You may have heard a lot about retinol and retinoids by now. They’re considered to be skin care powerhouses, thanks to retinoic acid’s ability to diminish fine lines, sun damage, pores, and so on. Of course, there are different ways to get your retinoic acid fix. There’s a difference between over-the-counter products that contain retinol and prescription-strength retinoids; the former isn’t as strong as the latter. If you’re young or trying retinoic acid for the first time, it makes sense to start with retinol. But if you’re older or have been using retinol products for some time, how do you know when it’s time to switch to prescription-strength retinoids?
We spoke to an expert to find out the answer. New York dermatologist Jody Levine, MD, provided some guidance for knowing when to switch to a retinoid and when to stick with retinol. “Over the counter retinol products are not as effective as prescription-strength retinoids. If one has used an OTC retinol for several months and does not see any results (such as a decrease in blackheads, pore size, pigment or acne for example), one should try a prescription-strength retinoid.”
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However, sometimes there is good reason to choose retinol over the stronger retinoids. “If too much is used or a retinoid is applied too frequently, dryness and irritation can result,” Dr. Levine says. “If this occurs, one can decrease usage of the prescription-strength product and possibly alternate use of the prescription-strength product with an OTC-strength one.”
So it’s best to start out with retinol and let your skin adapt. Once you’re ready to see more impressive results, feel free to see your doctor for a prescription for retinoids, but with the knowledge that it may dry out or irritate your skin. The key takeaway is to pay attention to what your skin is telling you, and adjust accordingly.