This popular acne treatment can clear up more than breakouts.  So, should you consider adding retinoids to your skin care routine?

What Are Retinoids?

Retinoids are chemical compounds derived from vitamin A, an essential vitamin found in richly colored fruits and vegetables. Typically used in small concentrations for topical treatments, retinoids take many cosmeceutical forms ranging from over-the-counter formulas like retinol, to prescription-strength formulas like tretinoin. Retinoids have developed a bad reputation due to their side effects- irritation, burning, peeling, and dryness-but they can be extremely effective. And in recent years, formulas have been released that are gentler on the skin.

How Retinoids Work for Anti-Aging

Retinoids' anti-aging properties were discovered as a positive side effect to acne treatments and have various benefits. Retinoids stimulate skin to produce more collagen and hyaluronic acid. They plump skin while giving it a smoother texture with fewer visible lines. They also boost skin's natural exfoliation of dead skin cells, improving complexion and evening out skin tone. Retinoids are a good choice for combating sun damage, hyper-pigmentation, and fine lines.

How Retinoids Work for Acne

People with mild to moderately severe acne often receive retinoids as their first-step treatment. Besides stimulating exfoliation (a critical process for acne sufferers) they also help moderate skin's oil production, which has been proven to reduce lesions, whiteheads, and blackheads. Retinoid treatments are often prescribed along with topical or oral antibiotics, which fight bad bacteria while retinoids make the skin a less friendly environment for bacterial-growth.

Tips for Using Retinoids

  • Try an over-the-counter option first. While non-prescription-strength retinoids may take three times as long to work, they are much gentler and can give you a sense of how your skin will react.
  • Start slowly. To avoid potential irritation, don't dive in to a daily regimen. Instead, apply a topical retinoid every 3-4 days, and work up the frequency as your skin gets more used to the treatment. You may want to apply it at night, when your skin is sure to be shielded from sun.
  • Wear sunscreen. You should always protect skin anyway, but be especially cautious when using retinoids since skin will be more sensitive to burning. 
  • Keep it simple. Don't combine retinoids with other skincare treatments, and be careful about reactions with medications.
  • Avoid retinoids if you're pregnant. As with most treatments, nursing and pregnant mothers should not introduce retinoids into their skincare routine.

Sources: "Cosmeceutical Facts and Your Skin." American Academy of Dermatology. Web. 2009. "Acne Treatment Revolutionized by 25 Years of Research." AcneNet. Web. 2004.