One of the things I love the most about giving clients facials is that I get to educate them about their skin too. If you been into see me for a facial lately, it’s likely we had a conversation about Retin-A. I have been obsessed with this topical cream for the past several years after re-discovering it here in Costa Rica. In The States, one must obtain a prescription for this “gold standard” in anti-aging cream. This involves a costly and lengthy process of seeing a doctor and getting a written prescription. For me, someone with no health care coverage, it’s just not worth it. So you can imagine my elation when I discovered it here in Costa Rica readily available without a prescription and at a very reasonable price.

So what is Retin-A you ask? The term “retinoid” describes a family of ingredients that include both Retin-A and retinol. Retinoids are a class of ingredients chemically related to vitamin A. Think of Retin-A as the stronger bigger brother to retinol. These compounds naturally occur everywhere in our bodies and are vital to internal processes like immune function and tissue repair. Retin-A is a prescription-only (in North America) topical cream. Retin-A products are approximately 100 times stronger than the average retinol cream you get over the counter. This strength comes with amazing and speedy results—diminished blemishes, reduction in wrinkles, boosted skin elasticity, smaller pores—but also can have major side effects. Due to its strength, Retin-A must be used with care. If not used correctly, it can cause scaling, burning, peeling, and extreme redness when you first begin using the medication. I always recommend that clients apply their cream at night (sunlight degrades the ingredients and makes the treatment less effective) and begin SLOWLY and titrate up to daily or or every other day use depending on their skin’s tolerance. It is important to begin using it gradually to allow your skin to adjust. I advise clients to use it once or twice a week for the first couple of weeks. During this time, understand that a little scaliness and irritation is normal at first, but if the treated skin becomes really sensitive, back off the Retin-A for a bit. Let your skin return to normal before you begin the treatment again. As your skin adjusts, slowly try to increase to using it every night. As Retin-A acts as an exfoliant, speeding up skin cell turn over, it is so very important to use sunscreen daily to protect your skin and prevent future damage.

Who should use Retin-A? In my opinion, anyone over the age of 30 can benefit from a retinoid treatment. The long term results are unmatched. After 30+ years of use, patients present with firmer, tighter, more youthful skin. Because of it’s high potency, it is possible to see improvements in the skin within a couple of weeks. Retin-A boosts collagen production which declines as we age, diminishes brown spots and evens out skin tone, decreases oil production, which has all but eliminated my pesky premenstrual jawline breakouts and can even decrease one’s risk of developing skin cancer. The best part? It’s great for those of us who can be a bit forgetful of our nightly routine as it’s still very effective when used every other day.