If you’re on the hunt for effective acne treatment, consider using vitamin A to boost your skin’s natural healing process. Vitamin A, or retinol and retinoid, has been proven to improve acne and prevent its recurrence. But how exactly does it work? What are the benefits of vitamin A for acne and other skin conditions? And what are the differences between retinol and retinoid? We’ll answer all these questions and more in this article, so read on!
A retinoid is a broad term used to describe vitamin A derivatives, including Tretinoin, Adapalene, and Tazarotene.
While high-concentration topical formulas are available via prescription, you can buy still effective but less-concentrated topical treatments over the counter. Retinoids help with skin disorders by increasing cell turnover, stimulating collagen production, reducing inflammation, and reducing acne-causing bacteria.
Vitamin A, a powerful antioxidant, is considered to be one of nature’s most effective skincare ingredients. Found in both retinoids and retinol (we will get into the difference later), vitamin A is best known for its ability to clear acne and slow down signs of aging.
Topical Vitamin A not only reduces the appearance of wrinkles over time, but it improves the elasticity of your skin, can help strengthen your skin barrier, smooth skin texture, improve discoloration, and fight acne.
However, not all vitamin A products are created equal—retinol and retinoic acid are two forms of vitamin A that work differently when applied topically. Retinol has a lower concentrated retinoic acid in your skin, so it works more slowly and tends to be less irritating than its retinoid counterparts.
While Vitamin A and its retinoid formulas can work miracles on your skin, there are contraindications. For example, you should not use retinol or retinoids if you are pregnant, nursing, or have sensitive skin. There are also other contraindications, so you should consult your doctor before adding a retinoid to your routine.
It’s also important to note that you should never mix retinol with alcohol-based products or exfoliants because it can cause irritation and dryness.
Although the two medications may appear the same, there is a difference between retinol and retinoid. You can think of retinol as the cousin of retinoid. They both work by converting to retinoic acid, which can be beneficial in fighting acne and visible signs of aging, but both work in different ways.
However, while retinoids are prescription-only, retinol is a lower concentration variation that can be bought over the counter. In addition, OTC retinol products generally have other ingredients in the formula to enhance skin appearance, whereas prescription retinol is often retinoic acid (the active ingredient) in its purest state.
Note that Adapalene is actually a prescription-strength retinoid that can be bought over the counter. More on that later.
If you have never used a retinoid before, it’s recommended that you start with an OTC formula before talking to your doctor about a prescription.
Now that you understand the general difference between retinol and retinoids, we will break each type of retinoid down in further detail below.
Tretinoin is a pharmaceutical form of vitamin A or retinoic acid. It reduces acne, and acne scarring, smooths fine lines and wrinkles, lightens pigmentation spots (such as melasma), and treats sun-damaged skin. There are many topical products containing Tretinoin (or Retin-A), including gels, creams, lotions, solutions, ointments, and pads. In addition to its acne-fighting properties, it also works excellent for anti-aging by increasing the cell turnover rate of damaged skin cells while simultaneously stimulating new collagen growth in areas where it is applied.
Tretinoin is often prescribed at different potency levels (typically 0.02 to 0.5%). Usually, your doctor will start you on a low dosage and work you up to a higher potency after your skin develops a tolerance for the product.
Isotretinoin is a drug that is used to treat severe acne. It comes in capsule form and usually has to be taken daily for five months. Isotretinoin is also sold under other names, including Accutane and Claravis. Isotretinoin functions by decreasing oil production from sebaceous glands and speeding up skin cell turnover; as a result, it clears pores of excess oil and dead skin cells, unclogs pores, and reduces pimple formation. This can help keep breakouts under control for people with severe acne but does not guarantee results or make your skin perfect.
Isotretinoin is one of the most extreme acne treatment options and can be extremely tough on your liver and skin and cause other potential side effects. For this reason, dermatologists generally only prescribe it to the most severe acne sufferers.
Adapalene or Differin is a type of retinoid that offers a prescription-strength efficacy but can be purchased over the counter due to its mild side effects and general tolerability. Derived from Vitamin A, Adapalene (marketed as Differin by Galderma Laboratories) is an excellent retinoid option for acne sufferers and those looking to fight the signs of aging.
This is the retinoid found in most over-the-counter retinol products. Due to its lower concentration of retinoic acid, there are generally much fewer side effects using retinol than prescription retinoids. However, keep in mind that due to its lower potency, it often will take longer to see results.
Retinoid esters are the mildest form of retinoid that you can buy. You can buy retinoid esters over the counter and have the lowest concentration of retinoic acid. For that reason, this is the optimal option for those with sensitive skin.
While retinoids can be incredibly effective at treating acne, it can also pose side effects, including photosensitivity, dryness, and irritation. Furthermore, you must undergo the dreaded several-month “purge” phase when implementing retinol into your routine—during which time your acne often worsens.
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