Medical side effects are rarely beneficial, but fortunately for everyone with skin, a 1970s acne cream had a whopper of a happy side effect. Dermatologists had long known of the vital role Vitamin A played in skin health, so they created Retin-A, a compound containing a close cousin of the vitamin. The lucky first users of Retin-A remarked on a felicitous side effect of the treatment—not only was their acne disappearing, but so were their fine lines!

That had to feel like rolling down the car window to enjoy a beautiful day and letting a winning lottery ticket blow in.

What Retinoids Do

Retinoids stimulate rapid cell turnover in your skin. For people with troubled skin, that quickened pace of cellular sloughing and regeneration means less cellular detritus to clog pores. For people with fine lines and coarsened skin due to sun damage or aging, that means more adorably plump new skin cells coming to the fore to replace the old grizzled ones.

Because retinoids stimulate new skin growth, they also help fade the appearance of older blemishes and scars. They’ll also prepare skin for upcoming cosmetic procedures. Just as paint flows more readily onto a smooth canvas, lifts and peels work best with firmer, newer skin.

Daily Retinoids

Retin-A was the first, but far from the only retinoid product on the market. Retinoids now grace moisturizers, sunscreens, facial cleansers and under-eye creams. Start the morning with a light moisturizer infused with a small dose of retinoids to keep your cells busy throughout the day. Finish up with a night cream loaded with retinoids and you’ll have your cells cranking out new epithelial tissue like Santa’s elves making toys on Christmas Eve.

It’s possible to have too much of a good thing, though. Step up to multi-retinoid products gradually; these powerful cell stimulants can go overboard if you’re a retinoid novice. Flaking, dryness and irritation are hallmarks of too much retinoid use. Aim for one new retinoid product at a time and watch your skin closely for signs of irritation. Go crazy with the sunscreen, too, as retinoids can increase your skin’s sun sensitivity.