Prescription Retin-A is [quite literally] the crème de la crème of anti-aging cream.
Over-the-counter retinol is great . . . . heavy-duty moisturizers are great . . . . but the best product for achieving acne-free skin, creating an even complexion, and not only preventing but reducing wrinkles is a prescription to Retin-A, or the generic brand, Tretinoin.
How Does Retin-A Work on Wrinkles?
Well, let's talk about lotions and potions for a second. There are quite a lot of sexy, alluring, and expensive face creams on the market that boast anti-aging magic. That's cool and all, but retinol (Vitamin A) is the only ingredient that can actually reverse the signs of aging.
In other words, if your night cream doesn't contain retinol, it's basically just a fancy moisturizer. This isn't necessarily a bad thing—dry skin will crack and wrinkle, so grease up—but it won't actually reverse fine lines and other signs of aging.
So if you're not gonna go with a retinol (it's intense, I get it), you can save yourself some major bucks by just moisturizing with a bottle of affordable jojoba oil or something.
Now, if you do want to dip your toes into the world of Retin-A, an over-the-counter option might be a good place to start to get your skin used to it. If your skin does okay with a mild retinol and you feel like you're ready to play with the big girls, call up a dermatologist.
A prescription will make you feel like you hacked the system because with a co-pay, it's not only the strongest but the cheapest retinol product on the market.
And let me reiterate: it's a strong medication. Some of the lowest concentrations of prescription Retin-A are 20 times as strong as what you can legally buy over-the-counter.
How to Get a Prescription for Retin-A
Most dermatologists don't have a problem prescribing Retin-A to people to treat either acne—it's considered to be a topical version of Accutane—or fine lines. Derm doctors know it's the bee's knees and will recommend it to almost anyone. However, in order for your insurance to cover it, it needs to be prescribed to treat a medical condition (acne), not a cosmetic one (wrinkles). If your insurance doesn't cover the medication, you can still go pick it up from your pharmacy, but it's gonna be like $280, instead of whatever your co-pay is. So you see, the key is to get Retin-A prescribed to treat acne.
(My co-pay used to be $10 for Retin-A, but now it's $30, which I'm totally still down to pay.)
What if you want to get a Retin-A prescription but don't currently have acne?
Well, when I met with my dermatologist for the first time, I didn't really have any either. My birth control pill was pretty much taking care of it at that point. I told him that I had been using someone else's Retin-A prescription, that it cleared up my acne, and that I was afraid I'd break out without my own supply. He then wrote me a Tretinoin prescription for the treatment of acne. It took my insurance a few days to approve the medication, and then I was the proud owner of a fresh tube of anti-aging goop. It was as simple as that.
Truthfully, I had been freaking out about aging prior to this appointment. My mom (bless her heart) turned to me during a family dinner one night and said, "You're starting to get some lines around your eyes."
Now, wait just a minute. I need to tell you that this is completely out of character for my mother. She is a woman who has never told her daughters how to look, she's never called herself ugly, she's never really cared about weight, aging, or vanity at all. I'm not sure why this comment slipped out of her mouth—maybe it was the wine—but she was actually right. I was starting to get little crinkles around my eyes. Being way more vain than my mother taught me to be, I panicked and made an appointment to see a dermatologist as soon as possible.
This was about a year and a half ago. My skin is in a really good place now, but I need to tell you about the ugly phase of Retin-A.
Here's How the Retin-A Ugly Phase Goes:
You use it once or twice and whatever pimples you currently have dry up. Your skin gets all smooth and taught. You are very pleased with yourself.
You get greedy and are all like, "I'm gonna use this twice a day!" (No, don't!) You apply more.
After a few days or maybe a week, you face is bright red, peeling, stinging, and breaking out. What the Hell?!
You cry uncle, but you don't quit. At this point, you've read 63 articles and watched 105 YouTube videos about the proper use of the medication. You decide to tone down your routine and only apply it every other evening, or maybe even once every three days to start.
You learn that SPF is your friend and that the sun will find you and make your skin all red and sensitive, even in the winter.
You stay strong.
You stop wearing makeup for a little while because everything is just all dry and cakey.
You find that gentle oils are exactly what your skin needs.
You stick with the routine for one month, two months, six months, and then suddenly you're a year in.
You've emerged from the ugly [Retin-A] duckling phase and are now a beautiful swan. You only get about 2 pimples a month now, surrounding your menstrual cycle, and your skin is smooth, even-toned, and less crepey.
This is the goal, guys. This is where you want to be.
A Little More About My Retin-A Prescription:
- I have the generic brand, Tretinoin
- I have the cream, not the gel
- My Tretinoin has .025% of the active ingredient (it ranges from .005% to .200, I think)
- I apply the medication every other day—always at night!)
- I apply Retin-A to my face, neck, décolletage, and hands—they say a woman's hands show her age!
Prescription Retin-A Dos & Don'ts:
- Do use Retin-A only at night
- Do use SPF on your face and neck every single day (even if you live in the overcast Pacific Northwest like me)
- Don't overdo it when you first start using Retin-A
- Do change out your washcloths often because your whole face is gonna peel off and you'll wanna keep that shit fresh
- Don't put Retin-A directly under your eyes, on the corners of your mouth, or on the creases of your nose—trust me, it will crack and bleed
- Don't use Retin-A if you're pregnant or breastfeeding
- Do use natural products with simple ingredients to wash and moisturize your skin (organic, if possible)
In my experience, every other day is plenty even for ongoing use of Retin-A. Last winter, I briefly switched to every day since I wasn't getting as much sun, but am back on the every-other-day train now.
In my opinion, these are the best products to use with Retin-A:
Neem & Turmeric Face Wash for washing your face in the morning and in the shower
Supergoop! SPF 50 Oil for sun protection on your face and neck year-round
Activated Charcoal Sponge for sloughing off all the dead skin you're gonna have when you use Retin-A
Jojoba oil for a 'lil extra moisturization before bed
Ritual vitamins for an internal boost of Vitamin A and Omega 3 fatty acids
I'm super serious about skincare, prevention, and sun protection now, but I wasn't always this way. I use to be utterly addicted to tanning beds and am trying to reverse some of that damage now. My husband uses my Retin-A as well. His & hers, you feel me?
Have you tried prescription Retin-A, Tretinoin, or any over-the-counter retinol that you love? Are you thinking of trying one and have more questions? Comment below!
And remember, there's nothing wrong with aging. It's okay to look like a 30-year-old woman if you are a 30-year-old woman. But also, there's nothing wrong with trying to achieve your best complexion with a good skincare routine either. Be yourself, kids.