Retin-A is a prescription brand of topical skin treatment that contains the vitamin A derivative, tretinoin. Tretinoin strengthens collagen, cleanses cells and increases vascular development and cell nutrition. Introduced in the 1960s as an acne treatment, Retin-A, and other vitamin A derivatives, are often prescribed for other skin concerns; mostly, for the reduction of fine lines and wrinkles, stretch marks and skin discolouration. Vitamin A derivatives, or retinoids, can also be found in over-the-counter products.
Acne Treatment Products
Tretinoin, the active ingredient in Retin-A, treats mild to moderate acne. It works by regulating the first step in acne formation, abnormal follicular keratinisation. Abnormal follicular keratinisation refers to excessive skin cell division in hair follicles. Skin cells are constantly dying at a rate of 30,000 a minute. So, it's normally a good thing they have a high rate of mitosis, the process by which cells divide and reproduce. But if mitosis occurs too rapidly, problems may occur. For instance, when the cells of skin lining the inside of a hair follicle divide and die, they slough off and exit the follicle. But if too many dead cells try to exit at once, they get jammed and create a plug, trapping oil and bacteria inside the hair follicle. The follicle becomes enlarged and irritated, the skin around it becomes inflamed, and the ending result is acne. Tretinoin dislodges theses plugs and can prevent new ones from forming.
Products that contain tretinoin are available in a variety of strengths. They come as a gel, cream or liquid and are sold under the brand names, Retin-A Cream, Retin-A Micro, Avita and Altinac. Tretinoin is also sold as a generic product. All require a prescription.
The effect retinoids such as tretinoin have on collagen make it popular in the fight against ageing. Tretinoin stimulates collagen production, strengthens existing collagen fibres and increases blood flow to the dermis. With age, the dermis, the middle layer of skin which contains the most connective tissue, gets thinner. This retinoid helps create tissue to thicken the dermis, giving the appearance of younger skin.
In the Jan. 1, 2005 issue of the "American Journal of Clinical Dermatology," a study led by Dr. Sewon Kang at the Department of Dermatology, University of Michigan, found that subjects given a skin cream containing tretinoin showed a greater reduction in the appearance of fine lines, wrinkles and skin discolouration than subjects given a placebo skin cream. Anti-Aging products that contain tretinoin are sold as the brand names Solage, Renova and Refissa. Generic tretinoin is also available. Side effects may include itching, redness, peeling and irritation.
Over-the-counter products containing a vitamin A derivative called retinol, are also used to reduce wrinkles and diminish skin discolouration. However, retinol is not the same as tretinoin; chemically, they're similar, but effectively, they're very different. Retinol becomes active gradually and only after it's applied, a process which renders it much less potent. Also, over-the-counter products usually contain very low concentrations of retinol, so noticeable results may require the use of large amounts for a prolonged period of time. But, prescription tretinoin can sometimes cause redness and irritate sensitive skin, so the over-the-counter formulas may be a safer choice for those trying retinoid products for the first time.
Over the counter products that contain retinol include Roc Retinol Correxion, Neutrogena Age Intensives, Oil of Olay Pro-x, L'Oreal Revitalift, SkinMedica Retinol Complex and Remergent Advanced Retinol Therapy.