All About Retinoids: Considering Retin-A

May 4, 2008 at 10:07 pm 11 comments

For the past 7 months, I have been using prescription strength Retin-A.

Retin-A , Renova and/or Generic Tretinoin Cream is an emollient and is much less harsh than what I tried as a teenager.   I have read that every person over 30 can benefit from using Retin-A.  That is unless you are pregnant.

After mentioning using Retin-A in a recent post, Marilyn made the comment:

“I used Retinoids in my 40’s – they are great – but insurance companies are extremely hesitant to cover the prescription products (Retin A comes to mind), which from my experience, give the best results. Stupid insurance companies.”

No kidding!  A container of Retin-A can run almost $100 bucks!  It will last a long time though. I am still working on the same tube I started 7 months ago, and I have noticed some great improvements while using it consistently.  These benefits have been clearer, more even, and firmer skin. 

My Dermatologist explained to me that generic Generic Tretinoin Cream is the same as using name brand Renova and is a lot less expensive.

According to Paula Begoun:

Most over the counter brands contain retinyl palmitate instead of retinol or retinaldehyde.  Retinyl palmitate does not convert to retinoic acid—the active, beneficial form of vitamin A—as readily as retinol or retinaldehyde. That’s important, because retinoic acid is the substance that can communicate with a skin cell to tell it to function normally.

So although you can benefit from using retinyl palmitate, you will get better results using retinol or retinaldehyde which is found in prescription strength cremes and ointments.

The main benefits that retinoids offer are that they stimulate collagen production in the skin, and also increase the cell turnover rate which decreases with age.  Retinoids should not to be used while pregnant.    For treating acne, Retin A will take 6+ weeks of use to notice the benefits.  For treating wrinkles, Retin A will take 6+ months to see improvements, and will produce optimal results after a year of continual use.

Side Effects of Retin-A:  Every good thing has some drawbacks…

  • Increased skin cell turnover can be irritating and cause flaking and redness.   The key is, easy does it!  A little goes a long way, and you want to build up using it gradually, even every other day at first.  If you are experiencing flaking or severe irritation, take a few days off, or consult with your Dermatologist.  You will want to use a good moisturizer while using Retin A.
  • Increased sun sensitivity.  While using retinoids, your skin will become more sensitive to sunlight, so you will want to use a very effective sunscreen, wear a hat, and keep out of the sun to protect your skin.
  • Do not use if pregnant, retinoids can cause birth defects.
  • There is some controversy of the long term side effects Retin-A.  Here is an excerpt from a letter from Ishtar Magally a Bio-Medical Esthetician from Sophyto Organic skincare:

According to the Skin Deep report, here is the safety report  of Retinoid Acid ( the same applies to all retinoids):
All Retinoids are used extensively by the medical community, however, all of them cause side-effects. Focusing on the skin, Retin-A sensitizes the skin. This is a long term process and this can only mean the pH has been altered. Retin A- and AHA`s might give the impression of helping bring the skin back to a normal pH as they are very acidic but they are overly acidic and very aggressive. At the beginning the skin feels smooth and readily absorbs all the nutrients but if its use is continued for a long period of time, the skin starts to show symptoms of an acid imbalance (very dry skin), very thin skin, it gets very intolerant to several ingredients, it could develop telangiectasias and even hyperpigmentations as the skin becomes intolerant to the sun and unable to protect itself from UV rays.
The reason why it is highly recommended by dermatologists and conventional estheticians is, besides the reason you mention, it also helps accelerate the cell renewal cycle. This is specially helpful on mature skins whose cycle keeps getting slower and slower. I disagree that this is the only product that stimulates collagen. Vitamin C also stimulates collagen and elastin fibers as well as enzymes. The safe way to get the same benefits (though not so aggressive) as Retin A is to use herbs, foods, rich in Vitamin A.  

So lots of things to consider when deciding whether or not to use Retin-A.  At this point and time, I am continuing to use Retin A until more evidence can support that it cannot continue to benefit my skin, but Sophyto’s points seem somewhat credible.  One source I talked to considers the Skin Deep site as a,fear-based website that has a lot of flawed information in their data base about products.”  It seems like the more you look for answers, the more contradictions you find.  Clearly, most medical professionals support the use of Retin-A, including Jeannette Graf, M.D., renowned Dermatologist and author of the book, “Stop Aging, Start Living.”  

