Tretinoin – How I started, my tips and hints

I was happy using Sunday Riley A+ Retinoid Serum, and Luna Oil, both products are Retinoid Ester Blends. My skin felt and looked great, but when I finished these, I was ready to go the extra mile. Skincare specialists are calling retinoids the “Gold Standard” in skincare to help with symptoms of ageing skin. Gold standard is good enough for me! I knew I wanted a retinoid in my skincare routine, but the different terms confused me: do I need vitamin A, Retinol, Tretinoin?? So I investigated to find what is best for my skin.

Disclosure: I am not a therapist (anymore), and this is purely based on my needs and experience: I am 57 with leftover scarring and deep open pores from teenage acne. I have age spots, sun damage and fine lines. My skin can be oily on the t-zone in Summer but can be drier in Winter. I have developed more sensitivity to active ingredients as I am getting older, in particular to ingredients in Vitamin C products.

What is the difference between retinoids/retinol/tretinoin?

Retinoids are the group of Vitamin A derivatives, that increase the rate at which old skin cells are shed while simultaneously stimulating new skin cell growth. They can improve tone and texture by thinning the epidermis (top layer)and stimulating the collagen production below. There are different type of retinoids like:

  • Tretinoin (also known as retinoic Acid) is a retinoid in its purest form and is prescription only. It is prescribed as a mild to severe acne treatment, and it can also help improve the appearance of fine lines, wrinkles and dark spots.
  • Other retinoids are retinol, retinol palmitate and retinaldehyde or also known as esters and you can find this in over the counter products. These esters go through steps to convert to what Tretinoin does – the more steps, the weaker the retinoid. They take longer to achieve results, but are less likely to irritate the skin.

Ok, that is the fun stuff out of the way.

In Australia tretinoin is available by prescription only, under the brandnames Stieva-A and ReTrieve, but because I am a rebel, I asked my sister to get it for me over the counter from Spain, in the lowest dose of Retirides Cream at 0.025%, also available in 0.05% and 0.1% strength. (please consult your GP or dermatologist which one is right for you).

Sydney’s 3.5 month lockdown was the perfect opportunity to start a tretinoin treatment, as I was working from home at this time. I knew the possible side effects could be harsh: pimples, peeling and dryness and darkening of pigmentation due to boosting cell turn over. My skin may get worse before it got better.

Here is how I introduced it into my night time routine:

This worked for me with minimal side effects. Sandwiching between moisturisers creates a buffer and will create less irritation. Leave about 10 minutes between each layer.

Week 1 Twice a Week:

  • Korean essence toner (hydrating Pyunkang Yul or Hado Labo)
  • La Roche Posay Cicaplast
  • Tretinoin
  • Leave on for 1 hour. Remove and follow with LRP Cicaplast

Week 2 Twice a Week:

  • Korean essence toner (hydrating Pyunkang Yul or Hado Labo)
  • La Roche Posay Cicaplast
  • Tretinoin
  • Leave on for 3 hours. Remove and follow with LRP Cicaplast

Week 3 Twice a week

  • Korean essence toner (hydrating Pyunkang Yul or Hado Labo)
  • La Roche Posay Cicaplast
  • Tretinoin:
  • LRP Cicaplast
  • Overnight

By this time I realised that I woke up with dry eyes, so from then on I used my heavier eye cream around the eyes like goggles (not my term. I stole it from Dr Sam Bunting ) prior to applying tret. And that worked a treat.

After week 4 I gradually increased the days per week, until after 2 months I was able to use it every night with no problems. I don’t use it on Sunday night, when I up the hydration with a mask and really lather up on oils. I have also heard of some using an oil first, and using tret on top, or adding some tret to your night moisturiser! The same thing applies though, not around the eyes, be careful around the mouth, nose and neck.

How much to use:

Recommended dosage is the size of a pea for the whole face. Areas likely to get irritation are: around the eyes, and any folds like around the nostrils, side of the mouth and neck. I use a heavier cream to protect those areas: my eye cream or even Vaseline. TRET travels and I found out the hard way!

The result

Using tretinoin is a long term commitment, it can be at least 8 months before you really see an improvement. in the 4 months that I have been using it, I can see an improvement in smoothness of my skin, the pores and scarring seem less pronounced and deep. I didn’t think there was a difference in my pigmentation but the photos tell me otherwise! (however I am wearing a zinc base SPF in the second photo so my skin looks a little lighter, but no make up)

My skin is definitely a little more sensitive, and an overzealous scrubbing with a flannel left my skin red and a little angry on one side.

Will I continue using it? Yes I will, I feel my skin will improve even more in the months to come. I have bought a stronger 0.05% tree, but I think I will continue to use the 0.025% for a little longer, why fix what ain’t broken?

  • Result after 4months tretinoin
  • Result after 4months tretinoin
  • Result after 4months tretinoin
  • Result after 4months tretinoin

Things to be careful of:

Lastly I can’t stress enough these are personal experiences with TRET. Get medical advice from your GP or dermatologist before you start. Some warnings:

  • Sensitivity to Sunlight: SPF50 ALL DAY EVERY DAY. I can not stress this enough. Especially if pigmentation is an issue for you, tretinoin won’t work if you don’t protect your skin from the sun every day. Hat, SPF50, stay in the shade.
  • Don’t use when pregnant
  • Other Skincare: Go gentle with all other skincare: no need for exfoliants, or other acids whilst on tretinoin. Gentle cleansers, healing moisturisers (as you can see I use La Roche Posay Cicaplast. It is a soothing and repairing balm that is just magic!)
  • Be careful when having facial waxing or other facial treatments: Tretinoin decreases the thickness of the stratum corneum which is the outermost layer of the skin. Wax doesn’t just take hairs but also some skin and can also leave a burn. Discuss with your therapist before your treatment. She may suggest to lay off Tret for a few days prior.
  • It is a marathon, not a race!

Would love to know how you use tretinoin or retinol in your routine. Let me know!

Til next time,


About Fashionista in Suburbia

Dutch Born, Fashionista in Suburbia lives at the Southern Beaches of Sydney, Australia. A Mum. A Wife. A Lover of all things sparkly, shiny and leopard print. A Shoe, Lipstick and Sunglasses Addict. A Typical Libra. A Breast Cancer Thriver.

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