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What Are Retinoids?

July 20, 2020 By

Are you tired of dealing with fine lines? You might want to consider adding retinoids to your skincare regimen. These powerful chemical compounds might be exactly what you need to achieve the smooth, youthful appearance want.

Read on to learn more about retinoids, and to see if a retinoid product might be right for you.

Retinoids 101

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“Retinoids” is an umbrella term used to describe several different types of vitamin A derivatives that are commonly used as ingredients in skin care products. Retinoids have been used since the 1970s.1

Is there a difference between retinol and retinoids? In terms of skin care products, “retinol” is a term often used to describe most types of retinoids available over-the-counter. The word “retinoid” is often used for more powerful, prescription-strength products.2 These include:

  • Tretinoin
  • Tazarotene 
  • Adapalene3

Different retinoids are associated with different benefits. Retinyl esters, for example (which include retinyl acetate, retinyl propionate, and retinyl palmitate), are used to help with wrinkles. Retinaldehyde helps support the skin’s texture. Tazarotene helps to protect the skin from sun damage.4

How Do Retinoids Work?

Trying to learn how retinoids work can seem overwhelming. But in a nutshell, they help support healthy skin cell turnover. Topical retinoids may also support the skin’s collagen production. Collagen is what makes skin look firm and smooth. Retinoids may also help reduce the appearance of skin damage due to ultraviolet light from the sun.5

Retinoids may also help unclog pores and can be used with topical antibiotics to eliminate bacteria that can lead to certain types of skin problems and blemishes.6

In order for retinoids to benefit the skin, the body must first convert them in a usable form. Here’s how this intricate process typically works, using retinyl palmitate as an example.

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  • When you eat a carrot, your small intestine absorbs the beta-carotene in the carrot. The body then converts the beta-carotene into a retinoid known as retinyl palmitate, which it then stores in the liver.
  • The cells convert retinyl palmitate into retinol, which is then transported to the skin through the bloodstream.
  • The epidermis, a layer of the skin, converts the retinol back into retinyl palmitate. This is the only way it can get into fibroblasts and keratinocytes, which are types of skin cells.
  • Once it crosses the membranes of these cells, the retinyl palmitate converts back into retinol.
  • The retinol is then converted into retinoic acid once it penetrates the cell. That’s when your skin may reap its benefits.7

When used topically, retinoids don’t have to go through all of these steps. After all, they’re going directly to your skin – you’re not getting them through food. They go straight to work on your skin, making it stronger by boosting your supply of collagen.8

Which Retinoid May Be Right For You?

You should always talk to your doctor or dermatologist before making any major change to your skin care routine. This is especially true if you’re considering combining retinoids with alpha hydroxy acids.

Citric acid is an example of an alpha-hydroxy acid. Both retinoids and alpha-hydroxy-acids can help remove dead skin cells and eliminate certain kinds of bacteria. But you don’t want to use them at the same time without first talking to a medical professional. You could run the risk of suffering damaged skin or other negative side effects.9

As far as retinoids themselves are concerned, some are a lot more potent than others. A retinoid cream containing retinyl palmitate, for example, is not quite as strong as a retinoid product that has retinaldehyde as its active ingredient.10

You’ve probably seen several different types of retinol products at the cosmetics counter. Two of the more common ones are gels and creams. But is a retinoid cream or gel best for you? Here are a couple of ways you can tell.

  • A gel is usually stronger than a cream because it gets deeper into the skin. The strongest over-the-counter retinoids come in alcohol-based gels. Water-based gels are not as strong, but they’re still stronger than creams. So if you need a strong formula, your dermatologist may suggest a gel.
  • On the other hand, a cream might be better if you have more mature, drier skin. They can help your skin feel moisturized and rejuvenated. Again, your doctor will help you decide what’s best.11

Does Overuse Of Retinoids Harm Skin?

When you first use retinoids, you might notice that your skin gets red and flaky. It also might feel tighter than normal. This is normal – it just means your skin is getting used to the new chemical compounds. It usually takes a few weeks for cellular turnover to occur and for you to really see the benefits.12

Just like any sort of skin product, you can get too much of a good thing. If you overuse retinoids, that can lead to some pretty serious problems. These include irritation and skin peeling. Also, you need to be even more diligent about applying sunscreen if you use retinoids. Retinoids may make the skin more sensitive to UV rays.13

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If you’re nursing a child or you’re pregnant, never use retinoids without speaking to a doctor first.14

Retinoids And Sensitive Skin

The higher the potency of the retinoid product you use, the higher the chances you will experience some sort of skin irritation, such as itching, burning, peeling, or dryness. While this doesn’t happen to everyone, the chances go up if you already have sensitive skin.15

The best way to avoid this is to make sure you use the product exactly as directed. If you do find that you have irritated skin, check with your doctor about whether you should use the product less often than directed. Your dermatologist might recommend using the product every other day, or switch you to a different type of retinoid. Making sure your skin stays moisturized could also help.16

Tips For Applying Retinoids So You Get Results (Without Dry, Irritated Skin)

In order to get the most out of retinoids, you want to make sure you’re using them correctly. It’s important to follow the instructions carefully for whatever products you’re using. Here are a few ways to apply retinoids safely and effectively.

  • Be conservative. Most people only need to use a pea-sized amount. Spread it evenly across your face using your fingertips.
  • Start with a lower strength retinoid product first to make sure your skin can tolerate it. If it does, talk to your dermatologist if you feel you need something stronger.
  • Try to use it at night if possible. If you use it during the day, it can break down when exposed to the sun.
  • Make sure your skin is dry when you use retinoids, especially if you have sensitive skin. Using them on wet skin could increase the risk of irritation. 
  • Be patient. You’re not going to see results overnight. Most people see their best results in anywhere from three to six months.17

1. https://www.heydoctor.com/learn/what-are-retinoids

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