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What Are Retinoids

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What Are Retinoids

What are retinoids and why is it good for my skin?

Retinoids are popular option for treating several skin conditions including acne, aging of the skin and brown spots caused by sun exposure. But what exactly are retinoids, how do they benefit the skin and are they safe for everyone to use?

Retinoids are derived from vitamin A. They have been in use for over 4 decades so there’s lots of science to back up the benefits of using such creams. The topical cream was originally hailed as a breakthrough acne treatment which remains one of its main uses to date but has since been found to be an effective treatment for warts, as well as the wrinkles and blotches caused by sun exposure.

Retinoids are available in over-the-counter topical creams and gels, or in stronger prescription form, and are typically suitable for use by all.

The Benefits of Using Retinoids

Regularly application of OTC retinoids, or prescription retinoids as advised by your doctor, can provide several health benefits for your skin, these include:

  • Minimize appearance of wrinkles
  • Increase elasticity and thickness of the skin
  • Slow breakdown of collagen
  • Lighten brown spots caused by the sun
  • Protect from UV rays

How To Retinoids Work?

Many believe retinoids thin the skin making it more susceptible to sun burn. This is however, a misconception that couldn’t be further from the truth.

Retinoid work by prompting skin cells to grown, die and shed rapidly, making way for new cell growth underneath. They also reduce the breakdown of collagen – the protein in our skin that keeps it firm – and thicken the deeper layer of skin where wrinkle begin. When it comes to brown spots, retinoids help inhibit the production of melanin – the darker skin pigment produced by melanocytes.

Although retinoids do not thin the skin, experts say using sun cream whilst taking prescription retinoids is a must. New Orleans dermatologist Patricia Farris, explained:

It doesnt make you more sensitive to the sun thats anecdotal. But you still have to wear sunscreens when youre on prescription retinoids. You cant be treating sun damage and then not protect yourself from the sun. [WebMD]

For aging skin, dermatologists often prescribe tretinoin and retinoic acid (Retin-A, Renova, Refissa). These drugs are 100 times more potent than the over-the-counter cosmeceuticals. Chicago dermatologist Carolyn Jacob, MD, explained:

Tretinoin works better because it has a stronger capability of preventing the breakdown of collagen, she says. I prescribe it to my patients, because if theyre here, it means theyve tried the over-the-counter varieties. [WebMD]

Those looking specifically to rejuvenate older skin are often advised to use another form of retinoid known as Retinaldehyde. This can be bough without a prescription, is highly effective reducing the signs of aging.

Are Retinoids Safe?

Experts generally recommend retinoids to anyone of any age, except pregnant or nursing women who are advises to consult their doctor and healthcare provider before starting such treatments.

Retinoids can irritate the skin, however after discontinuing use, symptoms will alleviate in just few days. Those with sensitive skin should also consult their doctor for better advice on how to start using retinoids without irritating the skin.

As long as no side effects occur, then retinoids are safe for long term use.

Side Effects of Retinoids

OTC retinoids rarely cause any side effects save from irritation of sensitive skin. If this occurs, discontinue use and the symptoms should subside within a few days.

The most common side effects from taking prescription retinoids including irritations, burning, itching, swelling, dryness, peeling, and the discoloration of the skin. More severe side effects can include hives, swelling, and breathing difficulty.

Again, discontinuing use will allow the symptoms to clear in a matter of days.

How to Apply Retinoids

Retinoids are best applied to clean dry skin. If you’re using retinoids, be sure not to use any other products contain benzoyl peroxide, sulfur, resorcinol, or salicylic acid. The combination can cause severe skin irritation.
Both prescription and OTC retinoids can irate skin if applied in large amounts. Experts advise using a pea-sized drop everyday.

If you have sensitive skin it might be advisable to only apply retinoids every other night until the skin becomes used to the new ointment. Some doctors may start patients on OTC creams then eventually change to prescription treatments.

For strong prescription retinoids, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) recommends using the exact amount prescribed by the doctor and to avoid other topical medications while using tretinoin.

Patients using tretinoin patients should also over exposure to sun and always wear sun cream when outside and protective clothing when outside.

Using tretinoin with certain medications diuretics, antibiotics such as tetracycline and Cipro, and sulfa drugs such as Bactrim may also make the skin more light-sensitive.

Results from Using Retinoids

Most OTC treatments are not required to disclose the exact amount of retinol their products contain, and as a result, the content of the active ingredient is much less than prescriptions retinoids such as tretinoin. OTC creams and gels may not produce the most effective short term results, but they can still provide noticeable benefits over a longer duration of time.

OTC creams can take around 3-6 months to notice a difference, whereas prescription retinoids can produce visible results in just 6-8 weeks.


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