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Retinol and Topical Retinoids For Clearing Acne

Is Retinol the Answer to Perfect Skin?

I've been pretty open about my struggle with hormonal breakouts, enlarged pores and not-so-great skin texture, so when one of Sydney's leading cosmetic physician's wrote me a prescription for tretinoin (a topical retinoid), I was kind of confused. She told me it was a form of vitamin A, and that it is most commonly used to treat fine lines and wrinkles, but also acne.

This news (and the results) were life changing for me. I had a problem area on my right cheek and it completely cleared up, and my skin had never looked smoother. My blackheads were less pronounced and I actually haven't had a major breakout since. I've since replaced the tretinoin with DMK's Revise-A, but because I'd never been told about topical retinoids before, I thought other acne sufferers might be interested in learning more. Dr. Naomi McCullum explains all, after the jump.

What is vitamin A cream used for?
"Vitamin A topically is great for acne, skin smoothing, improving fine lines and texture. Vitamin A can also be in a gel form."

So there's different forms of vitamin A creams?
"There are many types of topical retinoids (i.e. chemical compounds that are related chemically to vitamin A). The commonly known ones are retinol, tretinoin (retinoic acid/Retin-A), Tazarotene and Adapalene (Differin)."

Can these be bought over the counter, and what brands do you recommend?
"You can buy retinol topicals over the counter. At my clinic we sell ASAP and Skinceuticals. I am working on my own "Dr. Naomi" product range right now, which will definitely include a vitamin A!

"For tretinoin (i.e. Retin-A or Steiva-A) or Differin, you must see a doctor who will write a prescription for you to take to the chemist."

Is it safe to use?
"It is reasonably safe, but also has known side effects including retinoid dermatitis, redness, irritation and peeling skin. It shouldn't be used in pregnancy."

Yes I've heard it can cause flaking but I haven't experienced any. Is there a time limit on how long I can use it for?
"Flaking is very common. It is best to introduce topical vitamin A slowly to the skin. If your skin is having this trouble, you can dilute the topical Vitamin A down with a moisturiser and slowly increase the concentration of the vitamin A. Those who aren't having any adverse skin effects can use it every day.

"In regards to it long-term safety, there is debate. Personally, I would be happy to use it long term."

I know topical vitamin A is good for acne sufferers, but what about sensitive skin?
"It is great for the treatment of acne. In fact, every person with acne should be using a topical vitamin A. Sensitive skin is another matter. Often patients with sensitive skin don't like vitamin A because it can easily irritate their skin. They are much more susceptible to the side effects. They should just try to introduce it more slowly than the average person, for example in the beginning, just use a diluted amount on the skin for five minutes, and then wash it off. You can then gradually increase from there."

It seems (and looks) like the answer to perfect skin!
"Many patients would agree with you!"

To find out more or to book an appointment with Dr. Naomi, call 02 9331 5005.

Image Source: Getty
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