Ask a Doctor: What does retinol do?

Dr. Cindy McCord Associates in Plastic Surgery

Dr. Cindy McCord
Associates in Plastic Surgery

From the Chattanooga Times Free Press

Dr. Cindy McCord, with Associates in Plastic Surgery, explains what retinol is and how it can help your skin look its best in this week’s Ask a Doctor.

Q: I’ve seen lots of skin-care products with retinol on their labels. What is retinol, and what does it do?

A: Retinol is actually retinoic acid, and it can do some pretty amazing things to your skin, like fading sun damage, increasing collagen production and interrupting the free-radical process that causes wrinkles. Those benefits are why you’re seeing so many products with retinol.

Over-the-counter retinols are much weaker than the prescription version because they contain ester forms (vitamin A derivatives) that need to be converted by the skin into retinoic acid for the skin to use it. Those versions are effective but not as effective as prescription versions.

Prescription retinoids, such as Retin-A and Tretinoin, contain higher concentrations of retinoic acid. They’ll provide faster results than OTC versions. Both OTC and prescription retinoids can cause skin irritation, peeling and sensitivity to sun, so sunscreen use is absolutely necessary with retinoids. Because of the possibility of skin irritation and other problems, you should only use retinoids under the care of your doctor. Your doctor can help you reduce the incidences of irritation and peeling.

Both versions of retinoids can improve the look and texture of your skin and are a safe component of a good skincare routine.