7 Soothing Products to Get Us Through the Retinol Scaries

Preparation is a must when you’re using retinol for the first time ever. I’m not one to enter any pursuit lightly, so before selecting a product for my virgin skin, I researched. In other words, I read a lot of articles about the anti-aging, acne-clearing, and collagen-stimulating rewards of this wonder ingredient. Since I’m a total newbie, I knew I needed to start with a low-percentage formula to ease my skin into the fold. That meant finding the best retinol for sensitive skin.

I’m no stranger to acids or other potentially harsh skincare ingredients—I’ve used glycolic acid as well as other AHAs and BHAs in the past—but I didn’t want to throw my skin to the proverbial wolves. After consulting some of my co-workers for product recommendations, I bought a bottle of the First Aid Beauty Retinol Serum with a 0.25% concentration of retinol formulated for beginners like myself and those with sensitive skin.

My skin went through a fairly uneventful acclimation phase in the beginning; maybe a few more pimples than normal, but nothing I wasn’t prepared for. About two and a half weeks in, I started to experience the dreaded retinol scaries. The skin near my jaw and around my mouth began peeling and the vitamin C serum I used every morning started to feel more tingly than normal. Then I did something most dermatologists would probably caution against: I added a new product to my skincare routine.

Since retinol can make your skin more photo-sensitive, I’d been religious about applying SPF every day. One fateful day I switched to a face sunscreen that had some extra L-ascorbic acid because the brightening, vitamin C-laden ingredients sounded like a nice way to treat my skin. Unfortunately, this product sent my retinol purge into overdrive. I immediately broke out in a red rash and the parts of my face that were already peeling started stinging and burning too.

Not one to panic too much, I looked for the most gentle and soothing skincare products I could find. In another probably-not-derm-recommended turn, I again changed up my routine—this time switching to super calming products with zero fragrance or other irritants that would make my face angry. Because retinol can also be drying (and my skin was already molting like a snake thanks to the expedited cell turnover), I looked to products that would provide extra moisture and hydration. About a week after my mishap, my skin was much happier and the burning, stinging sensation is firmly behind me.

These are the products nursing my skin through a retinol purge. I love them so much, I don’t think I’ll stop recommending them anytime soon.

First Aid Beauty FAB Skin Lab Retinol Serum

I’ve used First Aid Beauty products for years and love how gentle everything is on my skin. When I saw a steady stream of positive reviews for their retinol serum, I wanted to try it right away.

Aveeno Ultra-Calming Foaming Cleanser

This gentle cleanser from Aveeno lives up to its name—it truly is ultra-calming. And the fragrance-free formula is exactly what my sensitive skin needs after a few weeks of using retinol.

Mario Badescu Facial Spray With Aloe, Herbs and Rosewater

This is the lone exception to my new fragrance-free skincare rule. I’ve trusted this Mario Badescu facial spray for years (it has a cult following for a reason) and use it to prep my skin so it can better absorb the serums and moisturizers that follow in my routine.

First Aid Beauty Ultra Repair Hydrating Serum

I started using this hydrating serum from First Aid Beauty a few months ago and don’t plan on turning back anytime soon. It’s common knowledge that retinol can be drying, so this serum provides a moisturizing boost thanks to its hyaluronic acid-rich formula.

Glossier Priming Moisturizer

Glossier’s Priming Moisturizer is another fragrance-free staple in my skincare routine. At its core, this is a no-frills moisturizer that I swear by.

Supergoop! Unseen Sunscreen

One of the most parroted pieces of advice to retinol newbies is to use a daily sunscreen since retinol can make the skin more photo-sensitive (daily sunscreen is also just good to use in general). This clear gel formula from Supergoop! agrees with my skin, even though the inclusion of Frankincense doesn’t make it completely fragrance-free.

Cerave PM Facial Moisturizing Lotion

My fancier, more expensive night creams are on an indefinite hiatus thanks to this moisturizing night lotion from Cerave—and more than 1,500 five-star reviews on Amazon agree. The brand’s signature mix of ceramides and skin-restoring ingredients go to work at night to help my skin feel revived and fresh by morning.

Have you tried any of these products? Let me know in the comments below!

