Medically reviewed by Minimalist Health Specialist -  Written by Sritama Dutta (Medical Science) on 09th Feb 2021

Adult acne can be agonizing! Here's how Retinoids can help

how Retinoids can help

Acne is one of the most common skin woes that most people suffer from. Due to hormone fluctuation during puberty, acne usually develops during the teen and tween years of one's life. But sometimes, acne can become stubborn and persist for longer periods. You might be experiencing unforeseen spells of skin breakouts well past your mid-twenties. This kind of acne is known as adult acne.

Clueless about how to manage adult acne? We can help you with that. This article would discuss one of the most effective active ingredients known for treating acne: Retinoids.

Please keep reading to know what retinoids are and how they can help in reducing adult acne.  

What are Retinoids?

To understand retinoids, first, we need to know what Retinol is. Retinol is alcohol, which is a derivative of Vitamin A. This is widely found in our daily dietary sources such as fish, dairy products, and meat. It is available as an over-the-counter generic medicine and has been enlisted in the World Health Organization List of Essential Medicines.  

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What is Retinol? 

Retinol is an essential nutrient needed by our body for proper eyesight, skin integrity maintenance, and general development. Medically, Retinol is used as a Vitamin A supplement in Vitamin A deficiency cases, which, if kept untreated, can result in dry eyes, night blindness, frequent eye infection, and even cause permanent blindness.  

Retinol vs. Retinoids: What is the difference? 

Retinoids are simply a group of Vitamin A derivatives like Retinol. They are termed "Retinoids" as they have similar chemical activity as Retinol. The suffix "-oids" means "resembling." This means Retinol is a type of retinoid. Other examples of retinoids are Retinyl palmitate and Retinoic Acid. Now, "Retinoids" is used as an umbrella term that denotes several drugs together, for instance, adapalene, tazarotene, and tretinoin.  

Role of Retinoids in acne management: 

Topical retinoids have been known to reduce visible acne lesions and also diminish the development of microcomedones. Now, let's look into the mechanism of action of retinoids on our skin.  

How do Retinoids work on our skin? 

Retinoids help in normalizing the natural desquamation process of the skin. This reduces keratinocyte proliferation and promotes cellular differentiation.

Retinoids are also known to promote cellular growth. They enhance cell regeneration by exfoliating the dermal layers at a cellular level. Thus, newer and younger skin layers get revealed, and you get a brighter complexion. Retinoids also make the skin firm and resilient, thereby reducing the signs of aging.   

Retinoids for Acne:

Being a mild exfoliant, retinoids help remove dead cells from the superficial skin layer and unclog congested pores. This, in turn, reduces acne outbreaks on the skin. By promoting cell regeneration, retinoids also help in reducing acne scars.   

What is the proper dosage of Retinoids? 

Over-the-counter retinoids are available in different strengths.  

  • Tretinoin is available as gels, creams, and also in liquid form. They are available in a range of concentrations. The gel is available in 0.01% and 0.025% strengths. The cream is available in 0.025% to 0.1% concentration. The liquid in 0.5% concentration is considered to be most effective.  
  • Tazarotene is another retinoid available in 0.05% and 0.1% strengths. 
  • Differin is also available as an OTC gel in 0.1% concentration. 

How should you take Retinoids? 

Retinoids can be used directly on the affected areas of your skin as a spot treatment. Dermatologists have suggested using retinoids once a day, preferably at night. However, our skin might take some time to get accustomed to the active ingredient.

If you have sensitive skin or are concerned about the side effects, you can begin to apply retinoids serum 3-4 times a week. Once the skin gets familiar with the new ingredient being applied to the skin, you can proceed to use the serum once daily.  

Using Retinoids in your skincare regime: 

Retinoids work best when you have cleansed and toned your skin properly. If you are using any water-based serum, they must be applied before layering your skin with retinoids.

Skin experts advise using retinoids in your PM skincare regime. As you retire for the night & your skin begins its natural reparative process, the retinoids will have more time and opportunity to bestow their benefits on your skin.   

