What Are Retinoids?

Retinoids are, quite simply, forms of Vitamin A. Although retinoids differ slightly in chemical composition from Vitamin A, the terms retinoid and Vitamin A are often used interchangeably.

The American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) recommends topical retinoids as a first-line treatment for acne and they’re a preferred treatment for maintenance once acne has cleared. Until recently, retinoid-based acne treatments have only been available by prescription. As a result, acne-fighting ingredients such as salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide, which are widely available over the counter, have become more commonly associated with acne treatment than retinoids. Today that’s changing as Adapalene, one of the most studied and well-tolerated retinoids worldwide, has become available without a Rx.

How Retinoids Treat Acne

Blackheads, whiteheads and pimples generally develop the same way. First, a pore clogs with a mixture of dead skin cells and oils. Then oil backs up behind the clogged pore and the p. acnes bacteria that naturally grow on your skin feeds and breeds on it. Your body recognizes this as an infection and sends red and white blood cells to fight it and that leads to the swelling, redness and inflammation.

Retinoids help to break the acne cycle by normalizing the shedding of pore-clogging skin cells and by demonstrating anti-inflammatory effects. Essentially, retinoids work deep within the pores to keep them from clogging so breakouts are stopped in their tracks, before they begin developing.

Retinoid Side Effects

While retinoids boast astounding benefits for the skin, there are also a few downsides. Fortunately, they can be managed

When you first use retinoids on your skin, you may notice redness or peeling and for a short time your acne can even appear worse. But don’t give up and stop the treatment.

First, since retinoids can make your skin sensitive to sunlight, doctors recommend applying them at night. Try also using a gentle moisturizer to manage irritation, and never use more of the product or use it more frequently than directed as it can increase side effects.

Retinoids: The Bottom Line

Retinoids are naturally occurring forms of Vitamin A. The American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) recommends retinoids as a first-line treatment for acne, but many are more familiar with salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide acne treatments because they are widely available over the counter. Retinoids fight breakouts by normalizing the sloughing of dead skin cells that clog pores and lead to blackheads, whiteheads and pimples. There are some potential retinoid side effects but they can be managed.