BeautyWhat is retinoic acid used for

What is retinoic acid used for

As far as skin care is concerned, there is no doubt that it is always extremely useful to have a wide variety of different aesthetic treatments that, among other aspects, help to treat, in a positive and above all effective way, different skin problems, such as age spots, rosacea, acne or natural aging itself.

If you are 30 years old or older, it is very likely that you have already begun to worry about the appearance of different wrinkles, expression lines… and, in short, any other sign directly related to the -natural- aging process of our body.

The truth is that many of these signs are usually shown especially in certain areas of the face where the skin is usually more sensitive and thin. This is the case, for example, of the eye area (the ears and bags under the eyes are usually the most common and obvious changes), or the lips.

What is retinoic acid and what does it consist of?

Under the name of retinoic acid, we find ourselves before a member belonging to the family of retinoids (among which we can distinguish more than 4,000 different ones), which are compounds derived from vitamin A, or retinol, or from compounds structurally similar to this.

Vitamin A itself is derived solely from foods consumed through the diet, and is not produced naturally by the body. It is esterified and stored in the liver, the richest source of vitamin A, in addition to nutritional supplements.

In the particular case of retinoic acid, it is synthesized from retinol through two enzymatic reactions, which entail a first -reversible- oxidation of retinol to the retina, and later a second oxidation, which this time is completely irreversible. to retinoic acid.

As with other retinoids, retinoic acid is a light-sensitive compound, mainly because it contains alternating double bonds between carbon atoms (in its hydrophobic tail), attached to a 6-carbon ring. Its low molecular weight also makes it highly soluble in fat, so it easily diffuses through different cell membranes.

For this reason, the retinoids considered as biologically important molecules, which act both in cell growth itself and in the growth and maturation of epithelial cells, apoptosis (ordered process in which cell death occurs in a programmed) and the body’s own immune function.  They are also vital in embryonic life -for the development of organs-, as well as for visual function. It is the active agent of retinols and retinoids, acting as the main responsible for cell renewal.

In the particular case of retinoic acid, it helps transform cell types from the proliferative profile to the maturation profile, by clearly inducing the differentiation process. Hence, they have a wide variety of uses not only in visual conditions, but also in skin conditions, and even in certain cancer therapies. In fact, did you know that a low intake of vitamin A has been associated with an increased risk of cancer?

Some animal studies have shown that retinoids suppress cancerous changes. While human studies confirm that the administration of retinoids helps to suppress breast, liver and lung cancer, also reversing premalignant changes, and inducing differentiation of the myeloid cell series in the blood.

Both retinol and other retinoids (such as retinoic acid or retinal palmitate) are added to specially designed topical skin care products to promote skin renewal, increase collagen production, lighten skin tone and ultimately reduce the presence of acne.

Plus, as we’ll learn in the next section, it also works as a natural antioxidant, to help address free radical damage, which as you probably know, ends up leading to visible signs of aging.

In the case of retinoic acid, we are mainly dealing with a synthetic derivative of vitamin A, the group of fat-soluble vitamins that certain foods contain in more or less interesting quantities, as is the case fundamentally with carrots (widely known for their vitamin A content), sweet potatoes, and eggs.

What are the benefits of retinoic acid on the skin?

From the moment the first retinoid was officially approved for use in treating acne (something that happened in 1971), this type of therapy has begun to be hailed by many as a cure for a wide variety of skin problems. However, it is true, in reality, retinoids – such as retinoic acid – may not be the answer to all skin conditions.

According to many specialists, when retinol is applied topically, it converts into retinoic acid thanks to the action of different specialized enzymes that we find completely naturally in the skin. However, it is also possible to apply retinoic acid directly to the skin, topically, although it tends to have a much harder and heavier consistency, compared to retinol creams or serums.

Regarding the different benefits, it has on the skin, for some time now it has become a reference ingredient among specialists, mainly because it has the ability to alter the behavior of aged cells, so that they act providing a much more youthful appearance.

This means that, among other aspects, it helps to smooth and refine the texture of the skin, treating unnatural aging at the root, and improving the luminosity of the skin. Thus, when retinol (or retinoic acid in short) is incorporated into preventive skin care routines for aging, it helps to accelerate the natural process of skin renewal, improving collagen production. All this translates into a benefit that, above all, you would be very interested in: it reduces the appearance of aging, age spots -also known as sun spots-, and uneven skin texture.

