Retin-A, also known generically as Tretinoin, is a topical cream that is used to treat various skin conditions including but not limited to acne, fine lines and hyperpigmentation, and to improve skin texture. It is only available via prescription from a dermatologist or doctor, mainly due to its strength and potency and is a synthetic derivative of vitamin A, or retinoic acid. Retin-A is commonly confused with retinol, which is a naturally occuring substance that does not require a prescription. Retinol is an ingredient found in many commercial skin-care products, mainly those which claim to have anti-aging effects. Because Retin-A can irritate the skin, particularly with those who have more sensitive skin, it is important to talk to your dermatologist before starting a course of Retin-A treatment. Many over the counter creams and gels have amounts of retinol in them that will provide a much gentler form of treatment.
WHAT IS RETIN-A?
Retin-A, with its high concentration of retinoic acid, can be prescribed in various strengths ranging from .01 to .1 percent. More than 20 years ago, Retin-A was prescribed to treat acne only, not for anti-aging purposes. This was because of its ability to unclog pores, preventing them from becoming clogged with oil, dirt and debris, which also makes pores appear smaller.
What doctors and dermatologists quickly found was that the treatment had many more skin care benefits, including increased cell turnover and increased collagen production, which smoothed fine lines and wrinkles and reduced visible signs of hyperpigmentation. Retin-A works more quickly than less-potent skincare products (such as retinol and alpha-hydroxy acids) and has an exfoliating effect, giving the skin a smoother feel and appearance. But just how does this process actually work?
COLLAGEN: THE KEY TO YOUTHFUL LOOKING SKIN
According to dermatologists, age and sun exposure break down the collagen in the skin, making it lose its natural elasticity and firmness and creating fine lines and wrinkles. Collagen provides the skin with not only elasticity, but strength and firmness. What Retin-A does, besides reduce apparent pore size and literally change the functionality of aging skin cells, is to reverse signs of UV exposure as well as increase the amount of new collagen that is formed with repeated use. Retin-A is a preventative measure against the production of collagenase, which breaks down collagen.
According to simpleskincarescience.com, Retin-A also “increases hyaluronic acid production in the epidermis. Hyaluronic acid is another necessary component of human skin. It speeds up wound healing and is a potent humectant that hydrates the skin by drawing water from the environment and dermis (deeper layer of skin).”
Besides its ability to increase cell turnover, rid the skin of dead skin cells, and reduce the effects of photoaging and hyperpigmentation, Retin-A also helps reduce the appearance of mild acne scarring. For deeper scars, laser treatments or surgery might be a better and more thorough solution. However, in one study, local application of .05% tretinoin gel was administered topically and 79% of patients experienced flattening of acne scars. The study showed that the results were dependent on the size, depth and severity of scarring, and that if application of tretinoin alone was not sufficient, it could be combined with other forms of treatment/therapy.
RETIN-A: SIDE EFFECTS AND CONTRAINDICATIONS
Retinol is a milder version of Retin-A, so when should the milder product be used? For those with sensitive skin or adverse responses to Retin-A use, products with retinol seem a much better solution. For the first week of use, Retin-A can cause redness, mild irritation, a tingling or burning sensation, and some peeling. These symptoms are normal and will dissipate the longer the Retin-A is used. However, if symptoms are moderate to severe, discontinue use and contact your doctor or dermatologist to see if you can find an alternative treatment option. Retinol products are often formulated with hydrating emulsifiers, which reduce the possibility of irritation and discomfort.
Retin-A should always, always be used with an SPF lotion or cream. If you can avoid the sun completely during your Retin-A regimen, that is ideal, as the formula makes the skin much more sensitive to sun damage.
Avoid waxing, electrolysis, or any other procedure or treatment that might dry out or irritate your skin. Because Retin-A is drying, it may cause slight peeling or a mild tingling sensation upon initial usage. This should go away within a week or so, but if it doesn’t, make sure to contact your dermatologist.
If you are pregnant or lactating, avoid Retin-A. According to The March of Dimes website, “small amounts may be absorbed by the skin, so it’s best to avoid them. Topical retinoids include tretinoin, which treats acne and other skin problems. Tretinoin is sold as these brand names: Altinac®, Atralin®, Avita®, Retin-A®, Renova® and TretinX®.”