Retin-A Made Me Look Twice my Age - New York

I'm a 25 year-old Asian female, and I had acne...

I'm a 25 year-old Asian female, and I had acne since junior high school. It mostly resolved itself during college but after a decade of moderate to severe acne, I started seeing a dermatologist to get rid of scarring, mostly boxcar and dark spots, all over my face. She recommended a vi peel, salicylic acid peels, and a TCA peels, all of which I tried and which removed some blemishes but did absolutely nothing for the boxcar scarring. A year later, she moved and I found another dermatologist who recommended photofacials and Fraxel laser treatments. Like the peels, the photofacials helped with evening the coloring on my combination skin, but did nothing for the scars. The 1st Fraxel laser treatment wasn't painful but it left my skin really thin and delicate, and I noticed the scarring got mildly worse after carefully watching the healing over 3 months.

I moved this time but I was afraid to go to another dermatologist. I went to my local spa for facial treatments with extractions, and those seemed to keep my skin clean while also doing absolutely nothing for scarring. After 12+ treatments, my friend pushed me to see her dermatologist, who did wonders for her skin. This dermatologist is Asian, so I naively thought she would understand Asian skin. She instantly recommended Retin A, after hearing I tried chemical peels and laser. I started with Ziana, a gel mix of 1.2% clindamycin and 0.025% tretinoin. For 2 months, I applied it every other day and then every day for the next 10 months. I used it for a full year because everyone kept telling me it takes time to work. I followed the procedure to a tee, using it 30 minutes after I showered at night and never used any other products with it, with the exception of Cetaphil moisturizer on some days.

Every day for a year, my skin was dry, no matter how much moisturizer I used, and it was sometimes flaky, itchy, and red. I was upset when I looked in the mirror and felt self-conscious outside. Towards month 8, I noticed my pores were getting larger, scars appeared deeper, wrinkles started developing, hair fell out around my hairline, and the skin around my eyes were crepey and wrinkled. I went back to the dermatologist and she told me to continue using Ziana because this is just a phase! At month 11, my family got concerned. They told me I looked like a tired 40 year-old. I had fine lines everywhere that I didn't before: forehead, around the eyes, parts of my cheeks, and near my mouth. My skin felt like sandpaper and looked sunken. I used Ziana for another month before giving up on any decent results. It had aged me over 20 years in less than a year.

I felt so disgusted with myself for continuing so long. I should have known something was wrong when the pharmacy called and told me this was a $600 topical gel that my insurance was hesitant about covering. The only somewhat fortunate part about this was that I ended up paying $35 with insurance. It is now 2 years later and I have since only used gentle, all-natural products, including jojoba oil, lemon, and honey. There is definitely an improvement in skin texture, like it feels soft again, but the scars and wrinkles from the Retin A damage are still around. These scars are not new, especially since I rarely break out now. My skin is still uneven and I have tried dermapen, which seems to temporarily raise the scars, but they sink again after a few days. Still, the temporary results are not bad when I need to look good for an event and dermapen hasn't made things worse. I suppose this is a start.

Overall, I wanted to write this in hopes others don't just jump on the Retin A bandwagon. If you have combination, sensitive, and/or thin skin, I would be really careful before using this. Like Accutane, there are many side effects that your dermatologist might not have disclosed or even know. It has been an incredibly frustrating few years, and I would certainly appreciate suggestions on reversing the damage as well as improving the appearance of all this scarring, old and new.
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