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Tretinoin, Retin A and Retinols treat acne, repair sun damage and reverse the signs of aging

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FAQs: Tretinoin, Retin A and Retinol

Q: What is the difference between Retin A, tretinoin and retinol?

A: Tretinoin, generic for Retin-A, is available only with a prescription, while retinol is sold over the counter. Tretinoin and Retin A are prescription retinoids and are stronger than retinol. Retinol is also a retinoid but it is less powerful. Benefits of OTC retinol include fewer side effects than tretinoin. This may be preferred for someone with sensitive skin or who is using retinoids for the first time. However, results from retinols may take twice as long as prescription retinoids. 

Q: What are the benefits of tretinoin, Retin-A, retinol and retinoids?

A: Tretinoin, Retin-A (retinoic acid) and retinol speed up 3 key biological processes that contribute to youthful skin: skin cell growth, the production of collagen and the synthesis of elastin. The cycle of skin cell growth and collagen and elastin production slow with age. Collagen can begin breaking down at age 25. By the time we reach our 40s and 50s, skin renews itself every 45-90 days, compared to teens and 20-somethings where skin regenerates itself every few weeks.

Supplementing the body with tretinoin and Retin-A (retinoic acid), is proven to restart the natural process of skin renewal, and stimulate the creation of new collagen and elastin. Retinol also increases skin renewal but at a slower pace than prescription retinoids. With regular use, the effects of tretinoin and Retin A are often visible between 6 weeks and 3 months, while retinol may take up to 6 months before skin changes can be seen.

Q: Why is retinol weaker than tretinoin and Retin-A and what does Vitamin A have to do with them?

A: Tretinoin (Retin-A) and retinol are all retinoids, which are molecules of Vitamin A. The key difference is that tretinoin and Retin-A are retinoic acid, the same acid the body creates from Vitamin A. Retinoic acid is essential for the body to produce collagen, elastin and new skin cells. Once applied to the skin, tretinoin (retinoic acid) is quickly and easily absorbed deep beneath the skin where it stimulates skin renewal. Retinol must undergo a two-step process before it can begin impacting the skin. Once retinol is applied to the skin, enzymes must convert retinol to retinaldehyde. Then, once absorbed into the skin, retinaldehyde is converted to retinoic acid.

Q: What is the highest percentage of retinol that is available over the counter (OTC)?

A: 2.5% is the highest retinol skin care product available over the counter.

Q: Should I use tretinoin or retinol to treat acne? 

A:  Tretinoin is a proven treatment for acne. For more than 30 years, tretinoin has been used to prevent breakouts, reduce the severity of acne breakouts and speed the healing of acne. Retinol is weaker than tretinoin and is more commonly found in moisturizers and anti-wrinkle cream formulas. Tretinoin is a better choice for acne treatment than retinol. 

Q: What are the benefits of skin cell regrowth / increased skin cell turnover?

A:  When skin cell production is increased, old skin cells are exfoliated and replaced by new skin, creating a bright, vibrant complexion. Old skin that may be hyperpigmented, sundamaged and scarred is sloughed off during the natural cycle of death and renewal. Additionally, as new skin cells push to the surface of the skin, they help unclog pores (goodbye pimples and blackheads) and loosen oily plugs and bacteria which cause acne. 

Q: What are the benefits of increased collagen and elastin production from the use of tretinoin? 

A: Collagen creates the structure of the skin and elastin makes skin “elastic-like,” as the name “elastin” implies. Skin with more collagen is thicker and more plump. The added volume provided by collagen fills in wrinkles and fine lines and creates an overall more firm facial appearance. Elastin makes your skin pliable, so it can tightly stretch over your facial structure creating the contours of cheekbones, the chin, etc. As elastin breaks down with age, the skin is less able to “bounce back” like a rubber band after continued regular movement like talking, rubbing the face and facial expressions. Supplementing the skin with retinoic acid enables the body to rebuild elastin. The result: Tighter skin and less sagging.

Q: How long does it take for tretinoin to work?

A: It may take 6 weeks to 3 months to see the results of Retin-A (tretinoin). 

Q: How long does it take for retinol to work?

A: Depending on the strength of retinol, studies show retinol works in about 6 months.