The Secret Skincare Ingredients Glossary

If you’re reading this, you have most likely just placed an order with us. Thank you, and welcome to your guide on the prescription ingredients used throughout The Secret Skincare range.

Educating patients around the topic of prescription skincare has always been big part of our mission at The Secret Skincare. Our products are unlike your regular day and night moisturiser – the results they give you are unparalleled to anything you’ve tried off the shelf before, however, they need to be used with understanding.

Education is the first-step to achieving this!

 

Tretinoin

Tretinoin is the name of the retinoid ingredient we utilise throughout our Night Cream range. It is part of a wider family of Vitamin A’s that is only available with a doctor’s permission. Why? We’ll get to that in just a bit! Firstly, we will explain the basics of how tretinoin works.

Essentially, tretinoin (and other Vitamin A’s, retinol and retinoids) works by communicating with our skin cells to encourage healthier, younger cells to make their way to the surface, subsequently ridding the skin of older, damaged skin cells.

You might hear us refer to these new skin cells surfacing as “baby skin cells”. You know that idyllic skin that babies have? Plump, smooth, clear and all-around pretty much perfect? Well, they have what’s known as a “cell turnover rate” of about 14 days.

Cell turnover is the term used to describe the constant shedding of dead skin cells and subsequent replacement of younger cells.

Healthy skin in optimal condition will turnover at a rate of approximately 28 days. As we age, this process of your cells turning over slows down and can take as long as 80 days to complete one skin cycle. Now, if you put that into perspective with the 14 days at which a baby’s skin is turning over… well, you get the idea.  

This means that older, damaged skin cells are on the skins surface for a prolonged period of time before being replaced by younger, healthier cells and thus contributing to an aged look. See the below diagram for a visual representation of what we're talking about.



Back to the star of the show here, tretinoin. Tretinoin will encourage the cell turnover process to mimic the behaviour of younger skin that turns over at a rapid rate. It also helps to stimulate collagen and elastin production as a result and eventually reduce inflammation with healthier skin cells.

The tretinoin difference? That comes in its strength. It is classed as a “retinoic acid”. Retinoic acid is a form of Vitamin A that the skin can use to increase skin cell turnover. Other retinol and retinoids will often have to convert into retinoic acid before becoming effective, thus losing strength and efficacy. Tretinoin, on the other hand does not need to undergo this conversion process. While this means tretinoin is more effective and works significantly faster, its strength also means you need to take care when using it.

In the same way we can’t run a marathon without training and building up endurance first, our skin will need to adjust to the new rapid rate of cell turnover tretinoin is encouraging. The initial stages of using tretinoin is formally known as “retinisation”.


Side effects of retinisation can include:

  • Redness and flaking

Dead or damaged skin cells are removed from the skins surface which may initially show in the form of flaking. The baby cells bought to the surface in replacement can appear pinkish on the skin.

  • Dryness and tightness

The natural oil and water produced by the skin can decrease as a result of the active formula working to regulate your skin’s functions. Initial dry effects may therefore occur.

  • Purging

Everything lying dormant underneath the skin is bought forward to the surface in a response to increased cell turnover. This includes excess sebum from the lower layers of the skin which can induce a breakout.

  • Deeper pigmentation surfacing

Pigment that resides in the dermal (lower) layer of the skin is now being bought to the surface due to the rapid rate of cell turnover. This is pigment that may not have been visible previously but is bought out and cleared away at a much more rapid rate.


We like to call all this the “adjusting phase”, because, well, it just sounds nicer than “retinisation” and it’s also a reminder that it's only temporary. When training for a marathon, you won’t always be out of breath and dying from that stitch in your side. Eventually, you become fitter, and as time goes on you will be able to run further and faster. The same can be said for your skin; it won’t always be red and flaky. It is training to become healthier and more resilient.

Makes sense as to why it needs to be used with a doctor’s permission and supervision, right? Our exact methods for using tretinoin will vary from patient to patient based on the details of your consultation form, so please refer to you Personalised Treatment Plan upon receiving your order.


