Tretinoin Review

Tretinoin (retinoic acid) also known as Retin-A (prescription only) is a form of vitamin A in cream or gel form used for the treatment of acne, surface wrinkles, scarring and can help hyperpigmentation by increasing cell turnover on the skin and stimulating collagen production. Retinoic acid is more aggressive than retinol. It comes in a couple different strengths; I’ve been using the 0.05% cream. I do not like the gel formula; it does not seem to work as well.

Directions: This is a product the skin needs to get used to. It can be used once a week for a few weeks, then twice a week and so on, working up to once a day. It can be applied mixed with a moisturizer as the skin gets acclimated. Use at night. Cleanse the skin and let thoroughly dry (about 20 minutes). Apply a pea-sized amount and layer over the skin. Avoid eyes and lips. This makes skin photosensitive and sunscreen should be used during the day.

Side effects can include redness, irritation, dryness and peeling. To prepare the skin for using Retin-A, one can consider using a retinol first; I’ve used this from The Ordinary.

I was first introduced to Retin-A a few years ago when I used the Obagi Nu-Derm system and have used it on and off since then. I have oily skin that is prone to breakouts. I have hyperpigmentation and old acne scarring. For this review, I used in the evening every second day for a couple weeks, went up to once a day for the next 10 months and about every third day for the last month, for a total of 11 months. Depending on how often I use it, the tube lasts about 6 months; I usually use for 6 months, take a 3- to 6-month break and purchase again. I do not use it with a moisturizer, but after cleansing the skin I use a hydrating toner mixed with The Ordinary Marine Hyaluronics, then let the skin dry completely before applying the Retin-A. I do not follow with anything else. If I want to use an AHA, BHA or vitamin C, I use these in the morning. I try to avoid applying Retin-A in the crease beside the nostril; the skin peels and stings.

Retin-A has a medicinal scent, and is absorbed immediately and immediately makes the skin feel dry to the touch, like all the oil has left the skin. This evens out after a while. In the morning, my forehead seems much more oily than usual.

After two applications the skin started flaking, and continued (while diminishing) for 2 to 3 weeks. Once in a while, I’d get a bit of peeling around areas of movement on the face; the mouth and eyebrows. I use the gentle Daily Exfolipowder from Amarte followed by Laneige’s Cream Skin to help with the flaking.

In the before photo, there are large pores in the middle of my forehead that had diminished by 3 months. The complexion looks more even. Fine lines are less noticeable by 11 months.

In the before photo, my skin looks rough and congested with large pores and hyperpigmentation from sun damage. There is noticeable improvement in the texture and brightness of the skin. Pores look smaller. There is some fading of the dark spots. My skin feels very smooth.

I got a cluster of breakouts by the jaw around 3 months. Had I not been using Retin-A at the time, those breakouts would have caused postinflammatory hyperpigmentation that takes a very long time to fade on its own. In general, while using Retin-A, I got a minimal breakout here and there and those healed quite fast. The patch of pigmentation and congestion on/under my cheekbone has faded.

In the before photo here, I had some fine lines around the orbital bone (very minimal crow’s feet) which are gone.

I was hoping for more fade of the freckles caused by sun damage after the 11 months, but some spots have faded and lighter spots have disappeared. For quick reduction in spots, I like getting photofacials.

The level of irritation and skin reactivity will be different for everyone when using Retin-A. When I first used it a few years ago, any product I would put on my face (including water) would sting and cause redness for a few seconds. Using it now, as my skin is used to retinols and acids, I get peeling, but no redness and no stinging. My sister tried Retin-A (she has a very different skin type to me) and got redness, pain and a burning sensation lasting hours after application.

Retin-A is one my must-have products. Thank you for reading.

