About Face

Better skin, at what cost?

Retinoids, which are derived from vitamin A, have been used since the 1970s. Their active ingredient, retinoic acid, “is the only prescription topical FDA-approved to treat wrinkles,” says Miami-based dermatologist Leslie Baumann, MD. Retinoids “turn on the genes that do good things, like produce collagen, hyaluronic acid, and elastin, while turning off the genes that do bad things, like break down collagen and cause hyperpigmentation.” They also, says New York City-based dermatologist Patricia Wexler MD, “increase cell turnover and reduce free radical production.” (Retinoid’s less-irritating sister, retinol, commonly found in non-prescription antiagers, works the same way, but since it needs to be converted to retinoic acid by the skin’s enzymes, it takes longer to get results.)

Because my skin is dry, my dermatologist, Manhattan-based Jennifer MacGregor, MD, recommends I start by applying my prescription every third day. Impatient, I use it every other day instead—so I’m not exactly surprised when, a week later, my face begins to melt. On Wexler’s advice, I quit scrubs and peels and swap out my night cream for Shiffa Healing Balm, an occlusive salve that pacifies inflamed skin with arnica extract. Still, it takes nearly two months for the flakes to stop falling.

Source: Elle. September, 2016.