The 5 Active Ingredients You Actually Need In Your Skincare Routine

How do you approach your skincare routine? Is it with a certain sense of abandon, incorporating any and every strong active ingredient? Or have you taken a more measured route – stepping back, consulting a professional, and considering what will work best for your skin? If you’re in the first camp, a little swotting up is all that’s required to get you back on the beauty straight and narrow. Thanks to LA-based celebrity facialist Joanna Vargas, who has worked with everyone from Julianne Moore to Emma Roberts, we have her book Glow From Within to consult on the rules of skincare. And Vargas knows a thing or two about what makes for a robust, radiant complexion. 

An advocate of a “pillar-based”, 360° approach to the skin, Vargas has conquered all manner of concerns in her time as a facialist. “Beauty isn’t skin deep,” she says. “Today, most of my clients know that they need to eat nutritious meals, avoid particular foods, and drink enough water to achieve their own brand of youth.” Other positive lifestyle choices she recommends are good self-care, paying attention to your body, prioritising sleep, reducing stress, and doing some exercise. She sums it up as making “time for connection and joy” in her book.

As for products, “I recommend a minimalist regimen,” Vargas says. “Cleanse at night and apply a serum or a mask for sleeping. In the morning, cleanse or rinse, apply a serum, moisturiser and a sunscreen,” she says. “I also exfoliate twice a week and do a beauty mask once a week.” Finding the right cleanser for you is relatively straightforward – simply use a gentle formula that targets your skin issues and doesn’t leave your face feeling tight after washing. So far, so simple. But Vargas is also enthusiastic about another, potentially confusing pillar of good skincare: active ingredients. So where to start?

Vargas says any effective routine should incorporate a retinol at night. “It’s great for all skin types, and using a vitamin C in conjunction for the day will help brighten skin.” Despite what many people think, good retinoids can be bought over the counter – brands like Skinceuticals and Medik8 offer an array of options that cause little to no skin irritation. Medik8’s Crystal Retinal 3 Serum is a brilliant entry point and will help to increase cell turnover, leading to more even skin tone, smoother texture and, of course, fewer fine lines. No 7’s new Advanced Retinol 1.5% Complex is a good high street option. There’s also Vargas’s own brilliant vitamin C serum (the Rescue Serum), which combines vitamin C with super-hydrating squalene and elderberry extract, a powerful antioxidant. You can also find it more potently in Vichy’s LiftActiv Peptide C Ampoules, which contain 10% fresh vitamin C as well as hyaluronic acid within each capsule.

Exfoliation is also at the top of Vargas’s list when it comes to encouraging a glow back into the skin. “It usually acts as a mini facial and brings back glow immediately,” she says. She recommends a fruit enzyme-filled mask or treatment, with one or two other alpha hydroxy acids (actives that are excellent for keeping skin healthy and luminous), like lactic, kojic, mandelic or glycolic, to gently nibble away at the pore-clogging dead cells that can sit upon skin, making it look far less happy than it should.
Try Sand & Sky Emu Apple Enzyme Power PolishHerbivore’s Prism 20% AHA + 5% BHA Exfoliating Glow Facial,or Joanna Vargas Exfoliating Mask. Note that she recommends performing a treatment like this twice a week, rather than every day.

For hydration, Vargas is a fan of hyaluronic acid, the wonder molecule that can hold up to a thousand times its own weight in water, meaning it hydrates and plumps the skin as no other active can. Niod’s Multi-Molecular Hyaluronic Complex is a great option, since it contains 15 different forms of hyaluronic (which means it’s more likely to conquer the skin barrier), or Dr Barbara Sturm’s Hyaluronic Acid is also highly concentrated, with long and short chain hyaluronic molecules for better penetration.

Of course, there are other active ingredients that can prove beneficial in any good beauty routine, but as Vargas points out, these are the key power players that form the basis of excellent skincare. Listening to your skin and what it’s telling you, however, is also key – what works for one face won’t necessarily work for another. “Unhealthy skin can appear red, inflamed or irritated and, when pinched, may not bounce back but will tent up in a wrinkly shape. Or you could simply be struggling with breakouts,” says Vargas. If that’s the case, combat irritation with soothing, anti-inflammatory ingredients like niacinamide, aloe vera, green tea or cica, to name four, then reconsider the product you’ve used and whether you might have overdone it. 

After that? Your fifth and perhaps most important active, SPF (which is actually a cocktail of different actives). Apply, and you’re ready to take on the world. 

