Discover how retinoids treat not only acne but also wrinklesfrom this EverydayHealth.com article written by Diana Rodriguez.
The body needs vitamin A to develop strong teeth and tissues, healthy vision, and healthy skin. Retinol is a type of vitamin A that can be found in food sources like whole-milk dairy products, liver, meats, and eggs.
Vitamin A is also available in topical forms, known as a retinoids, that are used as medications to treat skin conditions. Retinoids were initially marketed and approved to combat very severe acne. But researchers soon discovered another valuable property of retinoids: They could reduce the signs of photoaging (aging of the skin from sun exposure) and were soon used as a wrinkle treatment.
Retinoids for Skin Solutions
There are two major types of natural retinoids used medically.
Isotretinoin (formerly marketed under the brand name Accutane) is an oral medication that may be prescribed for people who cannot control severe acne through topical treatments or with antibiotic medications. Though it's been found to be extremely effective in managing acne, it has serious side effects, including birth defects if taken by pregnant women. Generic isotretinoin may cause depression and, rarely, thoughts of suicide. And while new information is emerging that it could contribute to or worsen irritable bowel disease, a study found that isotretinoin use did not affect the incidence of IBD.
Tretinoin (Retin-A, Avita, Renova) is a topical vitamin A prescription acne treatment. It's also used to help reverse damage to the skin from sun exposure. Tretinoin works as an irritant, which results in more rapid turnover of skin cells, causing old cells to die more quickly. Tretinoin helps acne disappear as it sheds old skin cells. While it also minimizes the appearance of wrinkles and dark spots on the skin, exactly how it works against wrinkles and sun damage isn't completely understood.
There are also synthetic forms of topical retinoids available by prescription for acne treatment: adapalene (Differin) and tazorotene (Tazorac).
Prescription Versus Over-the-Counter Retinoids
Studies have examined the effectiveness of various types of prescription retinoids on both acne and as a wrinkle treatment. Researchers have concluded that topical retinoids are an effective acne treatment and are also effective in preventing acne breakouts. Research has also found impressive results when it comes to reducing — and in some cases reversing — sun damage.
Cosmeceuticals (cosmetics that also claim to treat a skin condition, such as wrinkle creams) that contain weaker forms of retinoids are widely available, but relatively little research has been done to determine their effectiveness. Of the studies that have been conducted, cosmeceticals with the form of vitamin A called retinaldehyde are the most successful in reducing the signs of aging.
The Cost of Care
Isotretinoin and tretinoin are only available through a prescription and should be used under a doctor's supervision. Costs vary according to your pharmacy and health insurance. In some cases, the medication may be covered partially or fully by your health insurance plan, particularly if the treatment is for acne. The use of a retinoid topical cream for cosmetic reasons is less likely to be covered by insurance. A year's supply of treatment with Retin-A can cost somewhere in the neighborhood of $200.
The less potent, non-prescription retinoids, such as retinol and retinaldehyde, can be purchased over-the-counter as ingredients in skin care products marketed to erase wrinkles, sun damage, and other signs of aging. There are many brands available, including RoC and Olay, among others. Retinol- and retinaldehyde-based products are available at drugstores and beauty counters. Products range in price from about $10 to $20 or more.
The uses of vitamin A have evolved over the years, from the body's natural needs to man-made treatments that get rid of pimples and minimize wrinkles and dark spots on the skin. Whether you seek acne or wrinkle treatment, buy it over-the-counter or with a doctor's prescription, be aware of possible side effects, and make sure to follow all instructions carefully.