Retinoids: Topical

Retinoids are a class of medications derived from vitamin A that are used to treat a variety of skin conditions, including acne, aging skin, and psoriasis.

Topical retinoids are formulated for use on the skin and are available in the U.S. by prescription only. There are several brands of topical retinoids available, including:

  • Adapalene (Differin)
  • Tazarotene (Tazorac)
  • Tretinoin (Retin A Micro, generic)

All topical retinoids are safe and effective, but there are several common side effects, including skin dryness and irritation. Irritation associated with topical retinoid use (“retinoid dermatitis”) occurs most commonly within the first 2 to 4 weeks of therapy and lessens with continued use. The regular use of a gentle skin cleanser and moisturizer can also help relieve the irritation.Topical retinoids can also increase the skin’s sensitivity to ultraviolet light. If you use a topical retinoid, you should also use a sunscreen with SPF of at least 15 to prevent additional skin irritation.

Topical retinoids are usually prescribed for use once per day, at night. The use at night is recommended because the sun’s UV radiation can degrade the medication and diminish its effectiveness.

Retinoids can help repair skin damage due to chronic sun exposure and natural aging.

Clinical studies of topical retinoids have also shown them to be effective in diminishing fine lines and superficial wrinkles. Retinoids may slow down the onset of wrinkles and extend the time between other wrinkle treatments.

Topical retinoids reduce signs of aging by stimulating collagen production, leading to a more youthful appearance.

Use at least 2-3 time a week can lead to noticeable improvement over two to 6 months. The benefits of using retinoids for aging skin include:

  • Visual reduction in the number and depth of wrinkles
  • Improvement of the skin’s texture (smoother skin)
  • Reversal of abnormal pigmentation (fading of dark spots)

Treatment with a topical retinoid should be started before the skin is significantly damaged.

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