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An Almanac For The 21st Century

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Maybe She's Born With It, Maybe It's Retinoids!

Maybe She's Born With It, Maybe It's Retinoids!

I'm ridiculously evangelical about dermatology. Step one through infinity of Sarah's Skincare Secret: Get your gorgeous mug a dermatologist. I hate hearing about how someone I love has suffered through countless trips through drugstore and Sephora aisles trying different cleansers and creams. So much money spent, so many times you thought this would be the solution, and no payoff. I've been there, man. I'm not saying you'll walk into a derm's office and they'll fix you up in three minutes like a fairy godmother, but I can say that I regularly get complimented on my skin and every time I say, "Thanks! Accutane and regular visits to a great dermatologist!"

If you're new here, I have written some very popular (I can say that, it's been empirically proven) posts about my experience with Accutane. Here's a post outlining the whole experience, from the first appointment to the side effects to the post-Accutane experience. Then I wrote another post about what skincare I used during my course of Accutane. And here's another post about my post-Accutane skincare routine.

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My holy grail skincare product is Retin-A. I've been using Retin-A for like, 15 years, and I plan on using it as long as I can, whenever I can. It prevents acne and wrinkles and makes your skin look and feel incredible. Plus, if you get it prescribed for acne, it's covered by insurance.

Did you know your insurance will cover acne treatment? Because it will. Most insurers will cover any dermatologic treatments that aren't cosmetic - basically wrinkle treatment/prevention. For example, my mom (who is older than me, but quite youthful) told me that if she gets her Retin-A prescription to say that it's for acne it's covered by insurance, but if it says it's for wrinkles it's not covered.

Basically, Retin-A (generic name: Tretinoin) is a whole bunch of vitamin A. Sound familiar? That's what Accutane is! But Accutane is taken orally and it's like, a shit ton of vitamin A instead of a bunch. (When I said "basically" I meant "extremely un-scientific, but still kind of correct.") Some people can't tolerate using topical retinoids often, so they'll use it three times a week, or once a week, or whatever they find works for them. The side effects pale in comparison to Accutane: It's overly dry skin. I apparently have the (soft, supple) skin of a rhino, so I can handle using Retin-A every night. The other thing about retinoids is that they increase your photosensitivity, so you need to be sure to wear SPF every day. You should be wearing SPF every day anyway, because how else are you going to age gracefully, huh? Also, speaking of the sun, which is a silent killer, another benefit of going to the derm regularly is that every six months they check your whole bod for suspicious moles. As someone who's had seven dysplastic moles removed and has a family history of melanoma, I think this is V. IMPORTANT.(For everyone. Yes, YOU.)

You can purchase retinols (which are kind of like the weaker cousins of retinoids) over the counter, but they're weaker than a retinoid that you'd get as a prescription, and they work a little differently. If you don't have an acne issue and you're a youngin' maybe a retinol off the street will work just fine, but some of us have been struggling with acne since age 11 and have also set the ultimate life goal of aging gracefully, so for us it's the big guns or nothing. My dermatologist actually makes his own Retin-A and sells it in his office, so I use that one, but there are many different prescription brands to try. There are also different percentage strengths, so if you start off on one that's too harsh you can try lessening your days of use, but also your strength. Or go up, if you have rhino skin!

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Even with insurance coverage, Retin-A can be a little pricey. My prescription costs me about $45, but one little tube is at least 6 months of product, because a pea sized drop covers your whole face. Since this is powerful stuff, you don't want to go slathering it all over your face. Plus, and this is something your derm will drill into your brain when you start seeing them, using more won't make it work better. That, and that it takes at least 6-8 weeks for any skincare to start showing results (that counts for over the counter stuff too!) Above is a photo of the tube of Retin-A I get from my derm next to an iPhone 6s for scale (there's no measurement on the tube). That tube will easily last me 6-8 months, if not more, and that's using it every day.

If you're looking to even out your skin tone, prevent acne, prevent or reduce the appearance of wrinkles, and have the smooth skin of a supermodel baby, you must get a retinol or retinoid in your life. Whether you go the drugstore, higher end shop, or dermatologist route, there's a path for everyone. I'll leave you with a few examples of popular over the counter retinols, two high end and two that are super affordable. (I dream of owning a bottle of Sunday Riley Luna Sleeping Night Oil, but I haven't gotten the gall to give my budget that kind of a hit... yet.)

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Wear, Watch, Want #45: The Stretchy, Slow, and Extravagant Edition

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