This is a personal account of using Retin A for acne, written by one of our readers. While impersonal, dry, “informational” articles have their place, we think you will enjoy seeing what it is like from an actual human perspective. If you have your own skin care story you would like to share (anonymous), please contact us!
At the age of 28 I expected clear skin. Okay—I expected clear skin at the age of eighteen, surely during my late twenties wasn’t too much to ask?!
During my teenage years I really had bad skin. Constant acne breakouts, oiliness, and the requisite low self esteem that came with it. But underneath there was at least some hope I would “grow out of it”.
No such luck.
If anything, in my late twenties and early thirties my skin was worse. Constant deep breakouts along my chin and jawline. A periodic big pimple in the middle of my cheek that was impossible to hide. And just when one pimple finally disappeared another two or three would start their journey to the surface. A vicious, frustrating cycle. They were painful, embarrassing and impossible.
Oh and let’s not forget the amount of time I spent trying to deal with them! Endless treatments, trying to cover them up, squeeze sessions that ended in an inflamed mess that was impossible to conceal and resulted in scars. Ugh!
Jump ahead to:
The “Last” Resort
I had tried everything. Well everything but the retinoid Retin A, but I was scared of the all hoo-haa about side effects. I expected red, raw, scaly skin that would make me look like a dehydrated snake. Suffering with deep pimples and acne seemed like a better fate.
See also: Love for Chemicals in Skin Care
But there’s always a breaking point. In a fit of exasperation I made an appointment with the doctor and asked for Retin A. Asked for it specifically—no fooling around. It was time to take control of my acne.
Doc agreed and prescribed me Tretinoin 0.05%. Here is my experience with it. (Spoiler alert: it works. My skin has never been better).
My Experience with Retin A:
In the beginning…
I picked up the bland looking tube of cream—0.05% Tretinoin. I balked for two seconds at the $45 price tag, then realized I had paid double that for “anti aging” products before that were nothing more than plain creams in fancy jars.
That night, after washing my face and waiting 5 minutes to let it dry (Retin A works better on very dry skin), I applied a tiny amount along my jawline and chin. Just like the doctor had instructed. And I mean a tiny amount, I was terrified!
But even with that slither, two days later my skin started peeling, which was obvious when I woke in the morning. Peeling is the wrong word—it was more flaking. Retin A speeds up skin turn over, so the dead skin cells on the surface increase as new ones are pushing up. This is how it works to clear up skin and destroy wrinkles.
It was strangely satisfying. Obviously it was doing something.
Another two or three days later I started feeling the heat. It felt like windburn, my face was red and hot like I’d eaten way too much spicy food. It was constantly flaking—I had dinner with friends and turned into a flushed beetroot with the wine and the revelry. I also like a piece of flaky pastry when I looked in the bathroom mirror.
But I put up with it, there is something about your skin actually going through this process that you just know it is worth it.
See also: How to Deal with Retinol Side Effects
But My Skin Needs a Break!
At this point (just less than a week), I stopped using it for two days to let my skin calm down. This worked and when I started nightly application again the windswept redness remained but didn’t get worse.
Then, after about two weeks, slowly but surely the redness went down. I started using a slightly more generous amount—now I spread it on like a normal cream. I also got “brave” and started using it on my forehead and the rest of my cheeks.
Because guess what? When you face what you fear, it is no longer scary (overly dramatic? maybe…). But I had a newfound confidence with Retin A, I knew I was in control, and I was already seeing results.
Bona Fide Note: You too can get to this place of confidence with skin care, no matter what it is, by taking notice of your own skin. Follow instructions and tips, but know that you always have ultimate control in deciding how to use a product.
Within the first two weeks I noticed a slight difference in the severity of breakouts, they just weren’t as big. Amongst the redness and flaking the pimples along my jawline and on my chin were less inflamed. But they were still there and new ones formed.
But after about two weeks… new pimples formed, but they were noticeably less intense. Yep, they were still coming from deep within like nasty volcanoes, but they were nowhere near as painful and disappeared much quicker.
Within the first month of using Retin A nightly, with a few breaks of one night in between, the usual breakouts were far less in number and intensity—we’re talking two pimples instead of the usual seven, and I could call them “pimples” rather than “deep ridiculous cysts.” The blockages and clogged pores along my cheeks also started to reduce. This was exciting—my skin was actually starting to look smooth!
So I kept going, with a new-found confidence. My skin wasn’t perfect yet, but the difference was clear and I LOVED IT.
Three Months to Clear Skin
During the first three months things just got better and better. My skin had normally broken out severely once a month before my period, so this was the real test. By month three only one or two stubborn pimples insisted on appearing.
Under my jawline had actually been a culprit, with deep inflamed pimples that at least weren’t obvious like ones in the middle of my cheeks, but man were they painful. Occasionally, if they were in the wrong spot, they distorted my jawline! There babies were also reducing, in size and frequency. I could run my hand along my jaw and just feel bone instead of lumps…
By the end of three months—clear skin.
CLEAR SKIN! If I get pimples now they are small and easily squeezed or simply ignored. The clogged pores on my cheeks are non-existent, and it now takes me about one minute to apply concealer and foundation to even out skin tone, rather than 5 minutes plus to try hide all the pimples! My skin looks smooth healthy, plump and happy.
What About the Side Effects?
Now I use Tretinoin cream every night, all over my face (avoiding the eye area). Yes, I’m still on that first tube—money well spent! My skin is no longer red and sore, but it does still peel/flake occasionally. But this peeling is light and appears in the morning. I use a warm face cloth in the shower to gently exfoliate my face, then apply moisturizer. My face stays smooth all day.
And did I mention, no more breakouts??
Using Other Products and Treatments
With my new found confidence in my skin and in using Retin A—that is no longer scary at all (in fact, I’m madly in love with it), I decided to introduce other products. I was using a simple moisturizer with sunscreen during the day and an eye cream, but that was it.
Now, I use glycolic acid in the morning.This also increases skin cell turnover so combined with Retin A it has ignited the smoothness of my skin to something rather wonderful! I use Bona Fide Skin Care’s Daily Glycolic Peel 7.5% because it’s easy and the ingredients are simple. It also helps remove any of that flaking that may still be on my skin.
After that, I apply a daily moisturizer, and I am good to go.
Clear Skin: Confidence
Now that I have steady clear skin, I sometimes forget how bad it was before. But only sometimes—I am still amazed at the fact I don’t have to deal with breakouts on a daily basis. I no longer have to deal with that dreaded feeling that is a painful, deep pimple about to erupt on my skin’s surface.
The combination of Retin A and glycolic acid has also removed all the surface acne scars I had from overzealous squeezing. You know those brown or red marks that stick around for weeks? Gone.
I wanted to share my experience because I know what it is like to deal with acne, I know the frustration and hopelessness that is endless breakouts, oily skin, annoying blackheads. The exasperation you can feel when you think you’ve tried everything (I even tried a going on the contraceptive pill to clear my skin—but that only lasted a month. It did nothing for my skin but made me bloat like a whale, so that experiment ended quickly).
So if you think you might want to try Retin A (Tretinoin), I encourage you to talk to your doctor. Follow the instructions, take it easy, and be patient. Results aren’t instant, but they are remarkably quick. And they are seriously worth it.
One Last Thing…
You might know that Retin A is the only proven treatment for wrinkles. I plan to keep using it. One I’ve finished my tube of 0.05% (I’ve now used it for four months and it’s still half full!) I will ask my doctor for 0.1%. My skin is noticeably smoother already and I know it will continue to get better.
This is not only a fantastic acne treatment, but also an important anti aging one.