The Beauty of Nighttime Use of Retinoic Acid & Its Alternatives

As we know, this powerful, anti-aging Vitamin A ingredient has decades of research proving that it can do everything from smoothing fine lines and fading dark spots to making pores look smaller.  Best used overnight, Retinoic Acid and it’s alternatives gives getting your beauty rest a whole new meaning.

Why is this beauty powerhouse best used at night?  During sleep, the body repairs damaged tissues and cells. The body goes into a state of hibernation in which all energy goes toward bodily restoration. This is the best time for retinol to accelerate cell renewal when the skin is most likely to heal. Just as you enter your slumber these Retinols go to work.  Also, remember that the efficacy of retinoids can be diminished when exposed to sunlight as UV rays can actually destabilize the acid.  When used during the day, the UV exposure may heighten the sensitivity levels of the skin making the skin more sun sensitive and irritated.


By its very nature, vitamin A causes drying of the skin and exfoliation. Vitamin A has the ability to help unplug pores, even out skin discoloration, restore vibrancy to the complexion, reduce oiliness, treat skin concerns such as acne and improve the appearance of fine wrinkles. Topical Vitamin A has also been suggested to help build collagen fibers within the dermis helping to restore elasticity. When used correctly, these products can transform the skin in as little as 21-60 days while you sleep!.  There are three types of these formulas on the market.

Retinoic Acid Rx

  • Retinoic acid is 10 to 15 times as potent as OTC retinols
  • Most progressive and fastest results
  • Potentially most irritating
  • The most commonly prescribed retinoids for skin rejuventation purposes are Renova (its emollient base makes it especially suitable for those with very dry skin), Avage (the strongest retinoid, it’s ideal for seriously sun-damaged skin), and Differin (easiest on sensitive skin).

When you are introducing prescription retinoids to your skin, you want to use them sparingly for the first few weeks and then slowly increase application thereafter. To first start using retinoids, apply them once every three days for the first one or two weeks. Your skin adjusts to the product (or if you experience no irritation at all), bump it up to once every two nights for another few weeks. Then, use it every other night for another week and gradually graduate to using it nightly.  Starting off this way helps your skin slowly adjust to the product and when you give your skin time to adjust, it reduces irritation from the retinoid.

Over-The-Counter (OTC) Retinols

  • Retinol, Retinyl Palmitate and HPR (Hydroxypinnacolone Retinoate)
  • Chemical Cousins to Rx version
  • Gentler on the skin than Rx version
  • These products irritate skin less because the retinol is slowly converted to retinoic acid, the active ingredient in prescription creams
  • It may simply take more time to notice a difference in your skin than if you’d used a prescription

Look for products formulated with at least 0.1% of retinol (the most effective retinoid in OTC versions).  When you are first starting out, a weaker retinoid will suffice.  You don’t need to use the strongest retinoid out there for it to be effective. Weaker retinoids and their alternatives also work, but may just take a bit longer.

Retinol Alternatives  

  • Example: Plant-Based Blue Green Algae
  • Effective without limitations
  • Safest
  • No sun sensitivities
  • No contraindications
  • Little to no irritation or peeling

The retinol alternatives seem to be safe and irritation-free when used every night.

What is the best way to start a retinoid regimen?  The secret is to start out slowly and pay close attention to what your skin is telling you. What to watch for:

  • Redness
  • Burning/Stinging
  • Peeling/Exfoliation
  • Increased Sunburn Potential

At any point, if you are experiencing any of these symptoms, simply cut back on the frequency of use.

Because retinoids slough dead surface cells, removing skin’s natural protection against UV exposure, every morning be sure to apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30.  You can also use a topical antioxidant serum with it to reduce inflammation.

Remember that the best-case scenario is to get results without causing harmful, collateral damage to the skin.  Choosing the right product for the right skin type is critical.

Author, Karla Keene Karla Keen Head Shot (2)has volumes of practical experience working with cosmetic physicians, estheticians, clinicians, franchises, and entrepreneurs in this market, as well as with prominent product and equipment companies in a myriad of capacities. She has served as part of several senior-level teams making decisions on strategic and tactical planning, product development, business development, national account development, brand management and new product and line extension launches for some of the industry’s leading skin care companies for over 30 years.

As a consultant to this industry, she has opened over 70 medical spas and has trained hundreds of clinicians, estheticians and spa/medspa owners. She also presently acts as an on-going consultant to one of the largest massage and facial spa franchises in the country where she created their original facial program, service menus, treatment protocols, and has had the pleasure of training over 2,500 estheticians, sales associates, and franchisees to date on clinical skin care, retail selling, business building, and the like.

Karla has been a member of National Advisory Board for the Medical Spa Expo & Conferences as an education advisor responsible for ensuring quality advanced esthetic education. Karla is a self-published, best-selling author, and a frequent contributor to trade publications, industry resources and articles. She has been published/quoted in prestigious national magazines, newspapers, and recently published her latest book “Your Esthetics Coach” An Estheticians Guide to Success which became the #1 Best Seller in both Skin Care & Cosmetics categories on Amazon. Karla is the CEO/Founder of ClarityRx Clinical Skin Care, Inc. and is still a practicing Licensed Cosmetologist/Esthetician at her ClarityRx Skin Wellness Boutique in Newport Beach, CA.

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