Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Forgotten Anti-Aging Classic: Retinoids Are the Skin's Best Friend

The Forgotten Anti-Aging Classic: Retinoids Are the Skin's Best Friend
Before you whip out $150 for a Goji berry skin cream, how about giving retinoids a go? (Photo by km !)

When it comes to skin care, retinoids appear to be a true star. A star among useless junk floating around the space we call cosmetics.

What other compound has decades of research behind it and been shown to actually reduce wrinkles? I can't think of any. What I can think of is new products that promise the world and cost a fortune constantly being advertised in health magazines, in the hopes that middle-aged women with deep wallets and an insatiable thirst for looking younger would fall for their marketing claims.

And they do. These anti-aging, youth-restoring, skin-plumpening, illness-curing magical creams and gels in their tiny little jars sell like there's no tomorrow. The price tag is unimportant, as long as the wrinkles will be gone.

But of course, a hundred bucks later, the wrinkles will still be there, ready to absorb the next product with its new moleculer structure that will revolutionize the cosmetic industry. I shake my head in amusement and disbelief at this sight of desperate women grabbing stacks of hard-earned or divorce-obtained cash from their Louis Vuitton purses and throwing them at salespersons, demanding to be lulled into a false dream of a wrinkle-free tomorrow.

Okay, so maybe I'm exaggerating here (I've never seen them actually throw cash), but you get the point. Why is not everyone using retinoids if they wipe the table with everything else? Maybe they aren't that good after all. Maybe it's yet another marketing trick. Maybe they were lying about retinoids too!

To find out the truth, it's time to take the red pill and do a quick review of some of the studies on retinoids, before I once again plunge myself into the wonderful but scary world of skin care in the form of an experiment. Yes, I will be trying the stuff on myself.

What are retinoids?

Retinoids are derivatives of vitamin A – that is, they are chemical compounds related to vitamin A. We absorb retinoids from foods, mainly animal sources, in the form of retinyl esters, which are then hydrolized to yield free retinol. Retinol, along with retinal, tretinoin, isotretinoin and alitretinoin, form a class known as first-generation retinoids. Etretinate and acitretin form the second generation, while tazarotene, bexarotene and adapalene form the third.

Topical retinoids were originally approved by the FDA for treating acne, but it was quickly realized that retinoids improved the skin in other ways too. Currently, three prescription-strength retinoids are available and sold under various brands: tretinoin (Atralin, Avita, Retin-A, Retin-A Micro, Renova), tazarotene (Avage, Tazorac), and adapalene (Differin). Retinol creams are generally available without a prescription, but they are also less potent.

How do retinoids work?

One mechanism behind some of the beneficial effects of retinoid is an increase in the thickness of the skin. Even though retinoids actually thin the stratum corneum – the strong, flexible and dry outermost surface of the skin – they thicken the epidermis and the dermis underneath it (link). The end result is a thicker, more youthful looking skin.

Retinoids are also powerful exfoliators. They help peel off dead skin cells on the surface of the skin and increase the turnover of keratinocytes (link). Keratinocytes, the major cells in the epidermis, move from the basal layer to the epidermis, where they differentiate and then die. The cells are thus constantly exfoliated naturally as new keratinocytes form at the basal layer. Retinoids speeds this process up and gets rid of old cells to give room to younger, healthier cells.

Furthermore, retinoids increase the production of hyaluronic acid (link, link) and collagen (link). Together they give the skin a more hydrated and firmer appearance. Retinoids also stimulate dermal fibroblasts, which are cells that make the structural framework of animal tissues (link), and replaces disorganized collagen fibers with new, well-organized fibers (link). Angiogenesis, the formation of new blood vessels, improves blood flow to the skin and is the reason behind the healthy, rosy glow reported by tretinoin users (link).

What can retinoids do for my skin?

Okay, enough technical talk; how does all this translate into real life? While retinoids are succesfully used to treat conditions such as acne vulgaris and to improve wound healing, they also have several skin health benefits in normal persons with signs of skin aging. Here's a list of positive effects seen in retinoid users, as reported in the literature (e.g. link, link, link, link, link):

  • Increased skin thickness and firmness
  • Increased skin hydration
  • Increased skin tolerance to external factors
  • Reduced visible signs of sun damage
  • Reduced fine wrinkles
  • Restoration of even skin tone and reduced hyperpigmentation
  • Reduction in dark circles under the eyes
  • Reduced skin roughness
  • Reduced irritation from shaving
  • Less risk of skin cancer
  • Reduced stretch marks
  • A healthy, 'rosy glow'

In one self-assessment, 83% of the participants rated their skin as improved after 6 months of using 0.05% tretinoin. With continued use, fine lines and coarse wrinkles keep improving, and as mentioned before, the epidermis and dermis thicken significantly. The effects are not only cosmetic in nature, as is the case with products like moisturizers, but rather reflect the fact that underlying damage is being actively repaired.

