Quick Facts

  • Topical retinoids are derivatives of Vitamin A
  • On the skin they help to improve wrinkles, sun damage, pigmentation and acne
  • There are various forms of topical retinoids, each having specific properties
  • Topical retinoids can be irritating on the skin, and should be introduced slowly

Topical retinoids, derivatives of  Vitamin A, were first used in patients who were being treated for acne. These patients reported smoother skin and less wrinkles after treatment, as well as having fewer blemishes. A study followed that showed patients who used topical retinoids demonstrated improvement in sunlight-induced epidermal atrophy (skin thinning), dysplasia (abnormal skin changes), and pigmentation. Overall, topical retinoids play a key role in reducing sun damage, preventing and reducing wrinkles and controlling acne.

Retinoids work by increasing the natural turnover rate of the skin. Therefore there are less dead skin cells at the surface of the skin and less blockages as a result. This property of retinoids also means that skin texture and fine wrinkles also improve. The downside of retinoids is the possibility of causing a response known as retinoic dermatitis. Skin can appear red, flaky, lumpy, and irritated for up to one month after commencement of retinoids. Starting slowly is important to reduce these side effects. Sunscreen is also imperative with the use of retinoids as they can initially increase sun sensitivity. Retinoids should not be used in pregnant mothers, or those planning to be pregnant.


What forms do Retinoids come in?

Retinoids come in various forms. Retinols are another form of retinoids. Cosmedix also has a range of retinols of varying strength (Define, Refine, Refine Rx). Although more expensive than their prescription-only variants, they have the added property of being chirally correct.  Each molecule has a left and a right-sided version, like a pair of hands. In the case of retinols, the left sided version is more active and less irritating to the skin. Cosmedix has more of the left sided version of the molecule and is therefore chirally correct.

Retinaldehyde is another form of retinoid, and these are also highly effective on the skin, but are the least irritating of all the topical retinoids. They can therefore also be used to help conditions such as rosacea, where the skin is particularly sensitive. Osmosis skin care have products that contain retinaldehyde.

Instructions when using topical retinoids

The following instructions should be followed when using topical retinoids;

  • Apply to dry skin
  • Do not apply to the skin in the eye socket (ie. Do not apply to areas inside where you can feel the bone surrounding your eyeball)
  • Apply only a pea-sized amount
  • Apply at night only
  • Apply every third night to begin with
  • After two weeks, apply every second night
  • After another 2 weeks, apply every night.

If you experience any redness or irritation, it is necessary to reduce the frequency of your topical retinoid usage. Once the irritation has reduced, return to gradually increasing the frequency of retinoid use until it is tolerated. If necessary, also reduce the usage of alpha-hydroxy acid (AHA) products in order to increase your retinoid frequency. It is possible to burn your skin with excessive usage so you must carefully monitor your skin at all times when using topical retinoids. As your skin gets accustomed to the retinoids, you may progress to the next strength. Flakiness is normal and you should persist with usage if this occurs.

Retinoids should be ceased if you are planning on pregnancy or if pregnant or breast-feeding. Although the topical absorption has not proven significant, it is prudent to avoid retinoids during your pregnancy/lactation. Overall, retinoids are a very important topical agent that can help acne, but also those who do not have acne and want to improve skin quality and texture.

You can phone us directly on 1300 863 824 to make an appointment to discuss topical retinoids for you.