But what benefits does retinoic acid really provide when applied topically to the skin?  According to most of the studies that have been published so far, the main qualities -and effects- would be the following:

  • Prevention of wrinkles. It would help prevent the formation of wrinkles thanks to the fact that it provides a “minimizing” effect. In addition, it also softens the fine lines of expression, and the wrinkles that have already formed previously.
  • Illumination. Helps brighten dull skin by exfoliating at the cellular level. As a result, it is possible to enjoy a much smoother and more luminous skin.
  • Against stains. Thanks to its minimizing and restorative qualities, it also helps fade age spots. The same would happen with spots caused directly by the action of ultraviolet rays (sunspots), problems related to hyperpigmentation, and would even out the complexion over time.
  • Useful in case of oily skin. If you have oily skin, it is also quite likely that you are also prone to acne breakouts. If so, regular use of retinoic acid has been shown to help regulate oily skin and even minimize breakouts.

Retinoids, such as retinoic acid, help positively in reducing both fine lines and wrinkles, thanks to the increase in collagen production. Collagen consists of the most abundant protein in our body, which performs important functions in the body, such as providing structure to the skin, thus becoming one of the main building blocks of the skin, as well as bones, tendons and ligaments.

For example, in a scientific study retinoic acid acts by blocking the production of collagenase, an enzyme capable of breaking down collagen. If we take into account that collagen decreases over the years, as we get older, it is essential to do everything possible to preserve it. This is where retinoic acid acts: by having a greater amount of collagen in the skin, it will be thicker and more voluminous, and in turn will have a much healthier elasticity, with less formation of wrinkles and less sagging.

Ultimately, the main benefit of regular use of topical products with retinoic acid is to enjoy much younger-looking skin. The same study mentioned above found that a 0.1 percent retinol product was able to reduce the appearance of wrinkles on the cheeks by more than 60 percent, and in the eye area by more than 35 percent. All this after 12 weeks of use.

They have also been shown to stimulate the production of new blood vessels in the skin, greatly helping to improve skin color. For this reason, retinoic acid is especially suitable for reducing soft spots on the skin, as well as spots associated with discoloration.

Thanks to the increase in cell renewal, there are fewer outbreaks directly related to acne, since as the cells begin to regenerate, the pores unclog or unclog, and the pimples begin to disappear little by little. For this reason, many dermatologists recommend using a retinoid product for those starting their teenage years, as they may help clear up acne and pimples. Even if they haven’t made an appearance yet.

As most professionals advise, it’s vitally important to start adding it slowly to your nightly skincare routine, especially once or twice a week—at most—for the first week. Afterwards, from there, it is possible to increase it gradually, depending on how the skin has reacted.

Thus, if visible redness or scaling occurs, it is best to reduce its use to once a week for a period of 30 days (one month). And, then, increase to twice a week once the recommended time has elapsed, controlling -yes- skin irritation before increasing its use. In this way, if after 30 days the skin continues to be irritated, the most appropriate thing to do is to return to the dermatologist’s office, who will probably recommend not increasing the amount until the most opportune moment.

In any case, most dermatologists recommend using it little by little, usually starting every two or three nights and then (after one or two weeks) every other night and finally using it every night. On the other hand, initially, the ideal is to start with an over-the-counter product with retinol -due to its low concentration-, and as the skin tolerates it, opt for a prescription product with a higher concentration, as tolerance to it increases.

Of course, it is essential that the treatment is followed for a long time (experts advise three to six months of regular use), to observe some improvement in fine lines and wrinkles.  Although the best results -that is, the most evident- take approximately six to twelve months. This means that, when it comes to ensuring that these products maintain their benefits on the skin, it is essential that they are used continuously.

Main uses of retinoic acid

As we have seen, many of the retinoic acid derivatives are essentially used topically.  Because they are not well absorbed through the skin, they do not appear in large amounts in the blood, so their use – except for severe skin reactions – is considered quite safe.

In the particular case of tretinoin, a type of retinoic acid, it consists of a topical retinoid  widely used for the treatment of changes in damaged skin caused by the action of ultraviolet rays. In addition, it also helps to inhibit ultraviolet – or solar – light-induced damage to skin cells.

And how do you get it? Topical retinoids, such as retinoic acid, induce the keratin-producing cells in the skin to proliferate and differentiate from each other much more quickly. In turn, as we have seen, it increases the production of collagen.

