What Are The Benefits Of Retinoids?


Aging, it’s the ugly truth. How do we stop it?

As much as you would like to, you can’t stop aging, but you can change how your skin looks in the process and protect yourself from some future wrinkles. Aside from applying a healthy layer of SPF every time you leave the house, what else can you do to treat signs of aging?  

Dermatologists are using retinoids to treat their patients’ age-related concerns, so maybe it’s time to add some doctor-prescribed retinoid products into your regime. Products containing retinols will help you combat the visible signs of aging and, as an aside, give your skin a collagen boost.

If you’ve seen the term retinol or retinoids on a bottle but you don’t know what it means, you’re not alone. Let’s go over what makes this anti-aging skin care solution a favorite of dermatologists and whether it might be right for you.

Skin aging 101

Skin aging happens two different ways. First, there is biological (or intrinsic) aging. Biological aging is when you wake up one day at 29 and notice the first hint of crow’s feet and immediately start Googling “How do I stop crow’s feet?”Then, there’s environmental aging. This happens when ultraviolet rays (specifically, UVA rays) do a number on your skin and you start Googling “How long should I be in the sun?” While UVB rays are more responsible for sunburn, UVA rays penetrate your skin deeply and cause premature skin aging — including wrinkles. Both biological and environmental processes can benefit from the use of retinoids.

What are retinoids? (ingredients, not solutions)

Retinoids are derived from Vitamin A, which defends your immune system and contributes other essential benefits to your body. In terms of skin care, Vitamin A smoothes out wrinkles by increasing your body’s collagen.

As we get older, our bodies naturally don’t produce  as much collagen and hyaluronic acid as we did in our 20s (rude). Our skin also loses elasticity over time… a real double whammy. Retinoids primarily address these issues by encouraging changes in the deepest layer of your epidermis, otherwise known as the top layer of your skin. How do they do this exactly? Retinoids trigger an increase in the cellular renewal , which start pushing up from the bottom with new healthy skin cells. They also increase your collagen and elastin production and stop the collagen that you already have from continuing to break down.Retinoids basically take your thin, increasingly frail skin and give it a little boost. It can even help you produce more hyaluronic acid, which keeps your skin looking plumper and prevents dryness. Over the counter (OTC) retinoid-based products often come in concentrations of 1%, 0.5%, .0.3% or 0.25%. As we’ll discuss below, prescription retinoid products have stronger ingredients that may also come in higher concentrations of the anti-aging agent.

Where can you get retinoids?

Retinols and retinoids. Is this a “you say tom-ay-to I say tom-ah-to” situation? Not exactly. While both retinols and retinoids are derived from the same place (Vitamin A), retinoids are more potent. Stronger retinoid formulas can be 100 times stronger than simple retinols. That’s why you can buy retinol creams over the counter but only your doctor can prescribe retinoids.

Retinoids are commonly ranked based on strength. Retinyl palmitate is the weakest formulation, followed by Retinaldehyde, and then most products labeled as retinols. These are the terms you’ll often see on OTC products in the beauty aisle. 

Now let’s talk about the stronger stuff. Among the more powerful retinoid options are Tretinoin, then Tazarotene, and Isotretinoin (the latter of which is very strong and commonly used for acne). Retinoid concentration in prescription products can be as high as 0.3%, though many patients start with a lower dose than that to avoid serious side effects (more on that in a bit).

Long story short: If you want to start a topical retinoids regimen a part of your skin care routine, get in touch with your dermatologist.

What retinoids can do for you

Retinoids treat aging and stressed skin in a few different ways. As we mentioned above, they promote faster skin cell turnover and they also plump the skin with additional collagen. But, wait! There’s more! The additional benefits of topical retinoid treatments include:

  • Improving the texture of your skin. Not only will a retinoid cream or gel fill your wrinkles, it can smooth out acne and acne scars.
  • Fixing pigmentation issues. If you have sun spots or other inconsistent coloring, retinoids might bring noticeable improvements.
  • Addressing age spots. Sun exposed spots on your skin often develop dark liver spots that you’re not thrilled about. Retinoids help remove the visibility of these spots.
  • Hydrating your skin. As your skin sees faster regeneration and improved collagen production, you may have moister skin in the process as well.

Things to consider:

  • You can expect results to show up in 3 to 6 months, so have a little patience with your new retinoid products. Aging didn’t happen overnight, and neither will positive results. Stick with your routine to reap the benefits. 
  • Not all retinoids work for all people. Your dermatologist will prescribe one that works best for your skin type, age, and other unique needs.
  • A little goes a long way. As your doctor will explain, you should only use a thin layer of retinoid creams on your skin. More is not better in this case, and could lead to serious skin irritation.

Are there side effects to retinoids?

One of the main downsides to retinoids is that they can have some initial side effects. These side effects are why patients are typically given a weaker dose at first. You don’t want to go all in with the strongest concentration available.

Here are some common side effects of retinoid products:

  • Skin irritation. You may see red or otherwise irritated skin when you begin to use retinoids.
  • Peeling. As your skin begins to regenerate quickly, it’s not uncommon for some peeling to occur.
  • Itching. You may also be slightly uncomfortable for the first few weeks and notice an itchy sensation.

The good news about retinoid side effects is that they usually last just a few weeks as your body adjusts to your new product. With the right application (always follow your doctor’s instructions) you will see a reduction in side effects and start to see significant changes to your skin in just a few months. Still, people with eczema, rosacea, and other skin issues may not be good candidates for retinoid products.


Too long, didn’t read? Retinoids are the stronger cousin of retinol products, both derived from Vitamin A and able to fill in wrinkles by changing the surface of your skin. Retinoids increase your collagen production and leave your skin looking and feeling smoother. It might take a few months for the effects to kick in, but dermatologist prescribed retinoids can bring real (noticeable) change to the surface of your skin.


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