NIOD Re:Pigment Review

Re:Pigment (RP) is a skin brightening serum from Deciem’s NIOD that targets hyperpigmentation, uneven pigmentation and overall pigmentation issues.  This product claims to visibly counteract uneven pigmentation, such as spots, and to brighten the skin.

niod rp

Ingredients: Lentinus edodes mycelium extract, Aqua (Water), Glycerin, Propanediol, Potassium Azeloyl Diglycinate, Butylene Glycol, Acetyl glycyl beta-alanine, Myristoyl Nonapeptide-3, Tetrapeptide-30, Oligopeptide-68, Diglucosyl Gallic Acid, Evodia Rutaecarpa Fruit Extract, Algae Extract, Glycine Soja (Soybean) Oil, Hydrogenated Lecithin, Sodium Oleate, Disodium EDTA, Trisodium Ethylenediamine Disuccinate, Pentylene Glycol, Dimethyl Isosorbide, Ethoxydiglycol, Polysorbate 20, Potassium Sorbate, Sodium Benzoate, 1,2-Hexanediol, Phenoxyethanol, Caprylyl glycol.

RP uses a number of active brightening technologies:  Diglucosyl gallic acid NIOD says is  sixty times more potent than kojic acid in visibly brightening skin tone, acetyl glycyl beta alanine is a  brightening peptide solution that claims to visibly enhance the skin’s radiance, a high concentration of white shiitake ferment claims to target the appearance of dark spots within less than a week of use, potassium azeloyl diglycinate (azeloyl glycine) is used for brightening and anti-redness, encapsulated oligopeptide-68 claims to reduce the appearance of pigmentation from sun damage, solubilized tetrapeptide-30 claims to even the skin’s complexion and red evodia fruit derivative claims to encourage skin radiance and evenness.

To target previous hyperpigmentation from sun damage and breakouts, I have also had IPL treatments (photofacial) and have used the Obagi Nu-Derm system, both with great success. I wanted to try a serum that was less expensive than those above and did not contain kojic acid or hydroquinone.

Directions state to shake lightly and apply in the morning and evening. Use sun protection.

I have hyperpigmentation (freckles) from the sun mostly on my cheek bones, redness to my skin and am prone to postinflammatory hyperpigmentation (these are darkened spots on the skin left behind after a pimple has healed). Hyperpigmentation takes a long time to treat, and I didn’t expect this product to work in just a few months (despite the claim that white shiitake ferment targets spots in less than a week), so took a full year to review.

I applied morning and night, one to two drops on each of my cheeks (the apples of the cheeks to the under eye socket and to the jaw line) as this is where I get hyperpigmentation from the sun and breakouts. There is not really a smell to the product. I don’t find it be oily on the skin, but it doesn’t seem to penetrate fully and on touching my skin, I can feel the product hours after application.


Above, on the right side of my face, I got a breakout at 3 months, which turned into a postinflammatory hyperpigmented spot. These spots take months to fade on their own. I can still see it faintly at 12 months, but I’m not sure it faded faster with the RP than it would have on its own. My complexion is more even and some freckling has a bit of fading by 12 months. I think for redness, NIOD’s Modulating Glucosides or SDSM is better (perhaps not for long term, however). Some of the scarring towards my chin and jawline looks better, I think due to more evenness of the skin. For evenness and exfoliation, I feel that vitamin C or an AHA or retinol serum does a better job for less cost and with faster results than RP.


On the left side of my face, the freckling looks a bit faded and there is more evenness to the skin.

I expected more from this product after 12 months of twice-daily use.  While RP claims to fight redness, even the complexion, fade spots and make the skin brighter and more radiant, there was only a slight fading of the hyperpigmentation and more evenness to the skin. As mentioned, vitamin C, AHA and retinols promote exfoliation, radiance and brightness as well as a more even complexion, while other anti-redness serums work better as well.

I will not repurchase this product.

Thank you for reading.

Obagi Nu-Derm Review – Before and After

The Obagi Nu-Derm system for normal/oily skin consists of eight products:

  • Foaming Gel
  • Toner
  • Clear
  • Exfoderm Forte
  • Blender
  • Retin-A (not included) (used with Blender – prescription required)
  • Hydrate
  • Sun Shield Matte Broad Spectrum SPF 50

After a consultation through Fresh Laser Skin Studio I went on the Obagi Nu-Derm system for normal to oily skin for about 4 months to help with fine lines on my forehead, hyperpigmentation (freckles) from sun damage and scarring and red spots from previous acne. I purchased the travel size which was enough for about 4 months. This system should be used under the direction of a specialist. While using this system I had followups with Fresh Laser about once a month to make sure things were working and the skin wasn’t being over-irritated and to ask any questions (of course, I was welcome to call and ask questions anytime).