How to use retinoids

Prescription retinoids come in varying strengths: 0.025%, 0.05% and 0.1%. Since retinoids can cause skin irritation, they may take some getting used to, especially with stronger creams and gels. Common symptoms are exfoliation, stinging, burning, redness and itching, but they generally start to subside within 2 to 6 weeks. Even the strongest concentration seems to be tolerated quite well after a while (link). No abnormalities in the skin have been reported even after years of continued use, making tretinoin safe for long-term use (link).

Many people start with 0.05% strength, and if they find it too irritating, switch to 0.025%. If your skin is very sensitive, consider starting with the 0.025% and gradually moving to higher concentrations. Or, alternatively, start by using the product only every other day or even twice a week and then switch to daily use once your skin is accustomed to it.

Many of the studies have used 0.05% tretinoin with good results, but stronger creams may be even more effective (link). Retinol causes little to no irritation but produces weaker results (link). One study suggests isotretinoin, which is commonly used orally but is also available as a topical gel, may be more effective than tretinoin (link). Retinoid gels in general appear to be stronger than creams, so a 0.05% gel may be more irritant (but also more effective) than a 0.05% cream.

It is recommended that retinoids are applied in the evening or at night rather than in the morning. Some people say the reason is because they increase susceptibility to photodamage, but I haven't found evidence to support this claim. Rather, a good reason not to apply it in the morning is that retinoids themselves are degraded by sun light. Before applying, it's also recommended to wait 15-20 minutes after washing your face, presumably to reduce absorption and thus irritation.

My retinoid experiment

To see if all the pro-retinoid hype is really true, I'm going to try retinoids on myself. But, instead of just applying it on my face and trying to remember what I looked like before I started using retinoids, I'm only going to apply the product on the left side of my face.

Or, to be precise, I have two products I'm going to be testing: tretinoin cream (0.05%) and tretinoin gel (0.05%). Both are generic versions from, which sells them without prescriptions (hooray for individual choice!). I'm starting off with the cream to see how well my skin can handle retinoids in the first place.

For more information on skin care, see these posts:

Topical Vitamin C for Skin: Re-examining the Case
Silica for Hair, Nails & Skin: BioSil vs. JarroSil
How I Accidentally Grew Hair on My Left Temple with Retinol – Experiment Conclusion
Coconut Oil Is Better than Olive Oil for Atopic Dermatitis

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48 kommenttia:

joanent October 2, 2009 at 6:28 PM  

Hi - how about the micro-sphere version of tretinoin? It is supposed to be less irritating, are there any reports whether it's as good for wrinkles?

Aaron October 2, 2009 at 11:02 PM  

same question here!!

JLL October 3, 2009 at 2:06 PM  

@je & Aaron,

As far as I know, the micro version has only been used for treating acne in the studies, so I can't say whether it's more or less effective than the normal version.

Also, we can't say much based on the fact that it's less irritating than the normal version -- in some studies, more irritation is associated with better results, and in some, there's no difference.

So far, I've had no irritation from the 0.05% cream, even when applying it right after washing my face (well I had to try).


Anonymous October 4, 2009 at 7:55 PM  

I'm going to start my own experiment using retinol nightly.

Anonymous October 22, 2009 at 12:30 PM  

Sounds very interesting. Do you have plans for posting results?

JLL October 23, 2009 at 12:58 PM  


Yes of course. Probably once I've used up the first tube.

Robocop November 13, 2009 at 2:11 AM  

I took isotetrinoin orally in my teens for acne and looking at the wiki, it says that one of the common side effects for it is permanently thinned skin. I'm pretty sure this is what has happened to me as my skin is pretty transparent and i scar very easily. I'm just wondering why a side effect of taking it for acne can leave you with permanently thinned skin when it is also supposed thicken skin? Thanks

JLL November 15, 2009 at 10:52 PM  

@Vincent Jivetalk,

I see skin thinness is mentioned as a side-effect, but I can't find any studies explaining how/why this is the case. In fact, the one study I found on oral isotretinoin and skin parameters showed an increase in skin thickness.

Perhaps there's a difference between short-term and long-term uses? I know many people say their eye crinkles / crow's feet become more visible when they first start using topical retinoids, but after some months they start to become less visible. I've noticed a similar effect.

But, I'm not really familiar with oral retinoids -- it's possible they work in different ways than topicals.

Robocop November 15, 2009 at 11:26 PM  



"Perhaps there's a difference between short-term and long-term uses?"

