Retin-A: Benefits and Disadvantages


Before and AfterIf you are an acne sufferer or you simply want to maintain a healthy skin, then you probably heard about Retin-A, a tretinoin-based cream. Tretinoin can be purchased as a cream or gel from various brands, such as Retino-A, Atralin, Avita, Renova, Stiev-A and others, but they all basically have the same effects: they combat acne, wrinkles and slow down the aging of the skin. This wonder chemical compound, which is a form of vitamin A, is also used to treat acute promyelocytic leukemia (APL), a cancer where there is a high number of immature blood cells in the blood and in the bone marrow. In such cases the tretinoin stops the growth of cancerous cells and it can also force them to mature into normal blood cells. The main difference between the tretinoin used for skin-related issues and the one used as part of the treatment for APL, is that the first is for external use only, while the latter is administered orally in form of capsules (sold as Vesanoid, a chemotherapy drug). Both types of this medication must be prescribed by a doctor and cases of pregnancy or allergy to tretinoin are to be reported beforehand in order to find other alternatives. Tretinoin is a teratogen and it can use birth defects in newborns, such as cranial abnormalities, if used during the pregnancy, but the topical form (cream/gel) seems to have limited effects on the fetus, compared to the oral (capsules) form.

I have used Retin-A cream for a long time and I realized this is a cream like no other. It takes patience and perseverance in order to observe its beneficial aspects. In the beginning, most users would toss the cream tube in the garbage bin rather than using it ever again. Tretinoin is an active compound and, depending on which concentration you use (0.025%, 0.05% or 0.1%), you will experience itchy red, peeling skin. Such a thing seems like an unnecessary hassle for the sake of acne removal or a wrinkle-free skin. I have met people who claimed that for them Retin-A didn’t work, but I think they didn’t use it long enough. What this cream does is quite extraordinary. At first it peels your skin aggressively on your nose, chin, forehead and cheeks, especially if your skin type isn’t the oily one. This causes reddening of the skin, a higher production of sebum as a consequence of the skin drying up and then a large number of pimples tend to appear everywhere on the face, opposite to what the cream claims to do, and that is reduce the effects of acne and with time, eliminate it completely. In such a case, most people feel compelled to give up on the treatment. But as in many other cases, patience is well-paid.

It takes up to 4-6 months of tretinoin use in order to see some great effects. This is basically a chemical peeling, which requires time for it to show what it’s worth, compared to microdermabrasion, which has almost instant effects, but it is not only more expensive, but also more invasive. Dealing with the side effects of Retin-A use is only a matter of getting used to and given it only takes a few months of bad skin, the effects are totally worth waiting for. I used Retin-A in 2012 for the first time and, in many years, my skin was finally clean and healthy, without redness or an excessive sebum secretion. But when I wanted to buy another Retin-A cream, my dermatologist revealed to me that my country ended all contracts with foreign distributors of this cream and therefore I was forced to stop the treatment.

In 2014 my boyfriend traveled to India and knowing that that is the land where everything can be purchased if you pay for it, I told him to look for Retin-A in the local drugstores and I wasn’t disappointed. Not only did he find it, but it was much cheaper than the one sold in Europe. The only difference was that the one I used in 2012 was Retin-A, produced by Bayer, and the one I started to use earlier this year is called Retino-A, produced by Johnson & Johnson, but they’re exactly the same thing sold under a different name and package.

I’m currently in my 3rd month of use and I have noticed improvements. The skin is still dry sometimes, but I found it very useful to apply each time after I wash my face a product purchased from Boots UK, Coconut Body Oil for all skin types. It moisturizes the skin, the oil being quickly absorbed into the thirsty tissues. Fortunately enough, coconut oil isn’t only a great moisturizer, but also protects the skin from sunburns and I recommend it instead of those highly commercial sunscreen oils, which have almost no organic compound and might prove more harmful in time. Dealing with the redness is more difficult, but not impossible. I tried many foundation creams, but one that does its job quite well is 123 Perfect CC Cream from Bourjois Paris, that has anti-redness properties and is also SPF15. Another side effect is skin sensitivity and that includes sensitivity to the sun, to harsh soaps and other face care products, so I try to avoid washing my face with products that dry it more than it already is because of the tretinoin. It is very important to avoid exposure to the sun with the cream recently applied to the skin and it must be accompanied by a powerful sunscreen, preferably organic.

Despite its obvious disadvantages, Retin-A/Retino-A (or any other product whose active compound is tretinoin) is a cream that really works. In 25 years of scientific studies, no other chemical compound proved more efficient to combat acne and wrinkles than tretinoin. Pollution, make-up, smoking, drinking, UVs, they all cause the skin to age drastically earlier than it should, but with the help of tretinoin-based creams/gels, a balanced diet and proper hydration (preferably use water for this purpose!) your skin can regain its former glow and elasticity, without spending too much money or energy in the wrong direction.