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Retin-A and Retinol – Truths and Misconceptions

At Carolina Facial Plastics in Charlotte, we are dedicated and focused on the treatment and maintenance of the health of facial skin. We believe that the maintenance and repair of facial skin is a key ingredient and foundation of our practice to ensure comprehensive and effective treatments. In order for patients to understand our treatment recommendations, they need to understand the fundamental principles and properties behind the topical skin care products we commonly recommend.

Two of the essential products that we recommend in our skin care regimens are Retin-A and retinol. There are many misconceptions and confusion around the function, outcomes, and proper application of these products, but we hope to clear these misconceptions.

What are Retin-A and Retinol?

Retin-A (commonly called tretinoin) and retinol are Vitamin A derivatives. These two products differ based on their potency, with Retin-A being approximately 20 times stronger than retinol.

What are the Functions of Tretinoin?

Tretinoin greatly improves the health and quality of the skin. It works by fundamentally changing the function of the cells of the skin by stimulating gene expression. From a patient’s perspective, Retin-A will:

  • Improve the fine lines
  • Improve pigmentary changes
  • Improve wrinkles
  • Improve skin health

What are the Different Strengths of Retin-A and Retinol?

The common strengths of Retin-A that are available are 0.1%, 0.05%, and 0.025%. The strength and concentration are directly correlated with their results. The stronger percentage of  Retin-A, the more impressive and effective the results are.

The stronger the Retin-A means the deeper it will penetrate into the skin. A weaker version will just work on the superficial layers of the skin, which is called the epidermis. The stronger version will penetrate to the deeper levels of the skin, including the dermis. The weaker Retin-A will restore the natural hydration of the skin, thicken the skin, and improve the turnover of the skin. The stronger Retin-A will help with skin tightness, improve blood flow, and add greater hydration to the skin.

In regards to retinol, a 1% retinol is equivalent to a 0.05% Retin-A. For this reason, a 1% retinol can be a very effective topical skin care product. It should be noted that retinol is not as stable as Retin-A. Retinol can be inactivated by exposure to air and light, while Retin-A is very stable. For these reasons, Retin-A has a longer shelf life than retinol.

For more information about these two products, please visit WebMD.com.

Why is Retin-A so Irritating to the Skin?

Skin Care Treatments in North CarolinaRetin-A and retinol are well-known for their irritation of the skin during their use. This irritation is associated with skin dryness, redness, and flaking of the skin. This can be very worrisome to patients, but it should be stressed that this is  normal and should be expected during the treatment of stronger doses of this product. This irritation will typically last for six weeks and after this time the patient will develop tolerance to the product. Patients who choose an aggressive treatment regimen must realize that they must push through this irritation in order to develop a tolerance to Retin-A.

The irritation of Retin-A is secondary to its initial dehydration of the skin leading to a quick exfoliation of the unhealthy skin. After the formation of healthy skin, the Retin-A will no longer be an irritant.

At Carolina Facial Plastics in Charlotte, we understand that many patients are unable or unwilling to go through aggressive treatment of Retin-A due to the irritation it causes. Lower doses of Retin-A and retinol are very effective but may take a longer time for patients to appreciate the results. It may take up to 12 or 18 weeks of treatment of low doses of Retin-A to appreciate the improvement in the quality of skin. Overwhelmingly, patients choose treatments with less aggressive Retin-A or tretinoin products. This is appropriate for most patients that do not have significant aging of the facial skin.

What Strength of Retin-A Should a Patient Use?

Retin-A is the classic product of “pain equals gain.”  The stronger dose a patient uses, the stronger the irritating effects, and the faster and more dramatic improvement of the facial skin. Aggressive and higher concentrations of Retin-A will create better results for a greater number of patients in a quicker timeframe. These patients will also develop a tolerance to Retin-A faster.

Patients with early aging skin or those seeking to maintain the health of their skin should use either a retinol product or the weaker Retin-A product. Patients with more prominent aging changes to the skin could consider a more aggressive treatment plan with Retin-A if their lifestyle will tolerate the irritated effects of Retin-A. If not, these patients should choose a weaker dose of Retin-A and use for a longer time or attempt to use a stronger Retin-A overtime.

How Long Should Patients be on Retin-A or Retinol?

The initial treatment of Retin-A usually lasts around 18 weeks, though some patients may require Retin-A for longer than 18 weeks. After this time, we will transition patients onto a maintenance dose of Retin-A. This will differ based on the patient’s age, quality of skin, and goals. During the maintenance dose, we commonly have patients use Retin-A 2 to 3 times a week and a retinol product on the other days. Some patients will continue to use Retin-A on a daily basis.

Contact Our Skin Care Experts Today

At Carolina Facial Plastics, we strongly believe that the incorporation of a Retin-A or retinol topical product is essential to rejuvenate and create healthy facial skin. The strength and dose of Retin-A can be manipulated by our experts at Carolina Facial Plastics to meet your lifestyle and goals. To learn more about creating a custom skin care and skin health treatment plan, please contact Carolina Facial Plastics in Charlotte today!

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