Retin-A therapy for wrinkles is described by skincare expert Paula Begoun as a "double-edged sword" due to this topical medication's side effects: red, dry, flaking skin. Retin-A is a type of tretinoin, which falls under the broader category of retinoids, which are derived from vitamin A. Retin-A users see modest but not marked improvement in wrinkles, as long as they're not put off by the discomfort of dealing with side effects that are increasingly severe. Successful Retin-A treatment depends on proper application and use of this topical medication--as well as ensuring follow-up protection for your face.
See your dermatologist first. Retin-A is a medication that's available through prescription only. The Mayo Clinic states that Retin-A may contraindicate other medications you're using and may be problematic for those with eczema or seborrheic dermatitis. Begoun indicates that most dermatologists start by prescribing Retin-A with the lowest concentration of tretinoin, increasing the strength only if you notice no results.
Cleanse your face with a mild cleanser and warm water. Use your fingertips rather than a sponge or washcloth, advises the Mayo Clinic. Blot your face dry with a clean towel. Wait 20 to 30 minutes before applying Retin-A to your face to make sure your skin is completely dry--using any kind of tretinoin cream on damp skin can increase your risk of side effects. Typically, Retin-A is used once a day to treat wrinkles, says the Mayo Clinic, generally at night.
Use the amount of Retin-A your dermatologist tells you to use. This will probably be a pea-sized amount. Rub Retin-A in thoroughly but gently, avoiding sensitive areas such as inside the nose, the lips or in or around the eyes. If Retin-A accidentally gets on these parts of your face, rinse it off at once, says the Mayo Clinic.
Avoid exposing your face to the sun, wind and cold weather during the first six months you use Retin-A, especially during the first few weeks of your treatment. Retin-A makes your skin more susceptible to sunburn, so make sure to use good sun protection. Avoid tanning beds and sun lamps.
Use a sunscreen diligently during Retin-A treatment, Begoun advises. The Mayo Clinic and Begoun both advise choosing a sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 15. Regardless if you're using Retin-A to treat wrinkles, Begoun says that daily use of sunscreen in your foundation or daily moisturizer is "critical" to protecting your skin from more extensive photoaging.
Retin-A is not the only retinoid that can have an effect on wrinkles, says Begoun, who lists Tazorac and Differin as other options. While there's no guarantee that these topical creams will result in fewer side effects, it can't hurt to ask your dermatologist if another medication is more appropriate for you.
Never apply Retin-A to an open wound or skin that's sunburned, windburned, dry, chapped or irritated.