By Mariusz J.A. Sapijaszko, MD FRCPC (Dermatology)

Are Retinoids The Answer To Ageing?

Prevention; it's still the key when it comes to avoiding excessive aging of the skin. The best way to fight photo-aging (damage to your skin caused by getting too much sun exposure) is to protect yourself. Sunscreen use is your number one weapon, as the sun can and will age your skin. Learn about sun-damaged skin on www.skincareguide.com/conditions/sun_damaged_skin.html.

Using Topical Retinoids:

If you already have sun-damaged skin there are some alternatives for you. A very popular and effective treatment is the use of topical retinoids. Are topical retinoids recommended for everyone? The answer is - no. Most people can and probably should use some form of topical retinoid as their benefits in improving skin photo-aging as well as reversing some of the abnormal skin growths are well documented. Patients with very sensitive skin may have difficulties using topical retinoids. If you have rosacea, (Signs include facial redness, small blood vessels and occasional inflammatory papules), you may not be able to use topical retinoids at all.

For you, other products such as ones with topical vitamin C may be of benefit. Topical vitamin C as also an agent used in the fight against excessive skin ageing.

How Retinoids Work:

Retinoids are chemical molecules that are derivatives of vitamin A. There are both oral and topical formulations, and are used to treat conditions such as psoriasis or acne (See PsoriasisGuide.ca or AcneGuide.ca for more treatment information). They work by binding to specific receptors which then interact with DNA. This process generates new molecules which in turn results in skin improvements. The most common topical skin retinoids are tretinoin, tazarotene and adapalene. With the first two being most commonly used to treat photo-aging.

Applying Topical Retinoids:

With topical retinoids, most people experience a mild degree of skin irritation that recedes with ongoing use. Generally speaking, people with more sensitive skin have a higher chance of developing irritation and, as such, should use the product less often (e.g. start with twice a week application at night) and increase the frequency of use as tolerated. There is no need to endure significant irritations, as this is not needed for the product to exert its beneficial affects.

Short and Long-Term Effects:

Many studies have been performed and their validity confirmed. There are both short as well as long term benefits of topical tretinoin.

Short-term effects (less then six months of use) include:

  • Visual improvement of degree of wrinkling
  • Improvement in skin glow
  • Improvement of the smoothness of the skin
  • The more damaged the skin is prior to the treatment, the more impressive the results, but the treatment can be and should be started before the skin is significantly damaged.

Long-term results of tretinoin use (greater than six months) include improvement in fine lines and skin texture, normalization of pigmentary abnormalities, reversal of some of the early skin cancer changes as well as improving the firmness of the skin. These improvements are maintained even though the frequency of applications is decreased from once a day to three times a week.

Prevention, it's still your best answer but at least topical retinoids are a source of hope for many people who are suffering from premature skin ageing.


About the author:

Mariusz J. A. Sapijaszko, MD FRCPC is the Director of the Western Canada Dermatology Institute located in Edmonton, Alberta. He is also the Clinical Assistant Professor at the Division of Dermatology, University of Alberta, in Edmonton. His areas of expertise include cosmetic and laser surgery. Learn more on his www.youthfulimage.com.


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