VOGUE article

Skincare Techniques I Wish I Learned Sooner

  1. Don’t over cleanse – depending on your skin type and needs, one cleanse in the morning and one before bed (followed by moisturizer and serums, respectively) is enough. When you use more than one cleanser, they can strip the skin of moisture and have an opposite effect.
  2. Retinol, Vitamin C, etc in cleansers are just a marketing ploy – these ingredients should be in the leave-on treatments (such as moisturizers and serums), because you won’t get any benefits from it if the cleanser is on your skin for ten seconds.
  3. Don’t overcomplicate your skincare routine – be especially careful with AHAs and BHAs in exfoliants and toners, there IS such a thing as too much when it comes to skincare routines, sometimes the simpler and the less products – the better and more effective.
  4. Oils don’t moisturize – they soften up the top layer of the skin, but they can’t pull the moisture into the skin (you need a humectant to do that), so the oil should never count as your moisturizer. It’s a nice last step in a skincare routine to lock everything in and make the skin nice and soft, though.
  5. Use humectants on damp skin – they’re pulling the moisture into your skin, for example hyaluronic acid: it looks for moisture to pull into the malleable skin, so if the skin or the environment are dry, it’s going to reach into the lower layers of the skin to pull the moisture out of there and dehydrate your skin. When the skin is damp, apply the humectant, followed by moisturizer and a serum for best results.

Some Of the Best Skincare Advice

There’s a lot of misinformation out there regarding skincare “tips & tricks” and product recommendations. I really enjoy James Welsh’s YouTube channel, as he’s a skincare expert who can be trusted to go to for advice.

In his videos, he explains why certain skincare tips work or don’t, what skin type should incorporate what techniques, and more.

Some of the best tips from his videos that I continually practice:

  • Never use lemons or limes in your DIY skincare – they really dry out the skin!
  • Don’t place your masks or other topical treatments on your eyes – the skin on the eyes is very slim and sensitive, the chances of damaging the eyes are very high.
  • Always use eye protecting goggles when using light therapy treatments.
  • Apply actives after the moisturizer – a moisturizer creates a buffer before the toner, retinol, etc.
  • 3-Finger Sunscreen Method – apply a strip of sunscreen on the longest three fingers and apply to the face and neck, blend in with a sponge or a puff for the product to properly sink into the skin.
  • You can use the same cleanser to double cleanse – these days most cleansers contain ingredients to properly deal with makeup residue, environmental pollutants, and more.
  • Wash your hair before you wash your face and body – ingredients in shampoos and conditioners tend to clog pores if left not washed off, which can lead to breakouts and acne.
  • A simple 3-step morning and evening skincare routine that works best with your skin is all you need! Our skin changes and our routines should change accordingly. Having a basic routine to rely on is especially important when trying out new products to figure out what is causing an issue or bringing a benefit not seen before.
  • Consistency is key. At least do the basics and bare minimum even if your entire routine consists of 6 or more products.
  • Skincare is a really good anti-stress procedure – take the time to enjoy that face mask after a long day, make it interesting and exciting as a portion of “me time”.

Some of the myths he debunked in his videos:

  • To gain the benefits of certain products (fruits, ingredients) when using as a face mask – you should apply a mask that has been specifically formulated with a proper concentration of your desired ingredient. Simply placing that ingredient in a DIY mixture of some kind, or directly onto your face, will not give you the desired result.
  • There really is a difference between SPF 30 and 50. SPF 50 in chemical formulation is closer to SPF 60, therefore, there’s almost two times more protection using SPF 50 than 30.
  • Retinol does not thin out your skin. Skin cells undergo a natural renewal process, at some points being thinner than usual, however, it does become healthy again. Retinol sticks to proteins in the skin to deliver its many great qualities.
  • Vaseline (petroleum jelly) is not bad for you. It comes from crude oil (algae) and is only problematic without proper refinery, like in the 80s and 90s. Now, however, these mineral molecules are highly refined and stripped of carcinogenic particles.

The videos referenced are:

“Beauty Guru Skincare Mistakes!”
“The Biggest Skincare Myths/Misinformation Busted By Science!”
“Tips and Tricks To Improve And Transform Your Skin”
“Skincare Habits I Started In My 20s That Paid Off In My 30s!”

What are some of your skincare tips that you absolutely rely on? Let me know in the comments below!