July 19, 2022

Glossary: Retinoids

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What is Retinoid?

Retinoid is a class of vitamin A derived medication that is commonly used to treat skin conditions such as acne, psoriasis, and skin aging (AOCD,n.d.). The science behind retinoids is complex, but to put it simply, retinoids help stimulate collagen production, improve skin elasticity and firmness, unclog blocked pores, and protect the skin from UV damage ( Zasada & Budzisz, 2019; AOCD). These factors make retinoids effective treatment options for hyperpigmentation, or dark patches on the skin, and wrinkles. Topical retinoids prescriptions are commonly available in .025%, .05% and .1% concentrations; however, lower dose alternatives, such as retinol, can be purchased over the counter. 

Risks and Side Effects

According to Mayo Clinic, topical retinoid products commonly cause burning, stinging, peeling, redness, or severe dryness of the skin. Retinoids also have a tendency to make the skin more sensitive to the sun so if you plan on using retinoids, apply the product at night, use sun protection during the day, and apply sunscreen (AADA, 2021)

Retinoids are a teratogenic product, meaning it causes developmental malformations of the embryo or fetus. Doctors recommend that people who are pregnant or trying to get pregnant stop using oral retinoid products (isotretinoin). The risk of using topic retinoid products such as tretinoin is low, but unclear at this time (Bozzo et al., 2011). If you have questions or concerns, please speak with your healthcare provider.  

Other Vitamin A derived products 

  • Retinol: OTC product used to treat acne, hyperpigmentation, and wrinkles
  • Tretinoin:  prescription retinoid used to treat acne, hyperpigmentation, and wrinkles
  • Adapalene: prescription retinoid used to treat acne
  • Tazarotene: prescription retinoid used to treat acne and psoriasis  

GENERAL DISCLAIMER: It’s Fetch is a community that provides a safe space for members to discuss health and wellness topics. We provide access to archived health related content, note the date of last review or update on all articles. No content shared, regardless of date should ever be used as a substitute for direct medical advice from your doctor or other qualified clinician. For questions on this article, please contact our team at hello@itsfetch.co.

—Written by Sabrina Park (MPH Candidate USC). Reviewed by Adriana Bakhoum MPH

Retinoid or retinol? (2021, May 25). American Academy of Dermatology. Retrieved July 13, 2022, from https://www.aad.org/public/everyday-care/skin-care-secrets/anti-aging/retinoid-retinol 
Retinoids: active molecules influencing skin structure formation in cosmetic and dermatological treatments. (2019, August 30). NCBI. Retrieved July 13, 2022, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6791161/ 

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