These Are The 4 Best Retinol Creams You Can Use To Treat Acne
By Marissa DeSantis
As anyone who's ever had acne knows, you can be seemingly doing everything right, yet breakouts still persist. Thoroughly removing your makeup every night? Check. Cleansing and toning? Check and check. Following up with an oil-free moisturizer? Yep. Sometimes acne is just stubborn, which is where retinol cream might come in handy. Dr. Melissa Kanchanapoomi Levin, dermatologist and founder of Entière Dermatology, calls them the "foundation of an acne treatment." But if you're not exactly sure what a retinol (or its more potent derivative, retinoid) cream is — or how to find the best retinol creams for acne, more specifically — Dr. Levin is here to break things down.
How does retinol treat acne?
"Retinoids are essentially a basic umbrella term for both over-the-counter retinols and prescription retinoids," Dr. Levin explains. "Retinols contain a lower concentration of the active retinoic acid ingredient, and prescription retinoids have a much higher concentration of the active ingredient," she says. Basically, this means you'll have an easier time finding a retinol cream at the store or online, and you'll need to make an appointment with your dermatologist for a stronger retinoid. If you're pregnant or breastfeeding, Dr. Levin notes that you should avoid retinoid products altogether.
Whether you pick up a retinol cream on your own or visit your derm first, the reason why these creams are so effective is the same. "They treat and prevent acne by declogging pores, normalizing skin cell turnover, and working as an anti-inflammatory," Dr. Levin says. "Furthermore, retinoids have been proven to improve skin discoloration and texture," she goes on to say, noting that this also means they "restore the skin from prior outbreaks."
How to use a retinol cream:
Using a retinol is simple for both over-the-counter and prescription formulas, with Dr. Levin recommending that you apply the product as the first step after cleansing during your nightly routine, because sunlight can deactivate the retinoic acid. (You'll also want to make sure you're putting sunscreen on during the day, however, since retinol makes your skin more photosensitive.)
While most skin types can handle a retinol cream just fine, Dr. Levin notes that starting with an over-the-counter retinol and easing into daily use will help minimize irritation like redness, dryness, and flaking, which are common when you begin using a retinol. "Start off by applying a retinoid every third night," Dr. Levin says. "If your skin isn’t irritated after two weeks, increase to every other night for another two weeks," she continues, adding, "If your skin is still tolerating the retinoid, go for every night."
Your nightly moisturizer will also help to combat any dryness or flaking. Dr. Levin notes that you should apply a pea-sized amount of your retinol on dry skin, and after several minutes, follow up with your moisturizer.