  • Step 1 – Foaming Gel: A pink gel cleanser that lathers up on application to remove makeup, impurities and oil and to prepare skin for the next step. To be used morning and night, a pea-sized amount.
  • Step 2 – Toner: This removes remaining makeup and balances the pH of the skin. It has skin calming ingredients including aloe vera, witch hazel and sage. It includes fragrance and artificial color and is alcohol-free. To be used morning and night.
  • Step 3 – Clear: This is a prescription strength skin lightening product that contains 4% hydroquinone that is very effective in for skin discolorations and hyperpigmentaton. Hydroquinone should not be used for more than 4 or 5 months at a time. To be used morning and evening, a pea-sized amount.
  • Step 4 – Exfoderme Forte: This is an exfoliating lotion using glycolic acid and lactic acid, two alpha hydroxy acids that brighten dull skin and help remove wrinkles by removing dead skin cells and other debris. To be used in the morning, a pea-sized amount.
  • Step 5 – Blender and Retin-A: The Blender is formulated to be used with Retin-A. Taking a pea-sized amount of each, these are blended together and put on the skin at night, used to reduce hyperpigmentation and wrinkles and smooth the skin’s texture.
  • Step 6 – Hydrate: A moisturizer used morning and night. As the purpose of my Obagi Nu-Derm use was to exfoliate and peel and I didn’t want to inhibit that, I didn’t use this product. I was told that if the peeling skin from the other products was irritating or if I was going out and had skin “peelies” I didn’t visible, I was to use the Hydrate.
  • Step 7: Sun Shield Matte – To be used during the day as a sunscreen lotion. As I didn’t want extra moisture to inhibit the exfoliating and peeling, I didn’t use this, but opted for a powder sun protection from Colorescience.

This is a system that should be followed by a professional. These are strong, prescription strength products that promote exfoliation and peeling to reveal clearer new skin. Sun protection is a must with this system, as the AHAs and Retin-A make the skin more sensitive to the sun.

I was amazed by the results I got by using this system:

obagi system
Before and After Obagi Nu-Derm (courtesy of Fresh Laser Skin Studio)

You can see from the photos that the hyperpigmentation was reduced and the skin looks clearer and smoother. I don’t have a photo of my forehead, but I had many fine lines and after the 4 months, they were gone. I still have some deeper acne scars on the right side of my lower face that were reduced, but didn’t disappear. I still have a deeper fine line between the eyebrows that faded a bit, but didn’t disappear. The pores on and around my nose seemed smaller and less noticeable.

I think what really helped my skin from this line was the Clear, the Exfoderme and the Blender/Retin-A combination. I imagine one could find a different (better) cleanser and toner and get similar results.

While using this system I learned about my skin; oily skin needs help to exfoliate, I need ingredients in skincare to help do that (alpha hydroxy acids), Retin-A is proven to reduce wrinkles and acne and result in a smooth complexion. I also learned to listen to my skin; if it was being irritated or became red, I would reduce the Exfoderme or Retin-A to every three days or every other day, then work back up to once a day. I was previously using way too much product on my skin; I would use a dime-sized amount of a product when all I needed was a pea-sized amount, for example. My skin is oily and only needs a light moisturizer.

This system really worked to reduce fine lines, breakouts and the hyperpigmentation. My skin was clearer and smoother and looked better than it had in years. That said, it was pretty expensive and some of the ingredients are less than great. Some of the products contain silicones, parabens, color and fragrance. This is a very exfoliation-intensive program, but the products contain ingredients to lessen redness and and inflammation that might otherwise be caused by the products. As mentioned, this system works, just listen to your skin and use sunscreen.

After using this system I maintained my skin on the therapeutic line by Dr. Zein Obagi called ZO Medical.

*featured image from

Photofacial Review

IPL (intense pulsed light), also known as a Photofacial, Photo Rejuvenation,  or BBL (broad based light) is a light-based (non laser) technology through a handheld device used to improve brown spots (hyperpigmentation) from sun damage and age spots, overall redness, can improve redness from rosacea, overall skin tone and texture and can boost collagen, thus improving skin laxity and wrinkles. A consultation is recommended as IPL is not suitable for all skin types. There is minimal down time and the process takes about 30-40 minutes per session, with the number of sessions two to three weeks apart and determined by results one would like to achieve. The consultation determines the proper settings for the IPL.

