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What You Need To Know About Retinoids?

What You Need To Know About Retinoids?

Study after study has shown that retinoids help boost cellular turnover in the body.(1) Retinoids are known to stimulate collagen(2), help in treating acne(3), softens wrinkles and fine lines(4), help with hyperpigmentation, and also lends the skin an overall youthful glow.(5) The existence of retinoids has come as a boon to the cosmetic and skincare industry.

When a product has so many benefits, it is often seen that there is an equal number of misconceptions about the product as well. Here is everything you need to know about retinoids so that you know exactly what you are getting into when using this ingredient.

What You Need To Know About Retinoids?

There are Several Types of Retinoids

A common myth is that people believe that all retinoids are the same. Retinoids come in a wide variety of compounds that are derived from vitamin A. There are many different types of retinoid products. These include over-the-counter products to prescription-strength products available n topical and oral medication forms as well.

Over-the-counter (OTC) retinoid products can usually be found in eye creams, serums, and even in some night moisturizers.

There are several types of retinoid products that are available in OTC format. Let’s take a look:

Retinol: This form of retinoid is known to have fewer side effects than retinoic acid, which is a prescriptions strength ingredient. Retinol converts at the cellular level of the skin due to which it can take several months and even up to a year for any results to become visible.

Retinoid Esters (Retinyl Linoleate, Retinyl Acetate, and Retinyl Palmitate): Another form of retinoids available as OTC products, these are the weakest ingredients in the retinoid family. However, these can be a good starting point if you are just starting to use retinoids or if you have a sensitive skin type.

Differin or Adapalene: This form of retinoid slows down the process of any type of excessive growth in the lining of the pores of the skin and also desensitizes the skin to any kind of inflammation. This is why this form is an ideal treatment for those who have acne-prone skin.

Retinoic Acid (Retin-A, Tretinoin): This is a prescription-only type of retinoid that works much faster than retinol because there is no need for any conversion in the skin to take place.

Isotretinoin or Accutane: Another prescription-only form of retinoid, this is available in the form of oral medication. This type of retinoid is only prescribed for some of the most severe types of acne and also requires that a doctor closely supervises the treatment.

Another question that frequently crosses people’s minds is whether to use retinoid in a cream or gel form. Cream forms are better for people who also need more hydration as these products are creamy and emollient. On the other hand, retinoid gels are preferred for those who have oily skin type. Since the gel products are thinner than cream, it makes it easier for them to penetrate faster into the skin, making it stronger and more effective. However, this can also sometimes mean that they come with more side effects and complications.

Depending on the individual skin type and on your doctor’s advice, you should choose the product.

Retinoids Do Not Thin Out The Skin

This is another common belief that retinoid products end up thinning the skin. However, this is usually a common assumption because one of the side effects of retinoids is that when you first start to use them, you may experience skin peeling.

Many people assume that this peeling skin is a sign that their skin is thinning. But, it is actually the opposite. This happens because retinoids boost the production of collagen in the body, helping to thicken the skin. This is also beneficial because one of the first signs of aging is the thinning of the skin.

Retinoids Can Be Used By People Of All Ages

Another common myth that is prevalent is that only people over a certain age should use retinoids, and it will harm the skin of younger people if they use this ingredient. However, this is not true. The original intent of retinoid products was that it would be used for treating acne, and therefore, doctors prescribed retinoids to many young people as well.

It was only in the 1980s that a study published the various skin benefits retinoids have, such as lightening spots of hyperpigmentation and softening fine lines and wrinkles, that the retinoid products began to be marketed as being ‘anti-aging.’(6)

Nevertheless, remember that there is no age restriction on using retinoids. Instead, it all depends on what skin condition you want to treat. After sunscreen, retinoids are known as one of the best preventive ingredients for anti-aging.

Your Skin Will Not Become More Sensitive To The Sun

Many people worry that using retinoids will increase your skin’s sensitivity to the sun. However, this is entirely untrue.

Retinoids begin to break down in the sun, which makes it less effective and unstable. This is why you will find that these products are sold in opaque containers or metallic tubes. It is also recommended that you use retinoids at night.

However, after being studied extensively, it has been found that retinoids do not increase the risk of sunburns. This, though, should not permit you to go outside in the sun without using the proper protection against UV rays. This would prove to be counterproductive as one of the biggest reasons for extrinsic aging is due to the damage caused by the sun’s rays.

You Will Not See The Results Soon

While retinoids are hailed as being a miracle treatment for your skin, it will also not start showing the results immediately as much as you might wish that to be the case. Even with the OTC retinol products, it will still take no less than six months to a year for seeing any visible results. If you are using tretinoin, then also it will take nothing less than three months for the full effects to become apparent.


If you are interested in taking preventive action for fine lines, wrinkles, scarring, pigmentation, and more, then you should definitely consider using retinoids. The best time to start using these products is in your late 20s or in the early 30s. You can start with any OTC retinol product, or you can also take a prescription-strength retinoid product such as tretinoin, but only with a doctor’s prescription and after consultation with a dermatologist.

It is during this decade in your life that the body’s natural collagen production starts to go down, and that too less rapidly than in your earlier years. Furthermore, your need for retinoids also depends on your lifestyle and how much exposure to the sun you have accumulated in your earlier years.


  1. Kong, R., Cui, Y., Fisher, G.J., Wang, X., Chen, Y., Schneider, L.M. and Majmudar, G., 2016. A comparative study of the effects of retinol and retinoic acid on histological, molecular, and clinical properties of human skin. Journal of cosmetic dermatology, 15(1), pp.49-57.
  2. Kafi, R., Kwak, H.S.R., Schumacher, W.E., Cho, S., Hanft, V.N., Hamilton, T.A., King, A.L., Neal, J.D., Varani, J., Fisher, G.J. and Voorhees, J.J., 2007. Improvement of naturally aged skin with vitamin a (retinol). Archives of dermatology, 143(5), pp.606-612.
  3. Leyden, J., Stein-Gold, L. and Weiss, J., 2017. Why topical retinoids are mainstay of therapy for acne. Dermatology and therapy, 7(3), pp.293-304.
  4. Kong, R., Cui, Y., Fisher, G.J., Wang, X., Chen, Y., Schneider, L.M. and Majmudar, G., 2016. A comparative study of the effects of retinol and retinoic acid on histological, molecular, and clinical properties of human skin. Journal of cosmetic dermatology, 15(1), pp.49-57.
  5. Babamiri, K. and Nassab, R., 2010. Cosmeceuticals: the evidence behind the retinoids. Aesthetic surgery journal, 30(1), pp.74-77.
  6. Kligman, L.H., Duo, C.H. and Kligman, A.M., 1984. Topical retinoic acid enhances the repair of ultraviolet damaged dermal connective tissue. Connective tissue research, 12(2), pp.139-150.
Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA Pain Assist Inc. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:October 1, 2021

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