Retinoids and Retinols (derivatives or metabolites of Vitamin A) have been around for years and are proven to stimulate collagen production. They help with diminishing pigmentation, reduce lines/wrinkles, tighten pores, increase blood flow to the skin, fight acne and improve acne scarring. They can also help diminish the appearance of stretch marks!
Retinoids (tretinoin) are retinoic acid and are available in various strengths. Retinols are applied and are converted in to retinoic acid in the skin. The ingredient deck will likely include retinol or retinyl palimitate. They are both converted into retinaldehyde and then retinoic acid in the skin. Products with retinyl palimitate are the weakest and might be appropriate for individuals with very sensitive skin, as they need to go through several conversions to become retinoic acid.
For the history buffs, Retin-A was patented in 1967 after being developed by Dr. James Fulton and Dr. Albert Kligman at The University of Pennsylvania during the 1960s. Kligman coined the term “photo aging” back in the ’60s. (funny we continued to sun for years and years!) In skin care we frequently prescribe a topical treatment called Kligman’s Formula which contains a combination of Retin-A, hydroquinone, Fluocinolone and Kojic Acid for photo aging. Originally Retin-A was for acne and hyperkeratic conditions, such as actinic keratosis. Over time the anti-aging benefits were realized and a new patent was obtained in 1986 for wrinkle reduction. Additionally, retinoids have been shown to be beneficial for decreasing basal cell cancers.
So, how to introduce a retinoid to your skin care regime? If you have sensitive skin starting with an over the counter retinol (or even retinyl palimitate if very sensitive) would be beneficial, ideally a 0.1% Retinol. Once acclimated to the over the counter version a prescription strength product can be introduced as needed. There are numerous formulas on the market and your dermatologist or skin care provider can help to select which formula would be best for your skin type. The number one problem with retinoids is compliance. There tends to be irritation/flaking as the product is introduced (resulting in increased cellular turnover) which leads to individuals ceasing the use of the product. Ideally a product is slowly introduced and frequency of use is gradually increased. For instance: 2x/week for 2 weeks, 3x/week for 3 weeks, every other night for 4 weeks and then every night if tolerated. Retinoids are applied at night because the sun can destabilize the product. You may find it beneficial to have a more emollient night cream as the retinoid can dry the skin. These products do not make you more sensitive to the sun despite this lingering stereotype. As a matter of fact, many providers find starting a retinol or retinoid in the summer to be beneficial as the more humid air helps with the side effect of skin dryness.
Once on a retinol/retinoid it can take 3 months to acclimate to the product. It can also take this long to start to realize the results, although I think most people see improvement almost immediately. If you start on a product and find it too irritating, even with a titrating schedule, you may want to try a weaker formula.
Once on a retinol/retinoid be aware that your skin is more sensitive. If you wax you should stop using your retinol/retinoid for 5+ days prior to waxing. If you are having other skin care treatments done make sure to let your provider know you are using a retinol/retinoid.
*Pregnant and breast feeding women should not use these products.