
Studies have shown that it may take tretinoin treatments 12 weeks of consistent use to see a reduction in acne. So, this is approximately the half mark point for me. It’s looking good so far.
(Note that it may take longer than 12 weeks for some to see changes, and that’s perfectly okay!)
I’ve been using the prescription Strut Anti Aging Formula which contains 0.05% tretinoin, soothing niacinamide, and hyaluronic acid. We opted for this formula for me for the soothing components but Strut Health also formulates acne-fighting formulas containing a topical antibiotic to help kill acne-causing bacteria.
If you want to try tretinoin for yourself, 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.
Read more of the Trying Tretinoin Series here: