Monday, November 8, 2010

Tretinoin Results After a Year – Experiment Update

Retinoids – one of the better ways of looking young.
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 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


  1. Reduction in dark circles under the eyes

    -> has been noticable for me within two weeks of application, also increased skin thickness. Overall a worthwile treatment.

  2. Hi JLL -
    it's a pleasure to read your writing.

    I myself have been on a tretinoin (Retin-A) prescription of .05% for about 2 months. I have noticed similar as you; more even skin tone, slight reduction if fine lines, though not much for my horizontal forehead lines (for that, even more recently, I had a botox treatment), and some skin tightening with sensitivity around my cheekbones and eyes. The lines under my eyes have noticeably reduced in visibility.
    In my opinion, this is a decent site on cosmetic anti-aging, which I visit:

    And to reply to your last reply to me on dietary restriction, yes, it seems like our best bet is calorie restriction, and to look towards other strategies for longevity instead of fussing over macronutrient ratios. Unless proven otherwise.

  3. What do you think about this JLL? Cause for concern?

  4. I do wonder how much of a confounding factor (if any) the actual abrasion of putting the stuff on was?

    Regardless, cool beans JLL!

  5. Hi,
    I've been using the 0,01% tretinoin gel for about two months, and recently switched to 0,025%. I definitely observe some of the positive effects mentioned here (tighter, more even skin). But,I also experience a rather unpleasant side-effect. My face starts looking very red, almost tomato-like (so not the healthy rosy glow) :-). It's even more obvious since my neck, where I didn't use the gel, looks pale like I normally do in winter. Any advise on this? Will this go away? If it persists I'll have to stop using the product, it looks kinda ridiculous.

  6. @Anonymous,

    Since you've only recently switched to a stronger version, I'd give it a few months (if you can handle the redness). Usually the skin gets used to retinoids after a while -- though this may take weeks to months. If the problem persists, you can always go back to the lower strength gel.

    - JLL

  7. Hi,

    what is stronger:


    where did you buy the creams and what brand?


  8. @Christophe,

    0.100% is of course the strongest and 0.025% is the weakest. I bought it from (when they still shipped to Finland), it's a generic brand.

    - JLL

  9. JLL,

    since tretinoin works as i understand it by promoting/increasing cell renewal, doesn't this also imply that your cells will age more rapidly? Something that will not come out of these rather short studies, but maybe only after 10 years of use? Maybe a simplistic view? I hope you can enlighten me with your wisdom ;)!

  10. First off, thanks so much for this very intelligent, cohesive blog! Love it. Now, here is my bit: HOW in the world can I know if MY tretinoin, ordered from the same place as you, is as good as the way more expensive one I was getting here in the US? How do you know? You never backed up your claims.....I am really needing to know this as I am currently doing my own human guinea pig experiment on the left side of my face, to compare....I wish we had a lab or something! On real the docs told me NOT to get it overseas as it would not be validated and could even be harmful, but the fact is, I don't trust pharm companies here much more than the ones there. So....anyone know?

  11. Thanks for the Interesting experiment and for taking the time to write about your experience. As for the Scandinavian socialist remark, I can only say that in Sweden all you need to do is get a prescription from your doctor and then get the cream for 8$ per tube at the pharmacy. And the state doesn't take care of all here.

  12. Surgeons often recommend fat removal via a cheek reduction along with reducing the zygomatic bone. The surgery can make female Asian faces appear more petite and feminine. For men, it can correct asymmetry and facial harmony.

  13. I used to use Retin A, but the side effects were so bad - my dermatologist recommended the Lady Soma Serum and Lady Soma Somatique Face Wash. It has Retinol Vitamin A in it, WITHOUT the side effects of Retin A. For those of you actually using Retin A, here is my routine... Wash with Lady Soma Somatique Face Wash - then apply the Lady Soma Renewal Serum. In the morning I wash again with this Lady Soma Wash. The Lady Soma stuff also seems to be helping with the intial breakout I got from the Retin A (have not had acne in years! was put on the Retin A for sun damage & fine lines).


  15. scandinavian who uses tretinoin 0.1%, i get it from my doctor, you can get it from any clinic just go to a consultation and ask for it, so why on earth would you order it from the internet?

  16. So did anyone ever decide if the allday chemist stuff is legit? I ask because I still don't know, it never makes me peel at the highest percent, and it sucks to not know as I cannot afford inflated American prices! (This is not meant as an insult except perhaps against horrible pharmaceutical companies, of course.) And I am Canadian by birth anyway.....considering getting a relative to ship some to me but I prefer to find out how real this stupid allday stuff is and NO ONE KNOWS. Argh.