Tretinoin, or Retin-A®, is essentially a derivative of vitamin A and is a commonly used nighttime cream for its many medical and cosmetic benefits. Its topical formulations are utilized for anything from acne to skin aging, and its oral formulations can help to treat certain types of cancers. There are many benefits of tretinoin, so let’s take a closer look at exactly how this unique medication works for some of the more common skin conditions and how it should be properly used.
Tretinoin has been proven in countless studies to be effective in reducing the total number of acne lesions in patients, thus leading to significant clinical improvement. It does this, in part, by reducing acne-associated inflammation. Tretinoin also increases the turnover of skin cells, resulting in less clogged pores (or comedones). In combination with facials/extractions, it does a remarkable job at clearing these flesh-colored bumps that represent clogged pores.
Tretinoin’s anti-inflammatory effects come in to play in the treatment of psoriasis as well. Additionally, it prevents the abnormal growth of skin cells. This is important in psoriasis specifically, because this disorder involves the rapid production of surface skin cells. In fact, when used in combination with cortisones, tretinoin has been known to prevent thinning of the skin (a common side effect of strong cortisones).
Melasma, Sun Spots, Post-Inflammatory Darkening
Tretinoin has several features that are useful in pigmentary disorders. It decreases epidermal melanin, which is responsible for pigment in our skin. Melanin is formed by the enzyme tyrosinase, and interestingly, tretinoin diminishes the activity of this enzyme, thus leading to less melanin production, and thus less pigment. Additionally, as mentioned, tretinoin increases skin cell turnover, which also helps to fade dark spots. It further increases the penetration of hydroquinone, which is a commonly used lightening cream. It is most effectively utilized in combination with other lightening products, but definitely plays an important role in the treatment of dark spots.
Aside from medical uses, tretinoin plays a vital role in cosmetics and photoaging. It has been shown to not only prevent collagen loss, but it actually stimulates collagen production as well. It is the only topical agent known to do this. Studies have also demonstrated improvement in wrinkling of the skin in both short-term and long-term application.
Understanding the side effects of tretinoin is also important. It can cause some irritation and dryness, so it is very important to tell your dermatologist if you have sensitive or reactive skin. It can also make you more sensitive to the sun, so sun protection is imperative when using this medication (even though it is only applied at night). Tretinoin should be avoided in pregnancy and breastfeeding, and should be discontinued prior to waxing or laser treatment.
It is clear that when properly utilized, tretinoin is a useful and effective medication. It requires a prescription, so if are you are interested in this product, please make an appointment with one of our board-certified dermatologists today to discuss if it would be appropriate for you.