How to repair your skin barrier after using ACTIVES
by Michael Wong·
How to repair your skin barrier after using ACTIVES
By Geelda Raoofi
Have you compromised your skin barrier due to using actives (e.g. Retinol, AHAs, BHAs)? I am here to give you some tips on how to nurse your skin back to its healthy state.
Whether you have used retinol before or are completely new to it, I am going to give you the 411 on what it is and why it's one of the most popular and effective ingredients used topically for your skin. What exactly is retinol? It is a derivative of vitamin A, which plays a key role in helping cells regenerate. In 1943, the first study of using retinoic acid to treat acne was published.
There are six main types of retinoids:
Retinyl palmitate. This is the least-potent over-the-counter retinoid. You may want to consider this option if you have sensitive or excessively dry skin and minimal wrinkling.
Retinaldehyde. This is an over-the-counter retinoid that’s stronger than retinol. If you have sensitive or delicate skin, but still want to see more effects without a prescription, this may be a good option for you.
Retinol. This is the standard ingredient found in over-the-counter retinoid products.
Tretinoin. This is a potent retinoid available by prescription only. You may want to consider this option if you’ve tried retinol and are seeking stronger pro-aging support.
Tazarotene. This is the most powerful retinoid, available by prescription only. If your skin tolerates retinoid products well and you’re looking for enhanced results, you may want to consider this option.
Adapalene. This retinoid is now available over the counter. If you’re looking for an effective, affordable treatment without a prescription, you may want to give this option a try. It’s also the first FDA-approved over-the-counter retinoid for acne.
Retinol is the most common retinoid and probably the one you hear the most about. For someone who is new to using retinoids, it's really important to start with a smaller percentage of it and slowly build up your tolerance. A lot of us might think that our skin can handle a higher percentage of retinol to start with. This is not a good idea because the chances of irritation and bad side effects are a lot higher, and it may turn people off from retinol thinking that it's not suitable for them due to it being too aggressive. I think retinol can be suitable for everyone to use regardless of their skin type and sensitivity. You just need to use it less frequently and a lower percentage if your skin is on the more sensitive side. You need to be patient and allow your skin to adapt to this ingredient before going for something stronger. Another thing that could happen to your skin is a retinol burn. The telltale signs of retinol burn include skin that is red, irritated, flaky, inflamed, sore to the touch, and/or shedding. Generally, it is a normal and expected to have some of these side effects. It's really important to monitor your skin during this time and make sure you are giving your skin what it needs in order to adapt as well as heal.
Other "actives" to know about that may cause irritation are AHAs, BHAs, Hydroquinone, and L-ascorbic acid (the only form of Vitamin C that is safe for use in skincare products). Let get a bit more into each of these ingredients..
AHAs - Short of Alpha Hydroxy Acid. This is water-soluble. There's many types of AHAs for the skin. Glycolic acid: Derived from sugarcane. This one has the smallest molecular structure, making it the most effective exfoliant. Lactic acid: derived from dairy. Mandelic acid: derived from bitter almonds. Citric acid: derived from citrus fruits. Malic acid: derived from fruits such as apples and cherries. Tartaric acid: Derived from grapes. AHAs are often marked safe for all skin types. Temporary side effects could include burning, itching, blisters, and dermatitis (eczema). If you have extremely sensitive/dry skin, it's best to gradually work up to daily use to avoid irritation.
BHAs - Short for Beta Hydroxy Acid. This is oil-soluble. Salicylic acid is derived from acetylsalicylic acid, or aspirin. This ingredient is super popular and you will see it in many products for acne. Unlike AHAs, BHAs can get deeper into the pores to remove dead skin cells and excess sebum. Symptoms of irritation include redness, burning, itching, pain, and possibly scarring. To prevent side effects, make sure you are not over-exfoliating your skin or using too much of the product.
Hydroquinone - This ingredient is used for skin lightening. People may use it if they have a hyperpigmentation skin condition, such as melasma, freckles, or lentigines. Mild burning, stinging, redness, and dryness may occur as a side effect. You need a prescription from your doctor for a higher strengh hydroquinone (4, 6, 8, or 10 percent) after a consultation. They usually recommend the patient to take breaks from it (e.g. two weeks of use followed by two weeks of a break), but the amount of time depends on the patient. It is used for up to five months and not meant to be used long-term. After five months, melanocytes should be allowed to stabilize during a two to three month of a break from hydroquinone. You are able to pair this with retinol. Retinol should be applied first, followed by hydroquinone in your nighttime regimen. As both are potent ingredients, you should wait 30 minutes so you give your skin's pH the time to rebalance before following with hydroquinone gel or cream.
L-ascorbic acid can stimulate collagen production, possibly leading to a reduction in fine lines, wrinkles, and scars. People use these types of products as skin brightening agents and/or to protect against free radicals. First-time use might cause stinging or redness.
Now that we have gone over various types of actives, lets get into what to do to help with skin hydration and healing..
- The best thing to do is to simplify your skincare routine. Make sure you are using a gentle cleanser. Some cleansers have actives added to them. If the pH level is too high or low then it could compromise your skin. Researchers recommend cleansing with a product that has a pH between 4.0 and 5.0.
Try a plant oil to replenish your skin barrier (e.g. jojoba oil, almond oil, argan oil, rosehip oil, etc.) I remember using an oil that contained squalane, rosehip seed oil, black cumin seed oil, and pomegranate seed oil after getting microneedling. I was shocked at how much it sped up the healing process and made me feel little to no tightness and discomfort compared to the time I did not use it. These ingredients are imperative to restoring the skin barrier.
- Try to avoid products filled with fragrance, essential oils, and sulfates
- Avoid washing your face with hot water because this can strip away the natural lipids in the skin. Try to do lukewarm or even cool water.
- Use a moisturizer that contains ceramides or a humectant like hyaluronic acid.
- Make sure you are protecting your skin. Sunscreen is a must. If the skin is irritated, a physical sunscreen is recommended over a chemical to prevent the skin from reacting. Look for sunscreens that contain zinc oxide or titanium dioxide, these are the best options for compromised skin.
- Stay hydrated. A damaged epidermis requires moisture, so it is critical to drink plenty of water to restore and maintain a healthy skin barrier.
What you shouldn't do during this time is to use too many products at the same time. Remember to keep it simple and let your skin heal itself naturally with the help of the "basics". Get adequate sleep and good nutrition because this also plays a part in a speedy skin recovery. How long it takes to improve your skin barrier is dependent on your skin type and how damaged your skin barrier is. It can take anywhere from 2 weeks to a month or more depending on the condition.