In this way, topical application of retinoic acid produces a visible reduction in less fine wrinkles, a much more even skin color, and improved skin smoothness. In this sense, experts believe that all these effects are due to a healthier formation of collagen. In short, after regular application over time, the skin feels firmer and healthier. In addition, the blood supply to the deep layer of the skin is also noticeably improved.

Of course, we should not confuse the use of retinoids and retinol itself, mainly because their intensities differ greatly. Even though retinoids, and retinol, are part of the vitamin A family, retinols are basically a weaker form of retinoids. For this reason, it is common to find them as ingredients in over-the-counter cosmetic creams and treatments (that is, they do not require a proper medical prescription for home use).

The same does not happen with retinoids, which would be available in higher concentrations, for whose purchase and use it is necessary to have the proper medical prescription.

Perhaps you may think that retinols, for the mere fact of being weaker, are not as useful.  But the truth is that, despite this, they still have interesting benefits and positive effects on the skin. Of course, it is essential to maintain its use and regular application on the skin for at least 12 weeks in order to see moderately evident results.

Retinols usually take longer to work because their power of action is much lower. For this reason, it is common to find them in products with a moisturizing effect, since they are not so irritating, since their formulation is much weaker, acting more gently on the skin. It is all due to their differences in molecular structure. And is that over-the-counter retinols are present in ester form, which is then converted to active retinoic acid when applied to the skin. Hence, the more steps that are necessary for this process, the weaker the product will end up becoming. This is why it takes longer to see the same results when we compare the action of retinols to a prescription version of retinoids.

Luckily, results are cumulative over time, so firmer, smoother, clearer skin can be expected in about 3 months. As long as, as we have said, the treatment is applied regularly.

And why do retinoids act more directly? Basically because while retinols tend to go through a lot of changes in their formation in order to convert to retinoic acid, retinoids do so very quickly. Hence, they are faster acting, and therefore, much more powerful.

That is, while retinol is a derivative of vitamin A, retinoid would be more of a widely used term that covers both over-the-counter retinol (that is, the product that can be purchased without the need for a prescription prescription), and prescription forms of retinoic acid, such as adarotene and tretinoin.

How to use retinoic acid on the skin?

If the dermatologist has recommended you to follow some type of topical retinoic acid treatment, it is essential to always follow their instructions. In most cases when using a retinol cream or serum, you need to allow it to absorb into the skin, leaving it on for 20-30 minutes before applying another topical product on top.

It is essential to use sunscreen daily, to protect the skin from ultraviolet rays while using retinol, since it can make the skin end up becoming much more sensitive.

Whether in cream, serum, or prescription form from a dermatologist, retinoic acid is best applied at night, right after you’ve washed your face. As we have already seen, this is more recommended since sun exposure can cause problems by deactivating retinoic acid.

And when to start using it? Many dermatologists advise starting and incorporating a retinol product (such as retinoic acid) into any skin care routine starting at age 30, three to four times a week. When you are 40 years old or older, it is recommended to use it every other night. While, from the age of 50 or 60, it is advisable to incorporate a retinol or retinoic acid product five to seven times a week.

Regarding the amount, the ideal is to opt for over-the-counter retinoic acid products that contain at least a 0.25 percent concentration, since this is considered the minimum amount necessary for it to be truly effective. It is also possible to choose a higher concentration when the skin is not particularly sensitive, although on this occasion it is always advisable to do some testing beforehand as a “trial / error” method, thereby determining which concentration and frequency tend to work best for you. the skin.

Is it necessary to put moisturizer over retinoic acid?

Although some specialists advise the use of a moisturizer after the application of retinoic acid, or retinol, most products that contain it also have a built-in moisturizer.

This is even more interesting if possible, since only the subsequent application of a product with moisturizing qualities will not be necessary, but it will help minimize the risk of a negative reaction.

But perhaps the question is the other way around: Is it possible to put moisturizer under retinol? I mean, before you apply retinoic acid? The reality is that it is indeed possible to apply a moisturizer to your skin before applying the retinol product. What’s more, many dermatologists and beauty specialists strongly recommend it, since it will help minimize the irritating effects, without interfering with the absorption of the product in question.

What are the main side effects of using retinoic acid?

One of the main side effects of regular use of retinoic acid is that it can make the skin red too easily, or even flaky when integrated into the skin care regimen too quickly, or when used – even- too often.

In fact, especially in the first moment that retinoic acid is integrated into the skin care routine, it is common for problems directly related to dryness, flaking and some acne  breakouts to arise. Fortunately, it actually takes a short time for the skin to adjust, so these conditions and symptoms tend to gradually disappear over days as retinoic acid is used on a regular basis.

