Retinoids – one of the better ways of looking young. (Photo by eisenbahner)
Some of you have been asking for an update on my experiment with retinoids. Now that I've gone through my first tube of tretinoin, it's time to review the results.
As I mentioned in my review of the anti-aging benefits of retinoids, I have both tretinoin cream (0.05%) and tretinoin gel (0.05%). I decided to go with the cream first, applying it only on the left side of my face. The right side has therefore acted as the control side.
Looking back at the first post on this experiment, it seems it's been over a year since my order arrived. Given that I've used the cream regularly and actually stuck with the experiment more strictly than with some other experiments of mine, it strikes me as odd that I only finished the 20 gram tube a few weeks ago. Granted, I have applied only a small amount and only on one half of the face, and I've had some breaks, but still, a little really seems to go a long way in this case.
I use the cream either nightly or every other night after washing my face and before going to bed. This seems to be the most common way to use retinoids. However, contrary to what is recommended, I often apply the tretinoin after a shower. The reason why this is not recommended is because after a hot shower, the pores of the skin will be open, and the peeling and redness that sometimes result from retinoids may be worse.
For me, this is a positive thing and a good a reason to use retinoids after a shower, since the absorption of the retinoids will be increased. I don't get much redness or peeling with the 0.05% strength anyway, unless I apply it to very sensitive areas. For example, I've tried it below the eyebrows, close to the eyelids, where the skin is very thin, and it was a rather painful experience. Applying tretinoin under the eyes is not problematic, though.
In my first post on retinoids I included a list of benefits that I'd seen mentioned in the literature. Here's the list again, along with a comment on whether the claim has been true so far in my case:
- Increased skin thickness and firmness – YES
- Increased skin hydration – NO
- Increased skin tolerance to external factors – NOT SURE
- Reduced visible signs of sun damage – NOT APPLICABLE
- Reduced fine wrinkles – NOT SURE
- Restoration of even skin tone and reduced hyperpigmentation – YES
- Reduction in dark circles under the eyes – NOT APPLICABLE
- Reduced skin roughness – YES
- Reduced irritation from shaving – NOT APPLICABLE
- Less risk of skin cancer – NOT APPLICABLE
- Reduced stretch marks – NOT APPLICABLE
- A healthy, 'rosy glow' – NOT SURE
As for skin thickness, I can't really be sure, as it would have to be measured with professional equipment. Skin firmness is one of those things that I notice after applying tretinoin and even in the morning. My face just feels kind of tighter on the side where I've applied it. The feeling tends to go away after a few days of not using the cream, though.
Skin hydration is another thing I don't really know how to estimate properly. One thing I do notice is that the left side of my face is quite often dry the next morning, which is a result of the peeling effect. It's not painful, however, and putting on some moisturizer gets rid of the problem.
I assume that by "external factors", things such as pollution and maybe UV rays are meant. Since I haven't burnt in the sun lately, and there's not much pollution here, I can't really say whether there has been an effect or not. I also don't have visible signs of sun damage (although I'm sure some internal, non-visible damage does exist), so I can't comment on that. I would expect this to be one of the areas where tretinoin is most effective, however.
The reduction of fine wrinkles is a tricky one. I've been trying to observe changes in three things during the experiment: fine forehead wrinkles, crow's feet (the wrinkles next to the eyes), and nasolabial folds. The fine lines on my forehead have not changed either way. I have to look pretty close to see them, but they are the same on both sides of the face.
The crow's feet, on the other hand, have gone through various changes. They too are visible only if I look very closely, but on the left side of the face they've gone from good to worse to better. At first, it seemed like they got deeper with the peeling, but now the skin looks somehow different compared to the other side, and I'm inclined to say the fine lines are less visible. A similar thing is happening with a few fine lines on my lower eyelid, very close to the eye, where I've applied the cream only randomly. It does indeed seem worse now than the right side. I think this is consistent with how retinoids work – they thin the dry outermost layer of the skin but eventually thicken the dermis and epidermis. This, along with the exfoliation, can make things look worse in the beginning.
As for nasolabial folds, they are not very deep but nonetheless visible. I haven't seen much change there, unfortunately, and sometimes I feel like the left side looks better, while other times I see no difference. I know there are many people who wonder whether retinoids can help with nasolabial folds (and many who believe they can't), but more time will have to pass before I can make a proper evaluation.
I don't have skin cancer, stretch marks or even irritation from shaving, so I can't really comment on those. The dark circles under my eyes have changed more drastically as a result of other lifestyle changes such as diet, so it's hard to see much difference there either.
The biggest difference for me has been in skin tone and skin roughness. It may not be visible to other people without me pointing it out, but I immediately see the difference in the mirror. I never even thought about skin tone and hyperpigmentation before, but I see now that the left side of my face has a much more even tone and looks smoother than the right side. There is indeed a slight "rosy glow" on the skin over the cheek bone, but otherwise there is no redness – unlike on the right side, where the tone is less even and slightly red. The pores of the skin also seem smaller on the left side, including the nose. In general, it just looks healthier and better.
So there you have it, my experience with retinoids so far. I've tried a lot of different stuff and written about it here, but this is the clear winner. For once, the results are actually visible. I'm now going to start applying tretinoin on both sides of the face, probably trying the gel version next. Since my left side already has a head start, it'll be interesting to see how fast the right side can "catch up".
Oh, and for the Scandinavians out there looking for where to buy retinoids: I can't help you there. I ordered six tubes from alldaychemist.com over a year ago, but due to repeated problems with customs, they no longer ship to any Scandinavian countries. The same is true for other online drugstores I've tried. No luck.
That's a real shame, because their stuff was dirt cheap and of a high quality. What can I say, this is a perfect example of the long-term effects of the Scandinavian socialist mindset – no one is responsible of their own actions, the government takes care of everyone, the bureacurat knows better than you.
EDIT: I almost forgot; I've also applied tretinoin to my left temple, and it looks like there are a couple of new hairs growing. This is the same temple that had some new hair growth with retinol, the milder version of retinoids. Those hairs are still there, but they don't grow very long – not exactly like vellus hairs but not terminal either. And I think my left eyebrow has some more hairs than the right one, although the difference is slight.
For more information on skin care, see these posts:
Topical Retinoids Increase Hair Growth in Most People
BioSil, JarroSil & Beer – Silicon Experiment Conclusion
Topical Vitamin C for Skin: Re-examining the Case
Lutein for Skin Elasticity, Hydration and Photo-Protection – Experiment Begins