Since the first topical retinoid was approved for acne in 1971, these vitamin A products have been hailed by many as a cure-all for skin problems. Although retinoid gels and liquids may not be the answer to every skin condition, there are several for which their effectiveness is proven.
Retinoids for Acne
If you have moderate to severe acne that hasn't been helped by other treatments, adding a topical retinoid to your regimen may help other treatments work better. Applied to the skin, retinoids can unclog pores, allowing other topical medications to enter and reach problem areas better.
They also help reduce acne outbreaks by preventing dead cells from clogging pores. By clearing acne and reducing outbreaks, they may also reduce the formation of acne scars. An oral retinoid also helps treat oil production, bacteria associated with acne, and inflammation.
How to use: Smooth cream over affected skin once a day 20 to 30 minutes after washing your face.
What else you need to know: When you first use topical retinoids, you may notice redness or peeling of your skin or worsening of your acne. You can minimize this by using the product every other day until your body gets used to it.
Retinoids for Wrinkles and Other Signs of Aging
Tretinoin was the first retinoid approved by the FDA to treat wrinkles. This prescription retinoid works by increasing the production of new collagen. It also stimulates new blood vessels in the skin, giving skin a rosy appearance, fading age spots, and reducing precancerous skin spots called actinic keratosis. Tretinoin also may help prevent more serious effects of ultraviolet radiation.
Over-the-counter retinoids may not be as effective as tretinoin in reducing wrinkles, but they can improve the appearance of sun-damaged skin. Using them along with products containing alpha hydroxy acids may provide additional skin-smoothing effects.
How to use: Apply to your face, neck, chest, hands, and forearms at least twice a week.
What else you need to know: It takes three to six months of regular use before improvements in wrinkles are apparent, with best results occurring after six to 12 months.
Retinoids for Psoriasis
Retinoids help slow the growth of skin cells in patients with psoriasis. Usually, you would apply a small dab to each lesion once a day before bed. A topical retinoid is often combined with steroid treatment.