Over the counter retinoids - do they work?


All the natural and synthetic derivatives of Vitamin A are called ‘retinoids.’

We all know and love retinoic acid (adapalene, tretinoin) but is it better than over the counter strength?

We tend to lump all topical vitamin As into the ‘retinol’ category. But the truth is there is only one retinol, all the rest are in a different category. in 1937 the Nobel Prize was awarded for determining the structure of retinol. Since it was first successfully synthesized in 1943 there are now thousands of retinols on the market.

True retinol is a fat soluble vitamin made from break down of B carotene. It is a pro-drug, meaning it gets broken down to retinoic acid in the skin. It is the next best thing to retinoic acid and is the one we recommend if your skin cannot tolerate retinoic acid. Retinol can not be marketed as an active ingredient. And the problem is many retinols are not formulated properly or are unstable so are not effective in the skin. Many companies claim their product contains retinol, when infact it contains derivatives of retinol that are often not effective. Retinol can still be irritating (but less so than retinoic acid on prescription) It is best prescribed along with an antioxidant and SPF.

Retinol esthers: are the storage form of retinol. the main one is retinyl palmitate. There has been much controversy over whether UV exposure to RP degrades it and even causes it to be carcinogenic with production of free radicals. In some very sensitive skins it may be a way of getting retinol into the storage form in the skin but whether it exerts much biologic affect is unknown and so it is not our favorite type of retinoid.

1% Retinol Serum

Retinaldehyde is the other storage form of retinoic acid. like retinyl palmitate it has very little skin penetration but is probably more effective than the retinol esthers.

So, retinol is probably as effective in skin as retinoic acid and carries with it less risk of irritation, so should be suitable for most skin types. Be aware that all Vitamin A degrades after 6 months so cannot be efficacious beyond that, and always should be used in conjunction with a sunscreen to prevent its break down.

Talk to us about which ‘retinoid’ is right for YOUR skin.

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