TThe first week he started tretinoin, Jordyn Alexander-Johnson ended up with a chemical burn. âI wasn’t using any moisturizers,â he says. Big mistake. Using tretinoin – a form of vitamin A known to be effective in treating acne and reducing signs of aging – dries up and requires you to almost bathe in moisturizer afterwards. And then roll in sunscreen.
After a two-week break, the 30-year-old olre A Dallas resident tried it again, this time with the elaborate skincare routine that tretinoin demands. He had previously completed two sets of Accutane after years of dealing with skin issues in high school and wanted to try topical treatment to keep his skin clear.
âIt’s really hot and humid in here, so using all of these products can make you feel like you’re sweating a lot,â he laughs, adding that less time in front of people during the pandemic has helped. make it manageable. “I’m working from home right now, which is probably why I’m doing so well on tretinoin.”
After cities around the world were locked down in 2020, people like Alexander-Johnson took advantage of the extended time spent indoors to try more potent skin care products and treatments they were previously wary of due to the possibility of a bad reaction. The largest among these is the increase in the number of people using tretinoin for the first time. Tretinoin is a potent retinoid with potential side effects that may rival its effectiveness. It is sold under different brands around the world as a cream, gel or ointment. In some countries like the United States, the purchase of tretinoin products requires a prescription while in others, such as India or Vietnam, it is available over the counter.
Because tretinoin stimulates cell turnover, essentially replacing older skin with newer skin, at a rate that few other ingredients can match, the use of tretinoin more often than not results in a dreaded “purge” – a a sort of adjustment period lasting from a few weeks to a few months. users’ skin gets worse before it gets better.
The intensity of the purge is different for everyone. A lucky few can get away with just a few dry patches. Others treat prolonged periods of flaking, peeling, inflammation, major rashes, and other types of skin irritation. For people already struggling with skin problems, a marked disadvantage can be demoralizing, causing many people to give up tretinoin – which requires constant, long-term use to get results – just weeks later. As Adelaide Yamoah, a newbie user from Canada, says: “Tretinoin is an emotional roller coaster.”
But spending months indoors during shutdowns, side effects may be more manageable.
Online skincare communities, where tretinoin is already a very popular topic, have seen a flow of questions from new tretinoin users since early 2020. A user on Reddit’s Tretinoin forum at that time said that ‘they’ were waiting for the lock order just so I could start tret [and] hope the worst of the purge begins while we are in lockdown. “
Another reason for the popularity of the tretinoin pandemic – besides the time available at home to try it – may be the time people spend on social media as an outlet.
The use of tretinoin most often results in a dreaded “bleed” – a sort of adjustment period that lasts from a few weeks to a few months where users’ skin gets worse before improving.
âThere’s a fad around skin care,â says Cait Recall, 33, a Chicago resident and first-time tretinoin user. “It’s a real obsession, and I’m a little ashamed to have bought it.” The trend of makeup-free selfies, she says, has further increased the pressure to have flawless, blemish-free skin all the time.
Starting tretinoin “was a mess,” says Mumbai resident Sanika Tipre of her early days on tretinoin. She says it was social media that prompted her to start tretinoin when she was only 25 years old with no major skin issues. âThere were a lot of articles, IG posts and videos made by people, even professionals like dermatologists and beauticians, who recommended tretinoin as the best in the market for anti-aging,â she says. . âAs I browsed Reddit, I always saw posts from people with perfect skin in the golden hour, and even though I told myself that I shouldn’t let social media dictate my decisions … I wanted to try the craze. “
She imagined emerging from the chrysalis of the lock like “a butterfly, with smooth and glowing skin.” She used Medpharma’s A-Ret 0.05% cream, purchased over the counter on a previous trip to Dubai. âThe first two weeks were a lot of dry skin and flaking,â she says. “No matter how much I hydrate, I will have flaky skin every night.”
Almost four months later, however, his skin had not stopped purging. Tipre finally approached a dermatologist.
âAfter seeing her, she told me that the frequency of my use was too high and that I had to stop tretinoin immediately,â she says. She is now trying a milder retinoid with fewer side effects, and her skin is much better. âI definitely learned my lessons,â Tipre says.
“[Tretinoin] can be very drying and itchy if your skin is not used to it, so you need to be careful not to apply too much, not to apply too frequently, and to make sure to use a very mild cleanser and moisturizer to support your skin as it adapts, âsays Michelle Wong, PhD, a chemist who runs the popular skin care platform Lab Muffin, in an email interview. “It’s easy to get too enthusiastic and apply too much at first.”
Mumbai-based dermatologist Dr Rashmi Shetty, MBBS, agrees. “For example, [while using tretinoin], do not use a facial cleanser that contains benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid, âshe advises. Provided it is used under the direction of a doctor, tretinoin is an established and safe treatment modality, she says.
After a two-week hiatus to let his burnt skin heal and plenty of careful note-taking on the forums, Alexander-Johnson has put together a proper skincare routine. Nine months later, with her skin having seen massive improvement, her self-confidence also exploded. âIt was when I started taking selfies that I noticed,â he says. “I’m not a selfie person.”
It’s a small victory in a dark time, but for Alexander-Johnson it’s still meaningful.