I was thinking exactly the same. Short term course = thinner skin without without the time needed for the dermis and the epidermis to thicken?

Anonymous November 17, 2009 at 11:39 AM  

Question from a Finnish reader: which particular brand/product are you using?

JLL November 17, 2009 at 12:52 PM  


I'm using generic brands from, currently tretinoin 0.05%.

Synaura November 24, 2009 at 3:33 AM  

Aging is part of every human's life but in order to prevent such drastic changes, as early as now, one must be aware on how to take care of their health in general. Taking natural food supplement can be of great help in strengthening and revitalizing body's mechanism.

webster December 26, 2009 at 8:26 AM  

are there any other worthwhile skin products. For example, what about microdermabrasion products? They are supposed to stimulate collagen production (little if any evidence), and if true maybe could be applied synergistically with retinol, possibly.

PhilipJTerry March 20, 2010 at 8:21 PM  

JLL, have you considered experimenting with the topical lutein?

JLL March 20, 2010 at 10:08 PM  


I wasn't aware there are topical lutein products commercially available. In the lutein studies it seemed that although the combination of oral + topical worked best, it was only slightly better than oral lutein alone. I might give it a go if the price was right, though.


Anonymous April 3, 2010 at 1:08 PM  

Any update on the experiment? I've been trying a 0.05 tretinoin lotion, but unfortunately i don't know if i can bear the thinned skin any longer. Moreover I'm getting concerned about the increasingly sun exposure

BrNy May 7, 2010 at 4:17 AM  

Hey there, I'm 30 and considering using retinoids as my skin is acting really crazy right now (super dry with A fine line on the side of my mouth but also acne prone and with bumpy/rough texture). I have tried soooo many different creams that promised to moisturize and keep skin clear and protect but after time passed by and I experimented with so many things I think I need to shed this layer of skin that's so rough and dry and full of acne... can you please give us an update on your experiment with retinoids so far? I'm sure a lot of curious ladies out there want to know too!!

JLL May 11, 2010 at 12:02 AM  


I will do an official update post once I finish the tube, but as for now, I can say that this is the first product I have noticed a visible effect from. If your skin is already dry then you will definitely need to use a moisturizer also -- whenever I put the stuff on at night I wake up with really dry skin.


Unknown August 30, 2010 at 10:10 PM  

Hi, love the blog. When can we expect an official update post on this? :) I'm excited, haha. Also, how reputable is ADC, since you mentioned you ordered from them.

JLL August 31, 2010 at 1:25 AM  


Glad you like it -- let's say in a month or so. I think ADC is very reliable, I've had many packages confiscated by the customs, but ADC always sends a new one without extra charge. No other company I know does that.


Anonymous September 16, 2010 at 2:56 PM  

I am trying to figure a 'spot' skin thickener for my nose. I broke it when young and tried repair and was left with one side dilapidated. To thicken this area would be wonderful. This happens to some in nose surgery (and is awful). Am going to try a mix of Ret A plus C at home to see if area can thicken permanently (over time) with new skin cells. I would think some scientists by now could do this. There are lip plumper's (temp) and some commercial skin creams - but wonder true ability. Maybe this post can stimulate the need for this. Could help fill in indentations in skin too. ( if this could be made, for all types of cases)

JLL September 17, 2010 at 6:07 PM  


Have you seen this?


Anonymous September 21, 2010 at 6:27 AM  

and thanks for a good blogg!
Im wondering how you order from alldaychemist if you live in Finland?
I can't find any scandinavian countries on the list at the sign up.

JLL September 21, 2010 at 4:35 PM  


You're right -- I just emailed them and asked what's going on, and they said they no longer ship to Scandinavia because of customs issues.

I think a rant post is on the way...


Anonymous September 21, 2010 at 9:36 PM  

I have tried to find another cheap online pharmacy without success. Do you have any suggestions?


Paul November 21, 2010 at 8:57 PM  

greatly looking forward to reading about the conclusion of this experiment! please let us know how it worked for you.

JLL November 21, 2010 at 9:04 PM  
This comment has been removed by the author.
JLL November 21, 2010 at 9:05 PM  


In case you missed it, I posted an update on the experiment a few weeks ago. I'm still continuing the experiment though.


Christophe June 9, 2011 at 4:47 PM  

Still using ?

JLL June 10, 2011 at 12:00 AM  


Yup, still using.

Anonymous June 15, 2012 at 7:10 AM  

I checked out and you're right - they're incredibly cheap. Do you know how reliable their products are? Are you confident that the tube of retinol you order is not, in fact, a tube of scented lard?


JLL June 19, 2012 at 11:27 AM  


Yes I am pretty confident in their quality. I've heard good things from other people and the retinoids I got from them gave noticeable results. I doubt a tube of lard would have the same effects.


