Retin A Cream Has Worked Actual Magic On My Acne-Prone Skin

If there's one beauty product that has changed my skin in such a radical way that I'd go so far as to call it a veritable miracle it's Retin A cream. In just four weeks it's cleared the painful cystic pimples that dotted my cheeks and jawline to no avail, and has also visibly reduced the appearance of old acne scars. New breakouts are few and far between and my complexion overall seems to be brighter, happier, and significantly healthier. Have I finally found the acne treatment I've been searching for since I was 17?

One month ago pretty much to the day I wrote an essay about how long term travel had affected my skin negatively and caused persistent cystic acne (I was in the midst of an especially painful breakout at the time). It detailed my 9-year struggle with my skin and all of the products—Epiduo, salicylic acid, etc.—that I've tried that had little or short-lived effects. But ultimately, the essay was about me coming to a place where I accepted my acne and didn't let it dictate or hamper my everyday life as it once had. (Anyone who's ever skipped a date or refrained from swimming in the ocean with their friends because of a breakout knows what I mean.) Below is a photo I took while writing the piece.

For me, achieving a state of complacency was paramount in terms of my relationship with my skin. Did I love my acne? No, but it wasn't something I was going to spend one more minute stressing over. I was in Mexico City during all of this and decided to give my mom a call one afternoon. Halfway into our conversation she asked me if I'd grab some Retin-A, which they sell over the counter at pharmacies there, and ship it to her. Evidently, it's the only product that's ever helped her with her acne (my mom similarly struggled with her skin in her 20s) and she continues to use it for its anti-wrinkle properties. To clarify, Retinol and Retin-A are different products. Retinol is natural derivative of vitamin A, whereas Retin-A is created synthetically by ingredient developers in labs. This main difference is why Retin-A is not available over the counter in the United States. As theThe Dermatology Review explains, both products work "by speeding up cell turnover, which means that they both encourage dead and dying skin cells to slough away from the surface more quickly, causing new growth underneath to be revealed at a faster rate." Performance-wise, Retin-A has been proven to work at a faster speed and more effectively.

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I picked up four tubes of the stuff for her with a tretinoin percentage of 0.05 (the other options were .01, .04, 0.25, and .1) and decided on a whim that night that I'd keep one for myself. If it worked for my mom it would work for me, right? I did a bit of research and discovered that Retin-A should be used in small amounts, that you should wait 20 minutes or more after a shower to apply it, and that it always needs to be used in tandem with a daily SPF and night cream. It's powerful stuff so use it with the utmost care. This article is a great place to read more about how to best integrate it into your personal skincare routine.

I knew that my acne would likely get worse before it would get better while using Retin-A and that did happen, just not to the degree or length I thought it would. After two more weeks of bad breakouts my skin magically started to clear up. Bit by bit my red spots were diminishing, taking with them existing acne scars. I definitely overdid it a couple times and woke up to super flaky skin but once I understood what my skin could take and got into the groove of things it was smooth sailing. This is a picture of me now with no makeup on—the difference is insane!

Retin-A has literally been the magic ingredient my skin has been missing all along and while I know it's not available in the United States without a prescription there are a ton of over-the-counter Retinoil products that just might be your magic elixir too. Three of the buzziest ones are below—why not give one a try?

The Liquid

This product is brand spanking new to the market and it's already getting awesome reviews. Pixi is known for their killer and affordable offerings (I use their Glow Tonic toner on the daily) so it's no surprise this one has become a fast favorite. It features a time-release Retinol and powerful antioxidants and botanicals, meaning your skin will be left super glowy and rejuvenated.

The Cream

If you've got oily skin, this option is for you. Meant to be applied at night, it contains calcium, retinol, peptides, and vitamin E, and will smooth the appearance of fine lines and scars while simultaneously hydrating skin.

The Serum

This light, weightless serum contains a non-irritating Retinol and botanicals that support the correction of scarring, uneven skin tone and signs of aging.`