I would love to hear your experiences, or your research on the subject as well. 

Entry filed under: Skincare, Uncategorized. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , .

Ode to Evan and Jen: 17 years together! Supracor Stimulite® Bath Mitt paired with Caudalie’s Spa Radiance Set

11 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Critty  |  May 5, 2008 at 7:17 am

    Great post! I am going to the derm in a few weeks to get some Renova, my 34 year old skin is doing things I am not too excited about – lol. I also like the book The Skin Type Solution which is written by dermatologist Leslie Baumann.

  • 2. jen38  |  May 5, 2008 at 7:41 am

    Thanks for your comment Critty! I am a fan of Leslie Baumann’s book as well.

    I took a look at your website, Pretty by Critty, and it is wonderful!

    Best wishes,

  • 3. Marilyn  |  May 5, 2008 at 9:36 pm

    I’ve decided it’s okay to age. So my new mantra is “Start aging, and shut up!” There’s power in all those years!!

  • 4. jen38  |  May 5, 2008 at 9:54 pm

    That is a good mantra and maybe the title of your own book!

    You are so right, we need to embrace our aging and the wisdom that (hopefully) comes as we age. You can always get me smiling Marilyn, thank you.

  • […] the damaging effects of the sun.  Further more, I know that you need to be hyper-vigilant about using sunscreen while using retinoids, or after using facial skincare products with BHA or AHA’s.   Even so, sometimes I still […]

  • 6. rachelle  |  September 4, 2008 at 12:51 pm

    so i turned the big 3-0 this summer and i am ready to do something. (guess i need to adopt marilyn’s mantra still.) i live in mexico and can buy retin a and renova over the counter. soooo- how do i use them? like moisturizer, after cleansing? instead of moisturizer or over it? how much do i use? and do you know if i use it while i’m nursing? (guess i could google it.) TIA!
    hope your beans are delish~

  • 7. Jen Hill  |  September 4, 2008 at 8:40 pm

    Hi Rachelle, the beans turned out great!

    Lucky you to get Retin-A OTC! And I am not a Doctor, so I can give you some advice, but would strongly recommend you work with a licensed Dermatologist. I have heard that the lowest concentration is where you should start (.025%), and you should research the topic of using retinoids while nursing.

    In the PM, after cleansing and allowing your skin to dry, dab a pea-sized amount around face (a little bit goes a long way and this is strong stuff)! Then you can proceed with your moisturizer. You should only use this every other night until your skin adjusts to the retin-A (which will take a few weeks), then gradually build up to using it every night. If you notice peeling or irritation, stop using Retin-A for a few days.

    Also, you will need to take particular precautions to protect your skin during the day while using Retin-A. Wear a hat, use sunscreen, and avoiding going outside during the peak sun hours.

    Best wishes and please keep in touch!

  • […] contributor to the Posh Mama site asked a question about starting on Retin-A at the post, “All About Retinoids:  Considering Retin-A.” jen, so i turned the big 3-0 this summer and i am ready to do something. (guess i need to […]

  • 9. Kevin Katechis  |  October 9, 2008 at 5:16 pm

    Excellent article. There are over 2000 third party independent clinical studies done on retinoic acid. The next closes active ingredient is vitamin E with around 250 studies. We know more clinically about vitamin A than anything else on the market. It is a miracle drug, but its the side effects that keep most people at bay. Retinol has been shown to convert to retinoic acid, but it is about 10 times weaker than tretinoin. Retinol can be a good starting point for people that are new to retinoids. A very small percentage of the population can tolerate prescription strength retinoids on a daily basis, so I would encourage people to start at a lower concentration and move up slowly over time. Patience is a virtue when starting a retinoid regimen.

  • 10. Jen Hill  |  October 9, 2008 at 7:34 pm

    Thank you Kevin. Clearly you have a solid background when it comes to skincare science.

  • […] and on! And we need to go there, so many interesting topics and products to discuss, like adding a retinoid, chemical or physical exfoliation, ingredients to avoid, sunscreens, and cosmetics to enhance, not […]


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