TBN: Retinol Edition Part 3- How to Cope with Sensitised and Peeling Skin
I have been on retinol non-stop now, for more than a year. I adjust the strength of formulas according to the season. Summer is for light, retinol oils. I always apply my SPF and have never had any problems with sunlight- not even the slightest irritation. Autumn is for stronger products and winter time is for high concentrations of retinol- think of it as an intensive treatment, for 4-5 months. In spring, as the day gets longer and my face is increasingly exposed to sunlight, I begin to lower the strength again. The only time I have needed to soothe my skin from retinol peeling or sensitivity is, predictably enough, only during these intensive, winter periods. My skin is challenged during those times but, to me, it's worth it: the reward is glowing, youthful, smooth, plump skin, better than when I was 20 years old.
Retinol speeds up your cell renewal cycle, that's why your skin peels in a very fine layer. It's not exfoliation, it's your new skin coming through. This new skin is so precious and sensitive when it is newly revealed, that even a hyaluronic acid serum will sting a bit, even your gentlest cleanser. It's by no means intolerable; just an uncomfortabe tingle that goes away in a few minutes.
If you treat your face like a guinea pig, as I often have, you might think you can exfoliate with gentle acids or apply your regular radiance/detox masks. Friendly advise: DON'T. It stings like a motherblubber and you're literally damaging your precious new skin. For the same exact reason, do not rub your face when you wash or tone and never do physical scrubs to exfoliate. Even the finely milled scrubs. It will not help the look of peeling. You are damaging your new skin that needs time to adjust and protection, not abuse.
Another DON'T: self-tanners. It doesn't look good when half your face is being renewed every two days. Your skin looks patchy, dirty and uneven. Just save it for spring.
And now a DO: wear your sunscreen without fail. I cannot stress this enough. I will publish a series of articles on SPF soon enough, but anything over 30 is fine, as long as you apply a generous quantity. Do not apply just a little, thinking you're fine. Protection from the sun is all about the right (generous) application, not the highest SPF you can find.
Through lots of reading and trial and error, I have found several products that have helped me immensely with retinol side effects. I hope you find the list below useful. You don't have to buy everything listed, of course. This is about presenting you with a wide variety of options you can choose from:
1. Hyaluronic Acid helps with moisturising dry, peeling skin. A face mask with this ingredient is valuable; my go-to is the Erborian Bamboo Waterlock. For serums to apply in the morning and at night, read the article on my top five products: https://bit.ly/2GoAMs3
2. Gel-cream moisturisers, these are my favourites for locking in all the moisture when I am peeling and the winter weather is giving my skin grief. These will help your makeup look smooth and radiant, despite all the irritation below- read the article on my top three formulas: https://bit.ly/2BqePof
To this top three, I have to add two further great moisturisers: Bioderma Hydrabio Rich (a rich gel) and Bioderma Sebium Hydra (a comfortable, non-greasy gel, especially formulated for acneic skin).
3. Cica products (cica is the industry name for an anti-oxidant, anti-inflammatory herb called Centella Asiatica). This helps heal irritation, peeling and sensitisation. I love the Dr Jart+ Cicapair Tiger Grass Serum, available at Sephora. It's an amazingly soothing, light liquid that your skin drinks up in a second. Avène and La Roche-Posay both have extensive lines that contain cica and zinc, also healing and restorative, that work wonderfully. They are a bit thicker in consistency but are very affordable and don't leave white residue on your face.
4. Face oils are the BEST for nourishing your skin during this time. I use them for both day and night and have two favourites: the Drunk Elephant Marula Oil , available to buy here https://bit.ly/2GZ01Bn , and the Caudalie Premier Cru oil, widely available in pharmacies. They both soothe, repair and give you plumpness and radiance. They also contain anti-oxidants to protect your new skin from damage throughout the day; very important.
5. Moisturising BB or CC creams help disguise peeling and stabilise your skin. I have been loving the Lancôme Skin Feels Good BB cream (widely available in department stores) because it makes my skin look normal even in the most challeging days and has an SPF 23. It offers light, natural coverage. The IT cosmetics CC cream (available to buy here https://bit.ly/2TLYW2U) is richer in consistency and offers significantly more coverage, with an SPF 50. I would highly recommend either one, depending on what finish your prefer: the first is for natural-look lovers, the latter is for those who like a more polished look and perfect skin.
6. Cleansers at this time need to be super gentle. Do not put regular facial soap to your skin, it's just too drying and aggressive. Go for balms or oils that will nourish your skin like the Body Shop Camomile Sumptuous Cleansing Butter, the Lixir Electrogel cleanser (available to buy here https://bit.ly/2GWpBHk), the Clinique Take The Day Off balm or the *best of the best*, the Emma Hardie Moringa balm (available to buy here https://bit.ly/2GZUwCz). If you do need to rinse your face with a liquid soap, I would highly recommend the Avène Trixera face wash. It's gentle enough to use occasionally, but not every day.
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*photos via sephora.com, cultbeauty.co.uk, spacenk.com