By Clare Jennings – Skin Care Guru
In the world of skincare, there are always ingredients coming in and out of vogue. CBD, probiotics, bakuchiol to name a few. But there is one ingredient that is almost universally held up as the ‘gold standard’ in skincare – and that is Retin-A. Retin-A is a prescription only derivative of Vitamin A. It was initially prescribed as a treatment for acne back in the 1950’s. However, after a while those who used it began to see incredible results not just in the reduction of acne, but a reduction of the appearance of wrinkles, dark spots, and an all over increase in skin vitality. And so began the love affair with Vitamin A.
There are quite a few versions of this vitamin. Retin-A being the most potent and quickly processed by our skin, but there are also retinols, retinoids, retinaldehyde and so on. Being the avid skincare lover I am, I was most excited when my doctor agreed to prescribe me Tretinoin, the brand of Retin-A available here in New Zealand. Many caveats were extended – use it very sparingly, once a week, and then gradually move to twice a week if no irritation occurs, then three times a week, then daily. Of course, I had to also research my heart out on other products that work well with Tret, and how to ensure a positive outcome and experience.
I used the tiniest amount – about half a pea size, mixed in with a rich moisturiser. This is called buffering, and it meant that my skin wasn’t being bombarded too harshly. So I applied it, and eagerly awaited the promised results! Day one – not bad! No peeling, no irritation. Just kinda nothing. Day two – much of the same. But day three dawned and I awoke to the peelingest peely skin I’d ever seen. And under the surface, round my chin I could feel the beginnings of painful cystic acne. Aha! I thought. This must be ‘the purge’. The ‘retinol uglies’. The phenomenon that many people experience of their skin going into overdrive, cells turning over left right and centre. So I soldiered on. I moisturised. I exfoliated. I lovingly tended my angry skin, feeling sure it would soon repay me with the glowing complexion I believed would soon be mine. On it went, week after week. Peeling, and purging, and walking around with the worst skin of my life.
About 12 weeks in I started to get pretty annoyed. Why was I still peeling?? Why was I now dealing with cystic acne when I never had before? ‘Keep going’ my online support groups encouraged! It will pass! It will all be worth it. But it wasn’t. After 36 weeks, I finally admitted to myself that this wasn’t working. Well, to be fair, some areas were looking much better. My forehead, and my crows feet were definitely less wrinkled. But my chin area was a mess. So many scars from the deep cysts. Texture from the constant peeling. And so I stopped using Tretinoin. And within a week the acne started clearing up. Two weeks, and the peeling had mostly stopped. And eventually, my skin was mostly back to normal. I say mostly, because there are lasting reminders of my ordeal (relative to, let’s say, not really an ordeal. Artistic license in use here). I now am prone to large painful whiteheads on the left side of my chin. They pop up frequently now. And they leave deep red marks for months after. I also have huge amounts of scarred, textured skin, that makes me feel cross every time I wear foundation and it clings to it and looks gross.
I then thought, hold on! I can’t be the only one who can’t use Retin-A. My skin has generally tolerated most ingredients, so why not this one? So back online I went, and sure enough, there were hundreds of tales of woe similar to mine. Many MANY other souls, duped by Vitamin A. Terrorised, and tormented by this product of Satan (not verified to actually be a product of Satan). And so here I stand. Bowed, but not broken. Scarred, but not scared off. Determined to find the ‘next big thing’ in skincare, that will bring me what I dream of… glowing skin, a fat bank account, and equal rights for minority groups. Not necessarily in that order.