Understanding Retin-A & Retinols

Retinoic acid, Retin-A, tretinoin, retinoids… what does it all mean? The benefits of these topical ingredients are touted in doctor’s offices and skin care brochures across the globe, but navigating through the information can be confusing. Let’s take a closer look.

These are all vitamin A derivatives and there is tremendous data to support the claims. The generic name for topical vitamin A is tretinoin and is prescription retinoic acid. “Retin-A” has become the most popular term for referring to topical tretinoin. “Retinoids” refers to a family of ingredients derived from vitamin A, but do not require a prescription. On an ingredient list you may see retinol, retinyl palmitate, acetate, and propionate. Of these, retinol is considered the preferred retinoid for cosmetic use. Ok, enough chemistry. Let’s get to what is really important…what can I expect when I incorporate retinoic acid or retinol into my skin care regimen?

Retinoic acid is typically used for its documented anti-aging benefits and to treat acne. In simple terms, retinoic acid works by increasing cell turnover and keeping pores free from blockage. Retinoic acid excites the skin and causes the cells of the skin to grow (divide) and die more rapidly, increasing the turnover of cells. In patients with acne, new cells replace the cells of existing pimples, and the rapid turnover of cells prevents new pimples from forming. By a similar mechanism, retinoic acid can reduce some wrinkles, areas of darkened skin (hyperpigmentation), and rough areas of skin, all of which occur in sun-damaged skin. In patients with sun-damaged skin, improvements in the skin usually are seen within the first 3 to 4 weeks of treatment. Brown spots begin to fade after six to eight weeks. Wrinkles decrease or disappear after three to six months.

The FDA approved topical tretinoin in 1971. For more information go to: http://www.medicinenet.com/tretinoin/article.htm. Retinoic acid can cause some dryness and irritation in the skin. Retinols tend to be used more universally without irritation. Formulations have advanced to include additional ingredients that can address other concerns (pigment, for example), anti-inflammatories, anti-oxidants and hydrating components that can not only reduce irritation, but bring added benefits. Retinoic acid can increase sensitivity to sun and a broad spectrum SPF 30+ must be part of your daily morning routine.

Ask Dr. Hurvitz if you might benefit from incorporating a form of vitamin A into your skin care program.

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