Retinol as an Acne Treatment

Retinol is commonly found in many beauty products and skin creams, but is it effective at getting rid of acne? This question will be answered in the post below.

The first thing to discuss is to define retinol. Retinol sounds a lot like a brand name for a beauty line but it is actually a specific name for a certain chemical compound. This compound is part of the retinoid family, a class of chemicals that is similar in structure, function, and action to vitamin A.

Retinol vs Prescription Medications

Retinol is perhaps the least potent retinoids, and as a result it is available over the counter. It is commonly used in lotions and creams. It has been marketed both as a wrinkle remedy as well as a psoriasis treatment. Recently, it has been recommended by laymen for use in getting rid of acne, but I believe this is a mistake.

Chemical Structure of Retinol

Chemical Structure of Retinol

Note that there are a large number of prescription medications that are retinoids but are not specifically retinol. Retinol is just 1 chemical in the retinoid family. Prescription medications like Retin-A are an order of magnitude stronger than retinol in effect on the target tissues. Both Retin-A and retinol are retinoids. Prescription retinoids can be found in both gel and pill format. Retinol on the other hand is typically only found in creams and lotions.

Due to the association in name of retinol and retinoids, it is easy to see why the average person may confuse these. However, retinol is not nearly as strong as prescription retinoids, so it is unlikely that retinol will have much effect on acne. Prescription retinoids for acne typically are prescribed as a pill anyway, as applying a greasy lotion to acne may just exacerbate the problem.

Psoriasis and Acne: The Possible Exception

One possible exception to the impotence of retinol in getting rid of acne is in the case of psoriasis. These two conditions are often linked with dry irritated skin being overlaid by a breakout of acne. Traditional acne treatments may not be ideal in such a situation as they may dry out the skin further and irritate the psoriasis. Retinol does work to help reduce psoriasis, especially when applied in the form of a cream or gel.

However, there are stronger formulations of retinoids available in gel format for this very purpose. Once again, if you want to use retinoids to get rid of acne, it is best to see a doctor rather than try to use OTC products. The best OTC products are still salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide.

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