  • Take a few drops of the retinoids serum on your fingertips using the dropper. 
  • Dab the product on your face and gently massage in a circular motion until the serum is evenly spread on your skin.   
  • Let it rest for a (1 or 2)minute or two to allow it to get absorbed in your skin.  
  • After the Retinoid serum sinks into your skin, you can layer your skin with your preferred moisturizer. 

It may take a little time before you experience any visible difference. You can expect to see a noticeable improvement in your skin within 2-3 months of consistent use.

Retinoids can make your skin more sensitive or susceptible to sun damage. Due to the increased sensitivity to ultraviolet radiation, your skin is more prone to get severely sunburned. Thus, sunscreen is indispensable. You need to protect your skin with a broad-spectrum sunscreen and wear hats or scarves before stepping out.  

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Are there any side effects of using Retinoids? 

Studies have shown that topical retinoids used for skincare are generally well-tolerated by people and are safe to use. However, some instances have been reported where some individuals have experienced adverse reactions to using topical retinoids, which we should be aware of.

Common Side Effects: Individuals often encounter these symptoms while they begin to use retinoids, and they usually subside within 2-4 weeks as the skin get accustomed to the ingredient:  

  • A warm feeling on the skin on applying the serum
  • Skin irritation: might experience itching, peeling and scaling of the skin, burning sensation. This might lead to retinoid dermatitis.  
  • Worsening of the existing skin condition. 
  • Hyperpigmentation spots might develop due to skin irritation caused by Retinoids.  
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  • Increased sensitivity to hot and cold temperatures.  

Though rare, some individuals have also experienced: 

  • Worsening of acne that persists even after 2-4 weeks. 
  • Hypersensitive reaction to retinoids that may lead to Eczema or Contact Dermatitis. 

Allergic reactions to retinoids might also take a severe form in some individuals. The symptoms are: 

  • Stinging or burning sensation 
  • Extreme Dryness 
  • Swelling 
  • Itching, peeling, or blistering of the skin 
  • Difficulty in breathing 

Layering Retinoids with other active ingredients: 

Retinoids are safe to layer with niacinamide and hyaluronic acid. These can also be combined with Alpha Arbutin and Kojic acid.

Retinoids are powerful ingredients that might not be suitable to combine with other active ingredients.

If used with retinoids, Vitamin C might cause over-exfoliation, making the skin extremely sensitive to sun rays.

Retinoids might also be harmful if used with Alpha hydroxy acids or beta hydroxy acids. These might damage the skin's integrity and cause irritation and redness.  

The Bottom Line: 

Retinoids have come under the spotlight with their effectiveness in treating Acne and reducing aging signs. So, if you are an adult distressed with adult acne, you can very well adopt this active ingredient in your daily skincare regime.

Though retinoids are safe to use topically on the skin, some individuals might experience certain adverse effects. Thus, it is recommended to perform a patch test at least 24 hours before beginning to use the serum in your skincare regime.  

Frequently Asked Questions: 

1. How long do retinoids take to work on Acne? 

You need to regularly use any active ingredient to work effectively. Retinoids can take up to 2-3 months until you begin to see the full benefits.  

2. Do retinoids work for every type of Acne?

Yes, retinoids are effective on every type of Acne. So, whether you have inflammatory or non-inflammatory acne, you can use retinoids to gain improvement in your skin condition.

3. At what age can you start using retinoids? 

Retinoids are safe to use by almost all adults. Dermatologists suggest anyone in their mid-twenties or early thirties can begin using retinoids. However, pregnant and lactating women are suggested to refrain from using retinoids and other such derivatives. Also, Retinoids are not advised if you have broken, sunburned or infected skin.  

4. What should you apply after retinoids? 

You can apply other serums to use any r layer your skin with moisturizer or night cream after applying retinoids.  

5. Do Retinoids exfoliate? 

No, retinoids do not have any exfoliating properties. Some individuals might experience flaking skin, a common side effect of retinoids that subsides with few days of continuous use. This flaking is often confused with exfoliating, which it isn't.