The IPL device emits broad based light waves that are targeted at hemoglobin and melanin. Melanin is used as the target for the pigment in hyperpigmentation, sun damage and age spots. Hemoglobin is the large molecule in red blood cells. Hemoglobin is used as the target for redness of the skin, flushing and red lesions and vessels. The hemoglobin and melanin are targeted by the light waves. The light waves penetrate deeply through layers of the skin targeting melanin and hemoglobin without damaging cells. The brown pigment (melanin) stored in the cells are released and come to the surface of the skin where they flake off or are absorbed by the body and fade. For the redness, hemoglobin is heated and thus, red blood cells in vessels near the skin surface are heated. When heated, the vessels close down resolving the appearance of broken vessels, redness, flushing and lesions.

My skin is oily, tends to redness (not from rosacea), breakouts and blackheads and I have many freckles from sun damage on my upper cheeks and nose. I also have some dimpled scarring from acne on the lower right side of my cheek.  As a kid and young adult I spent a lot of time in the sun, used tanning beds in my early 20s and never used sunscreen.

About 2 years ago at about age 32-33, I had gone to Fresh Laser Skin Studio for the first time having never heard of IPL or Photofacial. I was actually going there for a microdermabrasion. I had never had any procedures done on my skin and had really just started getting into skin care. After having a consultation with a questionnaire, skin typing and photographs of my face, Coral, the owner and skin specialist at Fresh Laser, suggested an IPL. Before getting this done, I was given some information and read some reviews online. There were reviews that proved to have great results and some that were a little scary, with photos showing tiger stripe burns all over the face. I’m thinking to myself, after the obvious pain one would be in after the first burst or two of light, would you not tell the person doing the IPL to stop because it hurt so much and there is obviously something wrong? If you say something feels wrong, and they say that’s how it’s supposed to feel…you may want to leave and find someone else. There should not be a lingering heat.  It is certainly very important to do your research on the procedure itself and the specialist doing the Photofacial and find someone who is knowledgeable and who you can trust.

With the above in mind, I went back to Fresh Laser to have my first of three treatments on my face and neck. I got before pictures taken. Coral was very reassuring, explained the procedure and said if anything hurts too much or doesn’t feel right, to let her know. She started by cleansing my skin and putting cold gel on my face and goggles on my eyes. Time to start. I was nervous. At the first pulse of light, it was bright despite the goggles and the pulse felt like a warm rubber band snapping on the skin. It was definitely tolerable. I felt the snap more on my upper lip. The handheld device moved bit by bit over my face and neck. It took about 30 minutes. The gel was then washed off and the skin moisturized. Any redness from the procedure can be covered with powder mineral makeup.

For me, right after the procedure my skin was slightly red in a couple patches more so on my neck (the skin on the neck is thinner and more sensitive than the face). My face and neck felt like it had a slight sunburn. That feeling lasted about 20 minutes and the redness about an hour.

I had three sessions in total, about 2 weeks apart. The second and third sessions were easier than the first, in part due to knowing what to expect. A few days after the first session some freckles got darker, more came to the surface and some just disappeared. The freckles that got darker flaked off the skin in pieces. After each subsequent session more freckles came off. The small red spots were reduced and overall redness of my skin was reduced.

Photofacial Before and After
Photofacial Before and After (Courtesy of Fresh Laser Skin Studio)
Photofacial Before and After
Photofacial Before and After Courtesy of Fresh Laser Skin Studio

Looking back on these photos I am amazed by the difference in my skin. The freckles were definitely gone and redness was reduced. My skin seemed less oily for a while. At this time, I didn’t really have any wrinkles, other than a line between my eyebrows and a few fine lines on my forehead. The fine lines on my forehead were a bit reduced and I didn’t notice any difference in the line between my eyebrows. The texture of my skin was improved and felt softer, but the scarring on the right of my face was not diminished. I may have needed a few more IPL sessions. Overall, I love the results and will definitely get IPL done again as now, a couple years later, I have some hyperpigmentation again. I’d probably want to try to do maintenance IPL once a year.