What are retinoids?

Retinoids are a class of chemical compounds that are chemically related to vitamin A. Tretinoin, the first retinoid approved by the FDA, was branded Retin-A and used as an acne treatment. However, dermatologists found that it also made skin softer and brighter, and diminished the appearance of lines. As we age, our bodies produce less collagen, a protein that helps our skin look fuller and more supple. Retinoids help stimulate the production of collagen, which substantially boosts skin damaged by age, weather, or poor diet.

What products contain retinoids?

There are some serums and creams that contain retinoids. Most items a dermatologist would prescribe contain retinoic acid, which is quite strong. Plenty of products found on shelves at pharmacies or apothecaries contain retinol, a derivative of vitamin A that is not as strong as anything found in a prescription. Depending on your skin’s sensitivity, you may need to use a cream or serum with what is referred to as a pro-retinol (retinyl propionate, for example), which is the least intense class of retinoid product. All of these have varying times of recommended use for the best results. Anything that is prescribed will generally have faster results, but your dermatologist will be able to consult with you based on your level of sensitivity. It generally averages about 12 weeks to see the results — it’s important to have patience!

Are retinoids dangerous to my skin?

That’s a conversation that you and your dermatologist should have. Everyone’s skin is different, and retinoids can be powerful formulas. A modicum of discomfort is not abnormal, and sometimes the skin just needs to get accustomed to the dose. It might be necessary to “ramp up,” by starting with a less intense retinoid and moving up from there over time. Regular moisturizing, combined with a dutiful application of sunscreen when outside, is still important for the skin.


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