In the event that you are considering becoming pregnant, are already pregnant, or are breastfeeding the baby, it is advisable to first consult your doctor before starting to use retinol (or continue with the treatment in case you had started it much earlier). Certain retinoids, such as isotretinoin treatments that are taken by mouth for the medical treatment of acne, have shown side effects for pregnant women, including miscarriage. The same would not happen with retinoic acid applied topically, although to take extreme precautions, it is always advisable to consult a dermatologist.

Here is a summary of the side effects associated with the use of retinoic acid (or any other topical retinoid product):

  • Changes in skin color (pigmentation-related problems).
  • Greater sensitivity to sunlight, increasing the risk of sun spots.
  • Swelling or redness.
  • Increased risk of formation of both blisters and scabs.
  • Irritation and dryness.

Luckily, with the passage of time and regular use, the skin will develop a certain tolerance, so even if you initially experience uncomfortable reactions such as redness and irritation (which is mainly due to increased skin cell turnover), will begin to fade after a few weeks, as the skin becomes more resistant to irritation while benefiting from the various health effects of retinoids.

However, if you have usually suffered from these problems when applying a cream or serum with retinoic acid, it may be advisable to consult your doctor about the use of  extended-release formulas, which are new formulations and have been specially designed for those types of skin that are more prone to redness (dry, sensitive skin) or breakouts (acne-prone oily skin). These types of products are extremely special, since they release the active ingredient little by little, over time, and can cause less irritation.

In case of rosacea its use is not recommended. Rosacea is a chronic inflammatory skin condition, more common in people with fair skin, that causes the formation of pustules on the face, as well as redness and inflammation of the blood vessels. Although the exact causes that cause its appearance are unknown, it is known that some factors may include when the symptoms are triggered -or worsen-, such as stress, extreme temperatures, vigorous physical exercise, the use of hot baths or saunas, spicy foods, or dairy products.  Even when there is no cure, there are different treatments that can be quite helpful in relieving symptoms and discomfort. For example, certain lifestyle changes,

How to Minimize the Risks Related to Using Retinoic Acid Easily?

  • Protect your skin from the sun. Try to stay out of the sun whenever possible. If you must be outside, it is appropriate to limit the hours, especially between 10 and 14 hours. The use of a sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 30, or more, is also essential. Wearing protective clothing is also advisable, such as long pants, a long-sleeved shirt, and a wide-brimmed hat.
  • Reduces skin dryness. Using a moisturizer in conjunction with topical retinoids can help in a very positive way in reducing skin dryness. All this without interfering with the real effectiveness of the product in question.
  • Avoid excessive use. As we have told you, it is not advisable to use the product in large quantities, much less use it more frequently than the doctor would have recommended in the prescription (or what is indicated on the label of the product you are using in question). Keep in mind that doing it this way will not only not increase its effectiveness, but could increase side effects.

Especially at first, many specialists advise using a very small amount (about the size of a pea) for the entire face, every other night, as the skin begins to get used to the treatment in question. Of course, to keep flaking under control, it is essential to continue with a moisturizer. In this sense, many experts recommend even applying retinoic acid after moisturizer, which will help create a barrier that will be extremely helpful in minimizing irritation.

Fortunately, many of the retinoid acids are formulated with moisturizing ingredients, which help to minimize the risk of irritation and dryness.

Skin protection is essential

As we have already told you on many occasions, the daily use of a suitable sunscreen for our skin prototype is always essential and recommended, especially when we are going to be outdoors.

As we have seen, if you are using retinol, any retinoid cream or retinoic acid itself, one of its side effects is to make the skin much more sensitive to ultraviolet rays, since the skin that appears after its continued use over time is much thinner and more delicate. Hence, the use of a broad-spectrum sunscreen, with at least a sun protection factor of 30, is at least essential, particularly throughout the day.

For this reason, many experts advise against the use of this type of treatment during the summer months, especially when we enjoy the holidays and plan to spend a lot of time in direct sunlight. Even when we use sunscreen correctly, and daily, the ideal is to stop treatment, at least until we are sure that we will not sunbathe on the beach or in the pool for a few months.

On the other hand, since sunlight decreases the effectiveness of the product with retinoic acid, it is much more recommended to use it and apply it only at night. The reason?  Sunlight tends to deactivate the action of retinoic acid.


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