Dry skin and winter go hand in hand – so getting along with our best anti-ageing ally can be harder than usual. Lizard skin doesn’t look so hot. The retinoid family includes over-the-counter products like retinol and retinaldehyde (find these in Medik8, La Roche Posay Retriderm and Avene Ystheal lines); and it also includes prescription products like Differin, Retin-A and Isotrex. These are a godsend for acne-prone and sun-damaged skin, but they can be a challenge to use for the uninitiated and winter makes it even harder to build them into your routine – certainly, retinoid queries are the commonest reason for patients emailing me at the moment. Red eyelids, rashy necks and dry cracked lips are all signs that you may need to modify your routine. Here are some insider tricks to get you through ‘til spring.
1) Switch up your routine. Make sure you’ve banished all foaming cleansers and that you’re using a richer moisturiser formulation at night. You may also want to ditch your exfoliator – or at the very least, cut back.
2) Apply retinoids to completely dry skin. Try cleansing, then moisturising generously straight away, to lock in water to your skin. Occlusive moisturisers work best like this. Wait 15 minutes, so skin is completely dry. Then apply a pea-sized amount of your chosen retinoid.
3) Reduce the retinoid strength. Little and often is better than blitzing your skin once every 5 days, because of common side effects like redness and burning. So dilute it with moisturizer to buffer its effect. This will reduce penetration, making it easier to tolerate.
4) Start slow. Never attempt to use any retinoid daily from the outset. This is a rookie error. Begin with applying every 3rd day and escalate to alternate day application after 2 weeks. Then try daily use or 2 days on/1 day off after another fortnight. Remember the changes you are trying to effect in your skin occur over the course of months, not weeks. Slow and steady wins the race.
5) Try short-contact therapy. This approach has worked for many of my thin-skinned sensitive patients who struggle with retinoids. Think of it like a mask – so apply to clean skin for 5 minutes initially and then rinse it off off; build up to leaving on for up to 30 minutes over time.
6) Protect vulnerable areas. Redness around the eyes and cracked lips are common occurrences if you’re applying your retinoid with too little precision. I suggest using moisturiser as a barrier around the eyes and lip balm on the lips before retinoid application, if these issues are occurring.
7) Don’t skip on sunscreen. Remember, that sunscreen is the yin to the retinoid’s yang. Even in winter. By all means choose a more moisturing formulation, but don’t skip it. UVA rays age and are the only UV rays of significance in cold climes in winter (unless skiing/at altitude) so use proper sunscreen with at least 5% zinc oxide for a complete anti-ageing effect.