Retinoids are so good for your skin. As the gold standard in fighting acne, wrinkles, and sun damage, it's beneficial for every skin type and tone. The only drawback? It can cause an initial period of dryness and peeling, which can dissuade folks (myself included) from giving it a try. 

But right now, with the coronavirus quarantine in place, none of us are leaving the house — we may as well use this time to get our skin acclimated to retinol and/or tretinoin. It's not like the outside world is going to see our face anyway!

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First, let's get a quick retinoid refresher. 


Retinoids are a class of skin-care ingredients that are derived from vitamin A. It is available in prescription-strength under a few brand names, including Retin-A, Renova, and Atraline. Its over-the-counter formulation is called retinol. Many popular skin-care brands have their own retinol products.

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How do they work?

Retinoids work by increasing cell turnover. It's effective in fighting acne, hyperpigmentation, sun damage, and is the only FDA-approved topical ingredient that treat wrinkles. It is typically formulated in a gel or cream. Products containing retinoids often have a yellowish tint.

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They are hard on your skin before they are great on your skin.

Many people experience redness, peeling, dryness, and skin sensitivity when they first begin using retinoids. The initial acclimation period can be so annoying that it dissuades people from using retinoids entirely! And I get it, I really do. But social lockdown is the best time to add these vital ingredients to your skin-care routine.

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Power through the dryness in the comfort of your own home.

Since many of us aren't leaving the house, let's use this time to safely adjust our skin to retinoids. You'll want to start off slowly — try using a pea-sized amount twice a week in the evening. As your skin tolerates the product, you can increase to three times per week up to every other day. It may take a while, but skin care isn't a race. 

I found that my skin acclimated best to retinoids when I applied it as the last step in my skin-care routine, over moisturizer and facial oil. This offered a buffer between my skin and the product. I then gradually applied my retinol product before moisturizer as tolerated.

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Speaking of moisturizers ...

You'll want to break out your for-real moisturizer arsenal to deal with the dryness. I'm talking moisturizer, facial oil, overnight sleeping mask, hyaluronic acid, the whole nine yards. You can't use enough moisturizer, really. Keeping your skin hydrated is key in combating the retinoid peel.

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Do NOT use retinoids with chemical exfoliators.

Mixing retinoids with chemical exfoliators, like glycolic acid, is a one-way ticket to chemical burn town. Both ingredients are best used in the evening, so alternate these products every other night or use exfoliators on an as-needed basis only.

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You absolutely need SPF.

Retinoids, especially tretinoin, can increase your risk of skin sensitivity. You shouldn't be leaving the house without a layer of sunscreen — SPF 30 at minimum — but it's especially crucial as you acclimate your skin to retinoids. The potential for gnarly sunburns is too great, and no one wants that.

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Just remember to take it easy.

Again, there's no rush when it comes to skin care. Your skin will tell you what it can handle. But if you've been putting off retinoids because the dryness is too frustrating or if you spend too much time outside, give it a try now that we're all forced indoors.