What is Retin-A?
Tretinoin is a synthetic derivative of vitamin A, related to a class of chemicals called retinoids. Most people are acquainted with the brand names Retin-A® and Renova®, so I will use these more familiar names when talking about tretinoin.
Retin-A helps dissolve the bonds connecting your skin cells together. This increases cell turnover and can help to unplug the pores. Because of this dissolving action, Retin-A will help make the skin feel smoother as well as counteract the formation of blemishes. In contrast, in many people it also causes mild to severe irritation that leads to peeling or flaking skin. Your skin may feel smooth, but it may also look red and scaly. Retin-A is basically an irritant, and your skin responds as such.
Many studies have been performed on the attributes and possible side effects of Retin-A, several touting its ability to stimulate collagen production. It is also said to encourage the development of new blood vessels. It is the blood that feeds and nourishes the skin, so if indeed Retin-A increases the amount of vessels feeding the skin, this would be a big plus. It is my experience, however, that Retin-A causes a weakening of capillaries (tiny blood vessels) in most skin that can then cause couperose. This is one of Retin-A’s biggest negatives.
Retin-A can help to even out pigmentation irregularities and may alter how melanin (the dark pigment in your skin) is distributed. Paradoxically, Retin-A makes your skin much more sensitive to the sun (photosensitive). In fact, when using Retin-A, you need to be very careful about receiving direct sunlight. Retin-A makes your skin very susceptible even to limited sun exposure.
If you ask me, all the negatives far outweigh any positives Retin-A may offer. I have seen enough adverse reactions in my clients’ skin that I cannot be enticed to endorse this anti-aging miracle. Some of my clients see appreciable results; others negligible results, if any. In the skin of clients who love their results, usually I see deep redness and an odd texture to the skin. Because this product causes so many reactions in the majority of its users, I am amazed it is still used to fight wrinkles. Once again, the results are not long-term unless usage is continuous.
I believe Retin-A can quite often be effective for what it was originally intended to treat—acne. I am not, however, a big believer in Retin-A for helping your wrinkles disappear. Since it was developed to treat younger, acne-prone skin, most older, mature skins find it very irritating. Renova was invented to address this very problem. It is essentially Retin-A in a more emollient cream form. Supposedly Renova is more soothing and less irritating. It tends to have a lower percentage of retinoids as well.
Retin-A and Renova are dispensed by prescription only, although you can easily find over-the-counter products that contain retinol in varying strengths. Retin-A, in my opinion, is in the same boat with other miracles cures. Unless you have acne, I would stay away from Retin-A. And if you do have acne, Retin-A may or may not be the answer to your skin care problems. I always encourage my clients to give things a try—you never know. But if this or any other treatment causes more harm than good—just stop using it!
For more information on trends and fads in skin care, see: