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Retinol is a natural derivative of vitamin A that is commonly found in antiaging creams. But it can also be an effective ingredient in treating acne and reducing the appearance of acne scars.
So how does it work, are there any side effects and how often should you use it for clearer, smoother skin?
In this article, we’ll help you answer these questions and also provide you with suggestions on retinol products that may be good choices for acne-prone skin.
Retinol is a popular ingredient in over-the-counter skin care products such as serums, wrinkle creams, and nighttime moisturizers.
It is part of a family of compounds called retinoids. Although all retinoids come from vitamin A, their properties vary.
Retinol works in several ways. On the outermost layer of the skin (epidermis), retinol exfoliates to remove dirt, dead skin cells, and oil from pores. This can help prevent pimples from forming.
It also works by literally penetrating under your skin unlike many other acne treatments. Tiny molecules enter the middle layer of your skin (dermis), where retinol stimulates the production of collagen and elastin.
These two compounds indirectly fight acne by reducing the appearance of pores and acne scars over time.
Retinol and retinoids are chemically similar. They are also used to treat the same skin conditions. However, there are a few important differences.
Retinol is a type of retinoid. Other common retinoids include:
- adapalene (Differin)
- tretinoin (Retin-A)
- isotretinoin (Accutane)
- retinoid esters (retinyl palmitate, retinyl acetate, retinyl linoleate)
Retinol is a medium strength retinoid. It is stronger than retinoid esters but weaker than tretinoin or isotretinoin, which are only available with a doctor’s prescription.
This means that while the results from using retinol may not be as quick or dramatic as those produced by prescription products, it presents a lower risk of side effects. For example, it is less likely to cause skin irritation.
Its availability also makes it a good place to start if you want to try retinoids for acne.
Over-the-counter retinol creams, gels, and serums typically contain 0.25-1.5% retinol. How much strength you need will largely depend on your skin type.
If you have sensitive skin, start with a lower dose. If you do not experience side effects, you can always increase the dose.
Also, keep in mind that anti-aging products containing retinol may not be formulated to treat acne. You’ll want to avoid ingredients that could make acne worse, such as perfumes and oils.
Some retinol products that may be particularly useful for the treatment of acne and scars include the following, which can be purchased online:
When trying a retinol product, it is important to follow the directions for the product and work gradually. This may cause a little redness or irritation at first until your skin adjusts to retinol.
Start by adding the product to your skincare routine one night a week at first. If you don’t notice any side effects, you can apply it more often.
To reduce the risk of irritation, wash your face and then wait half an hour before applying retinol.
Retinol is best applied at night because it can increase your skin’s sensitivity to the sun. When you go out, be sure to use sunscreen to protect your face.
Also, keep in mind that you don’t need to use retinol daily for it to be effective in treating acne. Two to three times a week may be sufficient. You should continue to use it even after you notice improvement in acne.
Retinol is a natural form of vitamin A, but that doesn’t mean it’s free from side effects. Some potential side effects include:
- sun sensitivity
These effects are more likely when you first start using retinol. They should subside after a few weeks as your skin adjusts to the product. However, if the side effects persist, you may want to switch to a weaker product.
Retinol can trigger or worsen rashes in people with eczema.
In addition, it is not safe for pregnant women. Talk to your doctor about retinol if you plan to get pregnant in the near future.
Finally, long-term use of retinol may present additional risks. Both Campaign for safe cosmetics and the Environment Working Group raised concerns about a possible link between the use of retinol and cancer.
Unfortunately, research is currently limited. If you have any concerns, talk to your doctor before using retinol.
In addition to helping reduce acne, retinol can be used to treat several other skin conditions, including:
Remember that in order to start seeing the benefits of retinol, you need to use it regularly. It may take up to 2-3 months to see results.
Retinol is a well-known ingredient in anti-aging creams, gels and serums. What many people don’t know is that it can also be used to treat acne and acne-scarred skin. It works on both the surface and middle layers of the skin to unclog pores, smooth scars, and improve tone and texture.
If you are thinking of trying retinol for the first time, be aware that it can cause side effects, including irritation. Most of the time, these side effects go away after a few weeks of use. Talk to a doctor or dermatologist to learn more about using retinol for acne.