Retinol is a magical skin potion

Anyone who tries to google skincare products hits a brick wall of fake reviews, SEO spam and hysterical pseudoscientific terror. Vogue's Christina Mueller writes that the blind-studied, peer-reviewed answer to your question is probably "Retinol":

Imagine for a moment that a revolutionary skin-care ingredient was discovered. It visibly smoothed out wrinkles and obliterated breakouts; it improved skin texture and tightened pores into tiny little nothings. ... Such an ingredient does exist, and chances are some form of it is currently languishing in a corner of your medicine cabinet. It’s retinol. It isn’t sexy. It definitely isn’t new. In fact, it was discovered 81 years ago, making it a veritable dowager compared with all the fresh new super-ingredients that have since come onto the anti-aging scene. For the past few decades, it has been hiding in plain sight—but with a few new developments, it is stepping back into the limelight.

Yes, my fellow gentlemen with bad skin, listen to what Vogue is telling you! What finally worked for my complexion was giving up on horrible acne treatments like benzoyl peroxide and antibacterial cleanser. Reading the relevant scientific studies—many of which are decades-old—revealed counterintuitive suggestions.

First, what I thought was acne turned out to be mild rosacea. Innocuous stuff like sugar and caffeine, reflectively ruled out when acne is assumed, are common triggers for superficially similar conditions. Letting my skin be naturally oily when it "wanted" to be (and even made moreso, with Jojoba oil) makes it look less so--and healthier--in the long run. And, finally, unsexy vitamin A derivatives are among very few chemicals shown by research to improve skin condition. Don't go crazy with prescription-strength Retin-A, as you'll just peel and freak out. Just start with some retinol night cream from Rite Aid or Target and give it a try.



  1. I’ll vouch for it.  I got a skin cream with retinol just for daily maintenance (no major skin issues) and my wife said she saw a noticeable improvement.

  2. I tried it and it didn’t work. But, I didn’t do anything to figure out potential triggers, and the stuff I tried I bought in Thailand (where the climate and the things I regularly ate I would almost guarantee are all huge triggers). I’m on to something recently that seems to be working (a specific moisturizer) but it’s not perfect or magical and I still have significant breakouts; I may give retinol another try.

    Anyway my main point is that going into a store looking for something like this is almost as bad as looking up information on it on the internet. You think you know what you want, but you start looking at the creams in the store and they all say something different, they all have other ingredients you’re not sure you want, and/or they’re way more expensive than seems necessary. It’s far from impossible to figure out which one to buy, of course, it’s just mildly frustrating and annoying. And the worst part is that often the one thing that seems most popular on the internet is not one that you can find locally.

  3. Like you, I found not scrubbing my face to death with benzoyl peroxide and antibacterial cleansers did wonders.  To add to your “let greasy be greasy”, I find that if I use a beard trimmer set to 1 or 2 to leave a little stubble of facial hair, that helps even more.  (I’m not like skinny jean hipster mountain man beardy so it works out for me.) 

    1. “Skinny jeans hipster mountain man”  
      Does not compute.  Where on earth is this a thing because I’d like to avoid that corner of the globe?

        1. I live in a city that is often refered to as “liberal”.  I leave the house with alarming frequency, even to drinking establishments (after dark, mind you), and have not seen what PlutoniumX describes.  

          1. Ah, my neighbor is from Columbus.  I’ll ask her if she sees such things when she visits her mum.  

      1.  PA.  Lots of mighty beards, skinny jeans, too tight flannel, and hats with furry ear flaps when its cold. 

      2. The Seward neighborhood of Minneapolis.  Seriously, %85 of the men I see wondering around here are exactly that.

        1. Though, let me hasten to add that it is also a great and awesome neighborhood.  Just over populated with 30-something guys in tight jeans, knit caps, and mighty beards.  The flannel is adaptive, I cannot make fun of it.  Okay, so technically the beards and hats are probably adaptive too.

          1. the beard/hat/flannel combo is definitely necessary if you are biking around here in the winter. I don’t know what their excuse is in the summer though. Also the horrible thrift store sweaters, wtf?

        2. Uptown was hipster-central when I growing up in the Cities.  My aunt lived south of Lake St on that side of 35W for years, but Seward is not a part of town I’ve ever really been to.  And will now actively avoid, so thanks for the tip.   If I ever move back to the area, it’ll be out to the boring burbs, for the schools.    

    1.  I quit smoking and my skin cleared right up.  A friend gave up dairy and his did too.  I drink tons of milk.  He still smokes.  We’re both acne-free.  Who knows?

      1. You’ll live to around 85, and he will get to about 64, but you’ll both look GREAT in the casket.

  4. Yeah… what I thought was acne turned out to be skin problems due to autoimmune disease which was actually causing my skin to become more thin and dry. Retin-A helped by making my skin look older, hurt terribly, causing ulcers, and it took a couple months to heal. My skin still looks rough at the cheeks and has red spots. I think that’s just something I have to learn to accept now though.

    Why do I say this? MAKE SURE IT IS ACNE. Really sure.

    Also be aware that it makes you more sensitive to the sun. Age spots are not prettier than acne, gentlemen.

    1. Ugh… that sounds like the first time I tried a “vitamin c” mask – ie – citric acid mask that ate my face off. I feel you.

      Vitamin E Oil is a sticky mess but it’ll help you heal faster and feel better asap.

  5. The thing about acne is that a few spots may be really bothersome to one individual to the point where they will try anything , where as another individual may be covered and not be bothered enough to start these powerful drugs.

    Topical retinoids have a pretty good safety record but Oral retinoids may cause a well documented birth defect and as a result topical retinoids are not licenced during pregnancy and so not ideal choice for women of child bearing age. The management in the uk is based on the fact that acne is so very common. Over the counter measures (benzyl peroxide) may help with self management and many young people will grow out of it eventually.If the acne is bothersome the the GP(family doctor) may start topical antibiotics, topical retinoids or oral antibiotics, and if not satisfactory refers to a dermatologist who may starts isotretinoin, monitoring regularly and ensuring appropriate contraception/pregnancy test etc.Seborrheic dermatitis is managed differently to acne. You usually use anti inflammatory creams and an antifungal.

    1. My family doctor gave me tetracycline. of course it worked like a charm. but when i stopped it came back. (all thought slightly less then before)
      I took it without thinking too much about it. Of course I regret it now.

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