Skincare masterclass : What are retinoids?


We hear so much about how awesome retinoids are in skincare, they’re plastered all over creams and serums enticing us to try them out. They promise fight the aging process and make our skin look forever young. But do you really know what they are and what you should consider when you start using them? Fear no more and read on to find out all you need to know about them!


What are retinoids?

Retinoids are chemical compounds including our good old friend Vitamin A (retinol) and its derivatives. Only retinol can be found in drugstore creams and serums. Derivatives of Vitamin A that are available only with prescription from your dermatologist include tretinoin, adapalene and tazarotene. Now don’t panic, you don’t have to immediately schedule a visit. Yes, the prescription retinoids have much stronger results, but drugstore retinol can also help reduce wrinkles – it’s gentler and you need to patient with it. Retinol needs at least 3 months of regular to use to actually see the results.

What are they good for?

  • Photoaging and wrinkles (most common is Tretinoin, which is prescription only, ones you can find in drugstores include Retinol, Retinaldehyde and Retinyl palmitate) – because retinoids boost production of collagen in the skin and stimulate new blood vessels the skin color is also improved. They also help fade spots that are also caused by the UV rays and neutralize free radicals that are trying to damage your collagen supplies. Now it does take a lot of time to wait for the results with regular use, the best are after half a year to a year.
  • Acne (most common is Tazarotene) – retinoids can help unclog pores which means less acne! Also all the other creams and serums you’ve been using will penetrate the skin better once the pores are all clear of dead cells and they will produce better results. Though remember that when you’re starting the acne can actually get worse and the beginning and after some time it will get better.
  • Inflammatory Skin Diseases – when treating psoriasis usually a retinoid cream is combined with steroids.

What you should consider before starting using them

When you start your journey with retinoids remember that there are some side effects you should be aware of. Your skin can be dry ,red, raw-looking and you may experience some peeling. You can try using the product with less frequency (start small and work your way up to recommended frequency so your skin can get used to it) and combining it with a good moisturizer to reduce some of those side effects. Remember that if anything raises your concern, is getting worse or you have a weird reaction contact your doctor as soon as possible and stop using the retinoid! It’s also a good idea to test how your skin will react to a retinoid before you start using it on your face – dab some of the product onto your arm and wait for 24 hours to see how your skin will react, if it’s irritated do not use the product and consider switching to a different one.

Since with retinoids your skin becomes sensitive to sunlight it’s best to apply them for the night and remember to protect your skin with high SPF sunscreen. Also keep in mind that in case of using retinoids to treat acne, the condition can get worse at the beginning.

Finally, remember that if you are breastfeeding, pregnant or are trying to conceive do not use any form of retinoids.

Further reading:

Retinoids in the treatment of skin aging: an overview of clinical efficacy and safety

Do retinoids really reduce wrinkles?

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