Generally speaking, however, here are our top tips for starting retinoids:

  1. Start slowly

Start by applying your Vitamin A creams on alternating nights to begin with, that way you can start to build up your skins ability to tolerate the active ingredient. For the extra sensitive, you can even try every third night to begin with. Our doctors will suggest how often they recommend you to apply your Night Cream and for how long on your Personalised Treatment Plan.

  1. Apply onto clean, dry skin

Tretinoin is most effective at penetrating the skin when applied to clean, dry skin and not layered with any other products. Layering tretinoin with other products can cause reaction, as it is such a direct form of retinoid.

  1. Use only a pea-sized amount

The strong nature of tretinoin means you do not need to use much at all. Even though this may feel unnatural to some who love to slather on their night cream before bed, only a pea-sized amount of your retinoid cream should be used. 

  1. Use the right supporting products

As nightly use of your retinoid can induce an initial drying period to the skin you want to make sure you are support this process during the day. Using hydrating serums, moisturisers and non-stripping cleansers will help immensely. Diligently using SPF 50+ every day is a must too (more on this shortly).

  1. Listen to your skin

Our skin is constantly changing throughout our life and as we expose ourselves to different external aggressors. We therefore need to regularly reflect on our skin with intuition in order to recognise the different signs it sends us. When you are able to do this, you can therefore make educated skin decisions and take the right steps towards a healthier, happier complexion.

Another important thing to note about tretinoin is a topic we are very passionate about, especially being an Australian company! Tretinoin can cause the skin to become photosensitive (meaning, more susceptible to damage from the suns UV rays.)

Australia experiences some of the highest levels of UV radiation in the world because we are close to the equator and have many clear, blue-sky days. We are a nation of sun-worshipers which increases the burden of sun smart skin protection.
 
Tretinoin will in-fact help to repair the damage that the sun induces on the skin such as the breakdown of collagen and the over-production of melanin that causes pigmentation. They key to utilising this ingredient lies in sun protection. If you are diligent in wearing a SPF 50+ every day and are not overexposing your skin to the sun (which is essential anyway if you are serious about looking after your skin) you are fine to use them.

You cannot use tretinoin while pregnant.

 

Hydroquinone

Somewhat of trigger-word in the skincare industry, and rightly so. Hydroquinone is not to be used carelessly, which so many have before, leading to its controversial and prescription-only status.

Hydroquinone is lightening agent that works by decreasing the number of melanocytes in your skin. These melanocytes make melanin, which is what produces your skin tone. The overproduction of melanin is what leads to pigmentation and uneven skin-tone.

If we dive a little bit deeper, hydroquinone decreases the number of melanocytes as a tyrosinase inhibitor, decreasing the tyrosinase enzyme. This enzyme is responsible for the first step in melanin production. By directly targeting this enzyme we are able to prevent that over-production of melanin from forming while also allowing the skin to light and become more uniform.

Still with us? The diagram below should explain. It uses a double-sided approach to decrease melanocyte production while speeding up cellular breakdown, working to lighten the skin while preventing future damage.  


Using hydroquinone in high percentages, for unsuitable amounts of time and without medical supervision can cause damage to the skin.

The percentages we use in our products and the methods by which we have our patients use them is based on studies and proven evidence of safe, long-term use.

Research suggests after 4 – 5 months of use of a product containing hydroquinone should take a 2 – 3 month break from the ingredient to avoid issues such as resistance and rebound pigmentation, ultimately ensuring you potentiate your skin cells for a greater future response.


Not including this break in your skincare plan can pose a few challenges to the skin, including:

  • Resistance

You may find your skin improves at first to only cease improvement after a few months. As the active melanocytes (the cells that produce and store melanin) develop resistance to hydroquinone you may find hyperpigmentation appears worse as the areas surrounding your hyperpigmentation brighten and the hyperpigmentation does not - creating greater contrast.

  • Rebound pigmentation

Prolonged use of hydroquinone may provoke skin inflammation. Inflammation leads to melanocyte hyperactivity, which overpowers hydroquinone’s ability to suppress tyrosinase, leading to the rebound hyperpigmentation.

Hydroquinone is utilised in our Cellular Repair Night Cream, which is why the Cellular Repair is only available to you with our doctor’s approval. Our doctors over-see each order placed to ensure all of our prescription ingredients are used correctly. For this reason, if you are an existing customer who has finished a cycle of our Cellular Repair, our doctors will recommend you switch to the Total Reset Night Cream for that 2 – 3 month break from Hydroquinone.

You cannot use hydroquinone while pregnant.

 

Erythromycin

Erythromycin is one of the two topical antibiotics The Secret Skincare uses. Topically, it can be used to treat a variety of skin conditions such as acne and rosacea. It is safe to use during pregnancy. 

It works by having a bacteriostatic effect on the skin, essentially preventing the proliferation of bacteria. It also inhibits pro-inflammatory cytokines (intercellular messengers) and decreases neutrophil (a type of white-blood cell that defends against tissue damage and infection) oxidative bursts.

Like any antibiotic, erythromycin is not designed to be used for prolonged periods of time. We utilise the ingredient in our Stress Repair Night Cream and Pregnancy Clarifying Night Cream to help control inflammation before utilising a cream such as the Cellular Repair Night Cream.

It is safe to use whilst pregnant.

 

Clindamycin

Clindamycin is the second topical antibiotic used in The Secret Skincare range. Similar to erythromycin it will treat skin conditions such as acne and rosacea. It works quite similarly too.

It will stop the growth of bacteria and decrease swelling/inflammation in the skin.

Clindamycin is not designed to be used for prolonged periods of time. We utilise the ingredient in our Acne Night Formula (50g and 25g) and Acne Night Formula – Face and Body to decrease the amount of active acne occurring before utilising a cream such as the Cellular Repair Night Cream for ongoing skin maintenance.

It is not safe to use whilst pregnant.

 

Hydrocortisone

Hydrocortisone is a topical steroid that is used to treat inflammation and itching, and is part of a class of medications called corticosteroids. Essentially it works by activating the substances in our skin that reduce swelling, redness and itching.

While it is used to treat aid in inflammation, it can exaggerate inflammatory conditions such as rosacea and acne. The Secret utilise a very minimal, gentle strength of hydrocortisone to reduce inflammation and allow deeper absorption of the active ingredients in our Cellular Repair Night Cream - Sensitive. It is mild enough for regular use.

 

Methimazole

Methimazole is an oral antithyroid compound, that when applied topically exhibits skin-depigmenting effects. It has the ability to block melanin production, improving the appearance of stubborn pigmentation and significantly brightening skin complexion.

We utilise this ingredient in our Total Reset Night Cream, as a replacement for Hydroquinone. Our Total Reset Night Cream has been designed by our doctors for use during your off-period from our Cellular Repair Night Cream. The methimazole allows the skin to reset whilst still ensuring ongoing brightening effects to the skin to maintain and continue results before your next cycle of the Cellular Repair.

It is safe to use whilst pregnant, however, the Total Rest Night Cream is not.

 

Tranexamic Acid

Tranexamic acid is a synthetic derivative of the amino acid Lysine and works by inhibiting the over-production of melanin. It is believed to aid in the shrinkage of dermal vasculature and reduce melanin synthesis by altering the interaction of keratinocytes and melanocytes and reducing tyrosinase activity. It is a brightening powerhouse, tranexamic acid targets discolouration such as melasma, hyperpigmentation, acne scarring and more.

It is safe to use whilst pregnant.

 

Azelaic Acid

A naturally occurring ingredient derived from grains such as barley, wheat and rye. It works on the skin to deliver antioxidant benefits while gently removing any harmful bacteria infecting the skins pores and refining the skins overall texture. Azelaic Acid also helps to reduce redness and inflammation while significantly lessening factors ins kin that lead to sensitivities, resulting in a healthier and more even-toned complexion

The Secret Skincare utilises this ingredient predominantly for it’s anti-inflammatory benefits in our Day Brightening Elixir – Sensitive and Stress Repair Night Cream.

It is safe to use whilst pregnant.