Question: I’ve seen plenty of products in the drug store skincare aisle that contain retinol and say they reduce the appearance of fine lines while balancing an uneven complexion. Is this the same as the Retin-A products I can get by prescription?
Answer: While they are both derivatives of Vitamin A, called “retinoids,” and used to promote faster skin cell turnover, they are not the same.
All retinoids have been well-studied, tested and been proven effective and powerful for treating skin issues ranging from acne to many signs of aging, including sun damage.
But there is a marked difference between retinoid products you get only by prescription and the retinol products you see on drug-store shelves.
Retinoid products are prescription-only skincare products containing the most commonly-known natural vitamin A derivative, tretinoin which comes in name brands such as Atralin, Retin-A (and Micro) among others. These proven prescription products increase the rate of cell turnover to uncover healthier skin-whether it’s reducing fine lines or evening out the texture or color of your skin. Common side effects include dryness, redness, cracking, irritation and skin peeling. There are two other prescription strength (lesser known) prescription retinoids-tazarotene (Tazorac) and adapalene (Differin).
If you find, during the dead of winter, that dryness, peeling, redness and cracking are more pronounced, simply reduce the usage of your prescription retinoid to just once per day, or every other day or even every two or three days until side effects are diminished. By the way, winter weather and drier indoor heat may be exacerbating your already winter-dry skin, if you need to use them less don’t worry, the powerful retinoids still do their job!
Retinol products don’t require a prescription so you can buy them over-the-counter at the drug store or grocery store, without a prescription. Retinols are simply a synthetic, weaker version of a retionid and as such, they act more slowly than a retinoid. However, these products can be useful if you find prescription retinoid products too strong for your skin. They are also a good beginning step to starting your skin on a topical retinoid.
When choosing a drug store retinol product, check the ingredients list to make sure vitamin A is listed toward the top of the ingredients list. Also, in terms of packaging, look for an air-tight bottle that keeps the light out (exposure to light makes the products less stable and effective and more susceptible to bacteria growth.)
Other skin tips:
- Reduce your skin’s exposure to hot-hot water.
- Add a humidifier to rooms where you spend a lot of time.
- Use an emollient (thick) cream to counter peeling and cracking skin.
- Always wear sunscreen.