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What are topical retinoids and how are they used to treat skin?

What are topical retinoids and how are they used to treat skin?

What are topical retinoids and how are they used to treat skin?

Topical retinoids have been hailed as a vitamin A ‘wonder drug’ – but what are they?

The term retinoid refers to a group of compounds derived from vitamin A. These range from the naturally occurring retinol to the stronger retinoic acid.

Since first being prescribed to treat acne in the 1970s, retinoids are now used to address a range of skin concerns.

By increasing collagen and skin cell turnover, retinoids have become much-loved for their anti-ageing and anti-inflammatory properties.

What are topical retinoids?

Topical retinoids are prescription medications that contain retinoic acid.

They are stronger and more powerful than retinols, which are found in many over-the-counter skin care and beauty products.

Topical retinoids are prescribed to treat acne, hyperpigmentation, and fine lines and wrinkles because the retinoic acid can be directly absorbed and used by the skin.

Retinol must first be converted into retinoic acid by enzymes in the skin before it becomes effective.

How do topical retinoids act to increase cell turnover?

Retinoids stimulate the production of collagen, a protein that provides structure to the skin, and new skin cells, both of which naturally slow with age.

These new skin cells help to promote the exfoliation of dead skin cells and reduce keritinisation (scaly skin), making skin look and feel smoother and firmer.

How does using topical retinoids combat sun damage to skin?

By increasing cell turnover, topical retinoids promote skin cell function including the repair of DNA damage caused by the sun (photo-ageing).

But the production of new skin cells can also increase the skin’s sensitivity to sunlight so it’s important to apply daily sunscreen to your skin for protection when using retinoids.

Is a topical retinoid effective for treating acne?

Topical retinoids, including the commonly prescribed Retin-A, are effective for mild to moderate acne and can be used in combination with other treatments for more severe acne.

Retinoids act on the oil producing cells of the skin, called sebaceous glands, to reduce oil in the skin that contributes to blocked pores and feeding acne-causing bacteria.

Additionally, by promoting the exfoliation of dead skin cells, retinoids help to unblock pores and allow other treatments to be more effective.

Reducing breakouts also prevents further acne scarring. Acne may initially get worse but will settle with ongoing use.

How can topical retinoids be incorporated into your daily skincare routine?

Topical retinoids are best applied at night after using a gentle cleanser and before applying moisturiser.

Using a dermal roller before applying topical retinoids can help improve penetration and therefore improve its effectiveness.

Even with mild retinoids, it is best to start by applying only a few times a week and build up to daily use.

Topical retinoids are not suitable for women who are pregnant or breastfeeding.

Do I need a prescription to use topical retinoids?

Over-the-counter prescriptions containing retinol or retinaldehyde are not as effective as retinoic acid. You must see a dermatologist or skin doctor to obtain retinoic acid.

With proper instruction, side effects are minimal, and skin will become accustomed to retinoids over time. Common side effects include irritation, dryness and redness.

Do you have questions about retinoids? Speak to our skin experts first

Before adding a new product to your skincare routine, it’s important to consult with your skin doctor.

Our skin doctors can advise whether topical retinoids are suitable for your skin type and whether they are appropriate to treat your skin concerns.

To find out more, reach out to our friendly clinic to book a consultation and we’ll be happy to answer your questions.