Just to make sure we’re on the same page, retinization generally refers to all the not-so fun things that can occur when you introduce a retinoid to your skincare routine. It can also happen when you’re increasing the concentration, trying a new variety, or increasing the frequency of said retinoid. The only case where it’s unusual to see retinization is when you’re using a lower strength of a retinoid you’ve previously used successfully, but that’s not a guarantee. Formulas across brands or even within the same line can vary a lot, so retinization is always a possibility.
With retinization, you’re typically looking at a few weeks of any combination of side effects that range from annoying to potentially painful to deal with. I don’t say that to scare anyone but more so to prepare you for one of my personal experiences I’ll be sharing. I also cannot provide a complete list of all things that fall under retinization because we would be here all day, but here’s generally what you can expect.
Retinization can occur when you introduce a retinoid to your skincare routine. It’s usually a few weeks of side effects that range from annoying to potentially painful.
Signs of Retinization
The most common thing you’ll experience with retinization is increased redness. You could be looking at specific areas that tend to have thinner skin, like around the nose and mouth, or an uptick in overall redness. If this gets more intense, you’ll see splotchiness and red patches across your skin.
It’s also very common to experience excessive dryness. It doesn’t matter if your skin is normally oily, dry, or somewhere in between—you’ll likely feel your skin get tight and dry during retinization. When I experienced retinization, my skin actually produced even more oil than normal to compensate for the dryness. This resulted in my face feeling super dry and looking extremely shiny. It was … a special time.
The other major hurdle people often face during retinization is increased texture in their skin. It also happens that texture can come in many forms. We’re talking little under-the-skin bumps, big bumps, all manner of breakouts/comedones, and a little to a lot of your skin flaking off. You could experience just one of these or many of them at the same time. Guess what happened to me.
Ways to Manage Retinization
The first thing any responsible professional will tell you when incorporating any retinoid, and especially tretinoin, is to take it slow. This probably isn’t your first time hearing this if you’ve looked into retinoids before, but I mean like once-a-week-for-a-few-weeks slow. Easing a retinoid into your routine can help cushion the blow. It’s likely that you’ll still experience retinization, but this gives your skin time to adjust and tone down the severity of your retinizing process.
I also strongly recommend cutting out any exfoliants in your routine altogether. Retinoids may not exfoliate your skin, but it’s safe to say that virtually no one should exfoliate skin that’s potentially already red, flaky, and/or dry. I like to wait until my skin has stopped showing any signs of retinization for a full week before slowly incorporating my exfoliants again—you may need them less than you did pre-retinoid, so keep that in mind.
This is also the time where I would recommend busting out anything richer and creamier for any part of your routine. We’re talking boosting your moisturizer with facial oils, more occlusive moisturizers, non-foaming cleansing lotions or creams, or all of the above. It will definitely be a process of trial-and-error to figure out what works for you during retinization with the particular product you’re using, but keep the focus on moisturizing and soothing your skin because it’ll probably need the extra TLC.
When incorporating any retinoid, take it slow. I mean like once-a-week-for-a-few-weeks slow. Easing it into your routine can help cushion the blow.
Why I No Longer Use Tret
My experience with tretinoin, tret for short, is a perfect example of why the phrase “your mileage may vary” is something every person in the online skincare community adopts LINK. I did not take any weird shortcuts for once like I always do with skincare. I did all the things I would advise anyone to do from the slow incorporation of my tret to adding richer products into my skincare to compensate for retinization and everything in between. I started with once weekly application of the lowest concentration of tret I could get for sox weeks, then twice a week for another six weeks. I didn’t make it any further.
When I tell you I experienced the most irritated and flakey, peel-y skin I’ve ever had in my whole life, I am not exaggerating. My skin got irritated and bumpy with almost rash-like red patches, and I looked like a snake that was shedding it’s entire outer layer of skin. There was no amount of moisturizer that was helping, and after three months of these effects slowly getting worse, I had to call it quits. Even my partner was getting concerned enough to ask if what I was doing was a good idea.
After a few months of giving my skin some serious TLC so that it returned to its normal state for several weeks, I went through this whole cycle again—and it was just as bad. And then I stopped. And then I did it again. Same results. I spent the majority of an entire year red, uncomfortable, and peeling like I had a horrible sunburn on my face, and other months of that year recovering from all this.
The thing is, my skin is relatively hearty when it comes to acids, professional treatments, and even the few chemical peels I’ve had. It just cannot handle tret, at least in its current state, for whatever reason.
I am by no means trying to scare you off from using tret because of what can happen during retinization. I’ve had friends who used much higher percentages than I did, more often than I ever could dream of and experienced little more than some surface dehydration for a few weeks. In fact, most people I’ve interacted with do not have the experience I did with tret. I just want to ensure that anyone considering tret has as much info as possible concerning the retinization process and to approach it with the appropriate level of attention.