Retinoid Recap: Pros and Cons of Retinol, Retinaldehyde, and Retinoic Acid

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Retinoids, topical vitamin A, are widely considered the undisputed champions of skin care. This superhero ingredient has been clinically proven to banish wrinkles, diminish hyperpigmentation and improve skin texture, and is one of the most effective ingredients for treating acne. Other noteworthy benefits include epidermal thickening and increase of glycosaminoglycans (GAGs).

 

The importance of retinol was discovered in the early 1900s, and subsequent research showed that its deficiency caused xerosis (abnormally dry skin) and follicular hyperkeratosis – also known as keratosis pilaris, a skin condition characterized by keratinization of hair follicles in the skin.

 

 In the 1960s, retinol was used in the treatment of acne and today is widely accepted as the benchmark by which other ingredients are measured.

 

The retinoid family comprises vitamin A compounds including retinol, retinaldehyde, and retinoic acid.

 

Let’s go over each of these and discuss the pros and cons.

 

RETINOL

Pros: Over-the-counter use of retinol in cosmetic products began in 1984. It is proven to show significant improvement in fine lines, wrinkles, and photoaged skin by increasing fibroblast growth, resulting in improved collagen synthesis. Retinol is better tolerated and produces considerably less transepidermal water loss, erythema, and scaling than retinoic acid (tretinoin.)

 

Cons: Retinol is significantly less potent than tretinoin and it requires further conversion to retinoic acid to demonstrate its action. When retinol is applied topically, enzymes in the skin convert it into retinaldehyde and, then, into retinoic acid. Because it has two conversion steps to make before the skin can use it, retinol is gentler, with fewer side effects, but results are slower.

 

Sequence of the Conversion Process: Retinyl palmitate to retinol, then, retinaldehyde to retinoic acid (tretinoin).

 

RETINALDEHYDE

Pros: Retinaldehyde is a vitamin A precursor that only needs one enzymatic conversion to turn into retinoic acid, so it works faster than retinol but is gentler than tretinoin. Retinaldehyde is gentle on the skin, with very few adverse effects. Retinaldehyde has been proven to increase epidermal thickness and cutaneous elasticity, as well as reduce the appearance of fine lines, wrinkles, and rough skin. Retinaldehyde is stronger than retinol and is non-prescription. It is a favorable option for those clients who cannot tolerate retinoic acid, which can cause redness, flakiness, and irritation.

 

 Cons: Retinaldehyde takes longer to see results than retinoic acid because of the enzymatic conversion process.

 

RETINOIC ACID OR TRETINOIN

Pros: Retinoic acid is clinically proven to improve breakouts and prevent the development of acne. This powerhouse ingredient is highly efficacious on both noninflammatory and inflammatory acne, as well as secondary acne lesions, including hyperpigmentation and scarring. Tretinoin, the generic name for synthetic retinoic acid, is a prescription drug that is available in different strengths and is investigated more than any other retinoid in the treatment of photoaging. This wonder drug is shown to improve conditions of mottled hyperpigmentation, skin texture, sallowness, and laxity.

 

Cons: Tretinoin can cause retinoid reaction, which includes erythema, scaling, transepidermal water loss, photosensitivity, and irritation. If the client does experience a reaction, it can be addressed by consulting with their physician to discuss the various strengths available, frequency of use, or by switching to a less active retinoid.

 

Retinoids are extremely popular for good reason. They are effective in treating skin concerns, including wrinkles, hyperpigmentation, laxity, and acne. Retinol is excellent for those who want to use an over-the-counter ingredient that is milder than retinaldehyde and retinoic acid but takes longer to see results. Retinaldehyde is a perfect choice for those who do not want to use a prescription drug but still want to obtain the benefits of a retinoid. This ingredient is gentler than retinoic acid but stronger than retinol. Retinoic acid (tretinoin) is a prescription drug and the strongest and most widely studied of the retinoid family. It is an ideal option for those who can tolerate the side effects, which can vary from person to person. Tretinoin is considered the leading standard for addressing photoaged skin and acne vulgaris. There are different retinoids for everyone, based on their tolerance and commitment level. Retinoids are a vital ingredient for a daily care regimen for healthy, youthful looking, clear skin.

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