The role retinoids play in quality skin care
Vitamin A (Getty)
Retinoids, and related compounds are derived from vitamin A. In its many forms, vitamin A is quite different when ingested than when applied to the skin. In the world of skin care and beauty it has assumed a very central role as retinoids, retinol and retinoic acid. And that’s where the confusion comes in.
The active form is called retinoic acid and, topically applied, this compound functions primarily to encourage skin cell turnover. Sounds simple, but this is a big deal. The superficial cells of the skin are the ones we see. They age, heap up, form surface irregularities and blemishes, and block the opening of oil glands onto the skin, called pores. There are many strategies for removing dead skin cells, including some we alluded to in a recent column. These include dermaplaning, peeling and alpha hydroxy acid lotions and masks.
But only retinoids help increase cell turnover rate, pushing the old cells out of the way and replacing them with young, healthy, and well-organized layers of cells. These cells replicate the skin of youth, and actually unblock openings of the oil glands (pores) and prevent and reverse acne. Retinoids also help lighten skin blemishes and discolorations caused by the sun, reduce fine wrinkles, help build new collagen in the dermis, and act as potent antioxidants.
The first of these scientifically tested compounds, and made available to the public, was tretinoin, known commercially as Retin-A. This form of retinoid is extremely effective and is available by prescription only. It is particularly potent because it is easily converted to the active ingredient, retinoic acid.
Tretinoin was first introduced as an anti-acne cream, and it worked well by unblocking pores and encouraging new cell growth. One of the drawbacks of tretinoin is the fact that it is irritating, often cannot be used daily, and drying, plus it requires plentiful moisturization.
Over-the-counter versions, usually containing retinol esters, are stable compounds that need to be converted first to retinol, and then to retinoic acid in order to do work. This extra step in the conversion makes retinol that much less potent than retinoids like tretinoin. But they are safe, effective and very useful.
The over-the-counter versions come in fairly low concentrations, and so it may take a few weeks to see the effect. But smile lines, facial wrinkles, and discolorations are visibly diminished.
Some of the retinoid products are quite irritating. Others less so.
A Youth Corridor product, Retinultimate Transforming Gel is a unique retinoid gel formulation that is virtually irritant-free, while retaining the effectiveness of true retinoids. Unfortunately, it is quite expensive.
Nearly all other products offer varying degrees of effectiveness and skin compatibility, and price point, and only trial will tell. All we have tried offered some degree of skin revitalization.
It is important to use all retinoid products in a nighttime routine as they make skin sunlight sensitive.
Gerald Imber M.D. is an internationally known plastic surgeon and anti-aging authority. Learn more at YouthCorridorClinic.com. Email your skin-care questions to Dr. Imber at email@example.com.