I Started Using Tretinoin To Treat My Acne 14 Days Ago And Here's What's Happening
This article originally appeared on xoJane.com.
I've written about the highs and lows (peaks and pits, for my Kardashian readers) of the state of my skin quite a few times on the site. Actually, peaks and pits works a bit better, no? Acne imagery, I just can't help but spew it everywhere.
Let's recap: Almost a year ago exactly, I was a pretty little princess living in perfect princess world in Austin, land of the easy life. I made fresh juices daily, and my entire solid diet consisted of super foods with the occasional hummus indulgence. My apartment complex had a pretty okay gym, which I'd spend hours in doing light cardio while trying to make sense of Caroline Manzo's seemingly uncharacteristic freak-outs.
We had a washer and dryer in the apartment, so my sheets were always clean, and I had my very own bathroom in which I'd perform various bathing ceremonies each week involving all the popular super oils and vinegars and masks and saran wraps and scrubs. My hair, skin, nails, eyes, teeth, and bod were all at their prime. I even flossed. Regularly.
I'm a firm believer in the fact that optimizing your lifestyle is the only way to be at your physical best. I also understand that a stress-free, advantage-laden lifestyle isn't realistic or possible for most people. I didn't realize it at the time, but by moving to New York I'd be sacrificing all that was convenient. No car, shared bathroom, no one-stop shopping, I can't even get deliveries to my sketchy apartment because there's a good chance that they won't be there by the time I get home from work. The only exercise I have time for is lugging three weeks worth of laundry two blocks to the nearest laundromat.
Juicing or even being on some semblance of a healthy or normal eating routine isn't happening--space, time, and money are all scarce up here. While living in Austin by biggest source of stress was what to pack for a weekend getaway to Seattle, now it's all about meeting traffic goals and multi-million dollar ad campaign requirements and, like, deciding what to do with my future.
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The most noticeable result of the drastic lifestyle change has come in the form of zits. After going off birth control and running out of the somewhat-effective Epiduo, I've been exhausting almost every over-the-counter topical option available. Sulfur, benzoyl peroxide, salicylic acid, tea tree oil, zinc, camomile--I saw results for sure, but nothing fool-proof, or long-lasting.
It's not like you're ever just using an acne product, you have to find the right moisturizer to work with it, but also work with the season and the sunscreen and the makeup. Because I can no longer not wear makeup-- something I can't seem to make my facialist understand--she asks me every time I go in if I've been wearing foundation. "No, not foundation, Michelle. Spackle, packed deep into every pore, and then layered with powder that I apply with a dirty makeup brush. Please just squeeze it all out, thank you."
Weirdly enough, my skin is still in great shape. I didn't realize that having acne and nice skin was a thing until a friend pointed it out one evening when I was shamefully apologizing for the mountain range on the side of my face. "But you don't have 'bad skin.' You're still moisturized and glowing and your eyes are bright with no wrinkles. You don't have any discoloration except for the acne scars and those will fade. You look like a healthy teen with a few zits, it could be worse." True. I've always had an undying commitment to moisturization and exfoliation throughout and despite my acne strugs.
After reading Rio's article, I decided that Tretinoin would be my last hurrah into the topical territory before throwing in the towel and going back on birth control (something I'm fundamentally against after deciding I cannot rob this world of what would be the adorable offspring of the worst beauty editor ever and the dude from Dog Show On Acid), or going super alt-med (read: spending lots of money) and sitting under blue lights or sucking it up for some acupuncture.
I called my dermatologist in Dallas and asked her to fill a prescription of Tretinoin at a CVS down the street from the offices. I asked for the generic, assuming it to be the most cost-effective route. One $58 copay later and I had a 45-gram metal tube of Tretinoin Gel, USP .025%.
My initial observation was that it smells of straight-up alcohol. It is alcohol, a full 90%. Because of this, I've tried to only wash my face with extremely gentle cleansers- Badescu's Cucumber Cream Soap morning and night after removing makeup with the Cleansing Milk.
I was initially applying the Tretinoin at night (only at night, as directed) straight after cleansing, but this was pretty painful. It absorbs quickly, the alcohol immediately evaporates, leaving a bad, dry sting. Then I'd moisturize with the thick Peptide Renewal Cream or Seaweed Night Cream, an eye cream, and some Chapstick.
I'd wake up to red, angry acne scars and thin pills of what I think is product rather than skin flaking off around my chin and jawline and at the sides of my nose. But no new zits.
In a matter of days my patches of deeply-clogged pores resulting in clusters of painful zit mounds on either side of my chin, the sides of my face, and below my right jawline and at the side of my right eyebrow were gone. The small bumps on my forehead decreased in number as well.
About a week later, I began moisturizing before applying the Tretinoin, waiting a few minutes between. This cut down on irritation drastically, although I feel like my skin is getting used to the gel regardless of when I apply the moisturizer.
I had a pretty intense dermatillomaniacal session a few days ago (stress-induced), and will note that I still had pore-cloggage ten days in. Way less than before, though--you might remember me writing about how my esthetician told me that every pore on my face was filled with a grain of rice? These weren't fully-formed zits or even mounds, just me obsessively picking at my skin, forcing stuff out that would have probably never surfaced anyway.
The only lingering major issues with my face are the red scarring, along with two mounds of deeply confused pore mess going on in the chin area. Although I've read that Tretinoin is supposed to help fade scars, I'm not seeing these results yet. In fact, they appear to be a bit darker, but this is probably a result of the initial irritation. The gel seems to be causing lots of scab-age as it clears, even trapping some gunk beneath the hard scabs forming on those two chin problems. The other healing scabs have since sloughed off with some gentle warm-washcloth exfoliation.
I'm pleasantly surprised to see that it hasn't made my entire face a dry, flakey mess. I have been moisturizing like crazy during the day, layering Badescu's Rose Hips Oil under the Moisture Magnet cream, and then sealing with the Herbal Hydrating Serum. I'm pretty shocked at how well these absorb, the Rose Hips Oil is especially thin and non-irritating, and the Moisture Magnet cream is insanely rich without feeling heavy. The hydrating serum is meant to be layered atop a moisturizer--it leaves this cool sensation and glow that's not slick or shiny.
I also switched to a heavier lip product at night, because the Tretinoin has made my lips insanely flakey. DeVita's LIP Volumizer Balm is actually the best lip moisturizer I've ever used because it has real staying power. Oftentimes I'll put a lip product on at night only to have it wear off after a few hours, but with this I wake up with plenty of product still keeping the moisture sealed in.
So far I think the Tretinoin is making a difference in my skin in a way that no other topical product has been able to. I'm so used to clearing one patch of acne only to have another erupt somewhere else, but the Tretinoin is keeping it all in check and doing the damage control on all the hard-to-reach underground activity Ive been dealing with for months now.