What are retinoids?

Retinoids are compounds that are derived from vitamin A.

What are their benefits?

They have been tried and tested over the years in skincare and proven effective at

  • promoting collagen formation
  • minimising fine lines and wrinkles
  • increasing skin cell turnover
  • improving skin texture
  • treating sun damage
  • lightening dark spots
  • unclogging the pores by reducing sebum secretion
  • treating acne

Types of retinoids

Retinoids are known by different names depending on their strength. Below is the order from the gentlest to the strongest:

Over-the-counter retinoids (OTC)

  • Retinoid esters (retinyl palmitate, retinyl acetate and retinyl linoleate)
  • Retinol
  • Retinal/retinaldehyde
  • Adapalene

Prescription retinoids

  • Retinoic acid/ tretinoin
  • Tazarotene
  • Isotretinoin (oral retinoid AKA Accutane)

Which retinoid is right for you?

There are so many retinoid products in the market right now so it can be quite confusing to know which one to pick. A specialist may be in the best place to guide you on this. Consult a skin specialist for advice.

If you have been prescribed a retinoid, follow your doctor’s advice.

Side effects of retinoids


When you start using a retinoid, your skin undergoes a process called retinization. During this time, you may experience irritation, itchiness, dryness, temporary redness and flaking as your skin adjusts to it. This irritation can sometimes exacerbate existing acne resulting in a retinoid purge that lasts anywhere from 1 to 2 months. If the symptoms are too severe, you should stop using the product and seek professional advice.


Retinoids also make you more sensitive to the sun thus you MUST apply sunscreen every day and only use retinoids at night.


Retinoids are not safe during pregnancy as they can be harmful to the development of the foetus(teratogenic). Speak to your doctor if you think you’re pregnant or are planning to conceive in the near future.

How to minimize irritation with retinoids

I have seen several tips on how to introduce retinoids into your routine. Dr Dray- an American dermatologist- has several useful YouTube videos on this. The key tips that helped me when starting out are:

Keep your routine minimal

Focus on the foundational steps: cleanse, moisturize and protect with sunscreen. Ensure that your skin barrier is intact and healthy.

Avoid other exfoliants

Retinoids increase cellular turnover so using other exfoliants in your routine may cause more irritation.

Start off slow

Pace yourself both in terms of frequency and strength. For the first few weeks, use it once a week then slowly work up 2-3 times a week or as prescribed. As for strength,begin with gentler formulations and gradually increase the dose.

Use a tiny amount

The efficacy of retinoids is not dose-dependent. This means that you do not need to apply more of it to increase its effectiveness or get faster results. A pea-sized amount is more than enough for your entire face.

Moisturize beforehand

Apply your moisturizer and wait 10-15 minutes for it to dry before applying the retinoid. This can minimize the drying effect. Some people also benefit from applying moisturizer both before and after the retinoid.

Apply an occlusive to your mucous membranes

Retinoids can be particularly irritating to the eyes, around the nose and the mouth. Applying a thin coat of a petroleum jelly-based product to the corners of your eyes, nose and mouth can provide a barrier that reduces risk of irritation.

Sun protection

Sun exposure can worsen the irritating effects of retinoids which is why it’s best to apply them at night and use your SPF religiously during the day. I have harped about the importance sunscreens extensively here.

Be patient

It can take up to 6 months to see results, especially if you opt for gentler retinoids. Remember, you’re playing the long game. Stay consistent and your skin will thank you for years to come.

My experience with retinoids

I knew that I wanted to introduce retinoids into my routine, primarily for its anti-aging benefits. So I opted to start off with the Cerave resurfacing retinol serum. This is a gentle OTC product formulated with niacinamide, hyaluronic acid and ceramides.

I have been using it since early 2021 and my skin is very happy with it. I didn’t experience any purging or irritation because of the tips I mentioned above. The main effect I have noticed is a reduction in overall skin texture. Since I don’t have any active acne or hyperpigmentation, I cannot comment on whether this particular product would help.

I currently use it twice a week at night before my moisturizer. I will continue doing so until I complete this bottle.

My hope is that you enjoyed this post! Have you ever used a retinoid before? Share your thoughts on retinoids in the comments down below.

Always remember that your hair is your crown and your body is a temple; embrace it, love it and take care of it.”

Leave a comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.