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By Erin Lukas
Updated May 07, 2020 @ 6:15 pm
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Retinoids are the popular kids of skincare ingredients. Dermatologists, beauty editors, and celebrities alike regularly gush over products that contain vitamin A. The all-star ingredient treats acne, evens out skin tone, un-clogs pores, and even fights signs of aging, including fine lines and wrinkles.

But like most good things in life, there's a catch: retinoids (commonly used in its over-the-counter form, retinol) are infamously irritating.

Vitamin A works by essentially accelerating the skin cells so they turn over at a faster rate. Eventually, this sprint results in smoother, clearer, firmer skin — but you have to get through the excessive peeling, redness, and sensitivity in order to get to the finish line.

Right now, I'm learning this the hard way. In addition to spironolactone, I recently started using a prescription adapalene-benzoyl peroxide gel (0.1% adapalene is the retinoid found OTC Differin Gel) for the bad breakouts I've been getting on the lower half of my face since stay-at-home orders were set in place.

The gel is definitely helping with the cystic acne, but my face is peeling like dried-up school glue. Plus, it's slightly red, and tender to the touch. Yup, I'm in the "retinoid uglies" phase, otherwise known as retinization.

While dermatologists typically recommend starting off slow and using a retinoid once or twice a week until your skin builds up a tolerance, it is always still possible you'll experience vitamin A's notorious side effects.

To combat all this, I know I need to moisturize as much as possible, but all of my regular moisturizers have made my skin burn like it's actually on fire.

So, I've gone back to basics and did a drugstore run to pick up a tub of CeraVe's Moisturizing Cream. This classic moisturizer is fragrance-free, non-comedogenic, and formulated with hydrating ceramides and hyaluronic acid. It restores moisture and supports the skin barrier without clogging pores or causing further irritation.

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To buy: $15; walgreens.com.

Gently massaging it into my face has felt like snuggling with my favorite fuzzy throw blanket and relieves the tightness caused by excessive dryness.

To find out exactly how this cream works its magic, I reached out to Dr. Amy Weschler, a board-certified dermatologist and psychiatrist in New York City to discover why ceraides and hyaluronic acid are such great ingredients for sensitized skin, such as my current retinoid experience.

First off, she tells me that while retinoids dry up the bad bacteria that's partically responsible for acne, they also get rid of the good oils too, which is why people can experience side effects. So, what makes ceramides and hyaluronic acid such effective moisturizers to relieve dryness?

"Ceramides restore the barrier function of your skin," she shares. "Ceramides made a huge percentage of the lipids that are in the surface of the epidermis (called the stratum corneum). So they are excellent mositurizers."

Hyaluronic acid is another great moisturizer, as well. Not only is it naturally found in the skin and joints, it's also inherently non-comedogenic, so it doesn't clog pores.

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My skin almost immediately feels softer after using CeraVe's moisturizer every morning and night. Although it did take a couple days for my skin to feel completely balanced again, this is completely normal. Dr. Weschler says that depending on how bad the irritation is, one application of moisturizer can make a difference or it might take a few days to restore the skin's barrier.

I'm currently three weeks into using my prescription retinoid gel and still not completely over the retinization hump. However, this $15 moisturizing cream is certainly making the journey more bearable.