The Acne Entries #4: That scary ingredient – Retinol

I am sureeeee everyone has somehow heard of this word floating around whenever some anti-ageing product ad appears on the TV. In fact, hearing about retinol while reading up on acne treatments immediately made me think of people in their 40s and 50s.

Who knew that it was initially used to treat acne?

The anti-ageing effects were only discovered later.

So with that, I delved into learning more about this ingredient, only to be scared off by it. Purging happens with the use of any new skincare product that doesn’t sit well with your skin. But this one, wew, dryness and flaking skin, redness and irritation seemed like an uncomfortable rite of passage.

Having gone through my own fair share of skin purging from the use of multiple products, I was done thinking of having to go through that again.

Retinol became a last-resort ingredient in my mind, where skincare products are concerned.

Then, a colleague at work suggested it and since having had facials and a stable skincare routine, I thought that it was time to up the game. The number of pimples I was getting seemed to be dropping as the days passed. All that was left were scars and retinol would definitely help with both active acne and said scars.

Ah what the heck, I thought.

My colleague appeared at work a few days later with a small tube of Differin (0.1% adapalene, a form of retinoid) and gave me instructions as to how to use it. Note: Differin can be bought over-the-counter from pharmacies in Singapore. And it was perfect timing as our Amazon CeraVe haul arrived.

For the next 2 months (till now), I would double cleanse my face after a day’s work, slap on a light soothing lotion and then put on a moisturiser mixed with The Ordinary’s 10% niacinamide + 1% zinc. About 10 minutes later, when the moisturiser had more or less been absorbed into my skin, I put on a reeeeeeeeally thin layer of the Differin cream.

Just in case you got prescribed Differin without any instructions as seen in the comments section of this video. Yikes.

Pea-sized amount.

My head kept chanting that while resisting the urge to squeeze out more.

So little cream, enough mehhhhh???


It was enough.

The Differin cream was applied on alternate nights. And in the day time, I’d swap out the Differin cream for an exorbitant amount- okay I exaggerate. A Singapore 50 cent coin-sized dollop of sunscreen.

Despite applying a thinnnnnn layer of the retinoid over a layer of pretty thick moisturiser, effects were seen by the end of the week. For one, purging was definitely happening.

My pimples were surfacing, quickly. The skin around my chin started flaking, followed by my nose. There was slight tingling when I applied my moisturisers, but no redness. Smallllll tiny whiteheads ready to pop started to appear and oh, did I mention?

My skin was *dry*.

I thought I had experienced dry skin. Hoooooooooooooo no.

This was next level.

After each time I wash my face with my cleanser (it’s a pretty stripping one that I’m trying to finish, so that’s probably why), I have to run out of the shower and slather on that soothing lotion (from La Roche Posay’s Toleriane line). Because my skin was TAUT.

Once, I’d look in the mirror before applying the lotion and to my surprise, it didn’t look like I had just oil blotted my face kinda dry. It was…glowing.


My brain paused while I stretched my skin (with clean fingers). It looked dewy but was dry to the touch.


That was also when I noticed that the little oil bumps that I had near my nose were gone. Up close, even the areas where my scars are had begun looking glowy. It was less red.

Needless to say, I was impressed.

I continued this routine, eventually putting on Differin two nights in a row, followed by a day’s break.

Things started to really look up.


I decided to drink dairy, full fat cow’s milk (it’s so good though) every day, for a week.

And then.

I had a phase of anxiety. It’s still ongoing and it came with a breakout and acid reflux. It’s been a pretty uncomfortable 2 weeks. But that aside, I was really kicking myself for not taking any update photos before then. I thought that it was going so well, it would probably just continue right? Maybe it’ll get even better and I can take a better photo then?

I basically lost sight of the point of these posts. Oops.

So yes, breakouts happened and then a facial and a friend’s Hen’s night which involved alcohol and thus, slightly elevated levels of inflammation.

And so, here are some photos fresh from the lens.

The potatoes are coming.

For those who have been toying with the idea of trying out a retinoid, you can check out these videos from my fave skincare duo, they explain the science behind it too:

Oh this is extra, but its important to look at the ingredients that you are using in your routine! Make sure they work well together, and not against each other.

For those who are ready, CeraVe has a 0.1% retinol resurfacing serum. If you can get hold of the elusive retinol line by The Ordinary, consider yourself really lucky (make sure they’re authentic please)! Drugstore products may contain retinol too so always remember that there are affordable options.

For those who just started, be patient. Things will definitely get better. Coz not only are you working on getting acne-free skin, we’re working on maintaining youthful skin too 😉 Disclaimer: There are retinoids out there more suited for anti-ageing purposes. Differin is primarily used for fighting acne.

Till the next one,

Watch the dairy yaaaaa.

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