What Are the Benefits of Retinoids?

Beautiful, healthy skin empowers you to look and feel your best at any age.

But with so many skin care products competing for your attention, how do you know which ones can actually deliver the results you’re looking for?

That’s where retinoids come in. The term retinoid refers to a class of skin care drugs that are available in both prescription-grade tretinoin and over-the-counter retinol formulations.

This topical form of Vitamin A ranks among the most used and the most studied anti-aging compounds ever introduced. Based on decades of research, retinoids have been proven effective for treating fine lines and wrinkles, as well as acne. 

Let’s take a closer look at the benefits of retinoids, along with other important information you’ll want to know for best results.

Fine Lines and Wrinkles

As we get older, skin cell turnover slows down. Our skin produces less collagen and becomes thinner. These changes lead to a duller texture and the familiar wrinkling that we associate with aging skin. 

A randomized, double-blind study published in the Archives of Dermatology found that retinol lotion increases collagen production and moisture retention. This improves the appearance of fine wrinkles caused by natural aging. 

Other research has found that retinoids promote more rapid cell turnover and the growth of new blood vessels, for a healthier, more youthful glow. It reduces the appearance of dark spots and softens rough patches for a smoother complexion.


Believe it or not, the first retinoid was originally approved as an acne treatment back in 1971. It was only later that its anti-aging benefits were discovered.

A retinoid controls several factors that can cause acne, including oil production and inflammation. It prevents future breakouts by keeping dead skin cells from clogging your pores. If you’ve suffered from past breakouts, a retinoid product may also reduce the appearance of acne scars.

Prescription vs. Over-the-Counter Retinoids

Tretinoin, commonly sold under the brand name Renova, contains the active ingredient retinoic acid and is available by prescription at Cayce Medical Spa. You will need a medical or cosmetic appointment to get this prescription. Renova produces great results quickly, but can cause irritation so you may not want to start with this form if you are prone to more sensitive skin.

Over-the-counter retinol converts into retinoic acid after you apply it to your skin. It is less potent than prescription-grade tretinoin, but can still improve the appearance of your skin when used consistently and correctly. At Cayce Medical Spa we have SkinCeuticals Retinol products in 0.3%, 0.5%, and 1% retinol. Patient skin type and overall formulation best determine which product we recommend for each individual.

A study published in the Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology found that both prescription retinoic acid and non-prescription retinol increased epidermal thickness after four weeks of use. Both also promoted collagen production and reduced the appearance of wrinkles. 

Consult with your dermatologist to determine whether a prescription or over-the-counter retinoid would be best for your skin care plan.

Mature woman with beautiful skin

How to Use Retinoids

Whether you’re using prescription tretinoin or over-the-counter retinol, correct usage is key for getting the best results. 

Always wash and tone your skin first. Apply a pea-sized amount of the product to your fingers and gently massage it into your face, avoiding the eye area. To reduce the risk of irritation, only use it 1-2 times per week at first, and gradually increase usage as your skin adapts. When shopping for retinoid creams, look for opaque packaging to block UV light and preserve product quality. 

It generally takes 3-6 months of consistent use for most patients to see skin improvements, and 6-12 months for the best results to appear. 

Possible Side Effects

Retinoids can produce dryness, redness and peeling, as well as increased sensitivity to sunlight. Sunlight sensitivity can be minimalized by using the product at night and washing your face in the morning. These side effects typically disappear as your skin gets used to the product.

To reduce the risk of irritation, start using retinoids gradually. Apply it just 1-2 times per week at first, and then on alternate days. Eventually you may work up to nightly use. Combining retinoids with a gentle moisturizer can also reduce irritation. 

Because a retinoid may increase your sensitivity to UV light, many dermatologists recommend applying it at night before bedtime. Always use sunscreen during the day to reduce the risk of skin cancer and other forms of sun damage. 

Only use retinoids as directed by your doctor and the instructions on the package. Never use more than the recommended amount or apply it more frequently than prescribed. Use the product consistently to achieve and maintain the best results. 

Finally, don’t use any retinoid if you are pregnant, planning to become pregnant or breastfeeding. 

Dermatologists recommend starting retinoids in your 20s to reduce the fine lines that start appearing in young adulthood, and to control breakouts. However, it’s not too late to start if you’re over 40, and retinoids can benefit both men and women.

Would you like to learn more about including a retinoid in your skin care routine?

Contact us at Cayce Medical Spa today! We look forward to answering your questions and providing a customized skin care plan to enhance your natural beauty and confidence. 

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