Anonymous December 3, 2012 at 2:48 AM  


Anonymous April 15, 2013 at 5:13 AM  


If you really want to know about retinoids--ask the FDA under the FOIA act to supply you with NDA 19963 and NDA 21108 and the NDA on Accutane. You will be shocked to find out what was withheld from the public on the true side effects these toxic poisons caused to subjects tested. Go to free patents on line and look up Patent 5571692 and you will see how retinoids are made and what they are made from. You will see that the Salk Institute is still using the sv40 simian virus, that was banned from being used in the polio vaccines in 1963. You will see that they are using rats, mouse tumor viruses, COS- monkey kidney cells and the luciferase firefly and the drosphila fruitfly. Go to patent 4877805 and you will see a list of toxic retinoids being combined together, including the banned retinoid Etretinate. They knew that these agents caused many health issues, and caused dermatitis and impetigo in the subjects. There were vision problems and Accutane is known to cause Keratitis and tuberculosis. Accutane is being used in many products without you the patient knowning it. Retinoids are proteins and proteins are listed as poisons in the Pub Mesh website. The are also known as Vitamin A, and under Swiss protein bank vitamins are toxic. They should be taken in small quantity via your natural foods groups of fruits and vegetables. These pharmacuetical corps. are using napthalene and it is a known carcingen and is a pesticide derived from petroleum. DMSO is used and it partitions the skin to allow these toxic agents to enter under your skin. They use geometric and stereoisomers. These agents pull through and under your skin. These agents are being cloned and patent 5071773 will inform you of that. Patent 5571692 will inform you of retinoic acid and receptors. Patent 48777805 (Renova 0.05) will show that TTNPB is used and it is an engineered hepatitis B virus taken from a human carcingen flank; known to be toxic at nanomolar. These retinoids are a nano level and a technology that never should have been thought of. It was too trick the body from knowning foreign invaders are in it, to prevent the body from attacking the invaders. Remember nano structures start at nano level and grow to larger structures. They are using carbon nanotubes and fullerenes in these retinoid products. They are not informing you of the risks and they knew that retinoids cause skin cancer. Dr. Mura Goyal tried to warn the FDA and in the NDA 19963 it states her biopsies were confiscated and she was warned to stop her research. Chapel Hills tried to warn the FDA to categorize Renova 0.05% as a category X, for it teratogen in causing birth defects. Remember retinoids regulate skin, hair, vision, bone, nail growth in humans and they effect stem cells. In animals they regulate tails, wings, claws and paws etc. So, if they are using retinoids from monkeys, birds, dogs, cats and other living organisms they are then altering your genetics and future genetics of your offsprings. I know very well the horrors of retinoids and the lies that were told to me. Just trying to save you the heartaches and health issues you will suffer and no physician will inform you nor help you. It is the silent code used to protect the pharmaceutical corps. and the govt agencies that fund the research on retinoids and drugs. Investigate patents and you will find who funds the developments of these patents and other drugs. Retinoids and the chemicals used effect the seratonin and melatonin levels and will effect your moods, appetitie, sleep habits, halucunations and dreams, as well as many drugs and the chemicals used in them. The metals used will effect the brain and pineal gland and cause mood swings, depression, violent behavior, suicide and even murder. The NDA 19963 (Renova 0.05) states that Johnson and Johnson used pseudomonas aeruginosa and staph aureus and they are two MRSA causing agents.

Anonymous January 9, 2014 at 8:59 PM  

Did anyone ever check up on all these claims ?

Anonymous March 9, 2014 at 8:26 AM  

Information is wonderful for the educated that understand it, but dangerous to the uneducated that can not make sense of it. Oral isotretinoin and topical retinoids will have a completely different effect on an individual. Even water can be a poison if consumed in excess.

Unknown March 19, 2014 at 1:28 PM  

I suggest you have a look at products made from the Meriance. It contains ingredients to act as anti wrinkle and anti aging cream, at the same time stimulates skin regeneration and replenish daily moisture loss. Meriance is rich in Amino Acids and minerals, stimulating skin rejuvenation with the effect of a smooth, soft and healthy skin.

juanitathomas10 January 30, 2015 at 4:09 PM  

Just curious, what about Roc retinol? Is that good.

Anonymous February 25, 2015 at 3:39 PM  

Soooo so very true!!

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In adults, HGH plays the important role of protecting tissues and organs from damage and from the effects of aging. HGH can be used to boost energy levels, to increase bone density, to boost lean muscle mass and to keep skin healthy and youthful.

Cara Menghilangkan Panu March 13, 2015 at 5:26 PM  

While I agree with the need to look at combinations, it should be in addition to isolation, rather than instead.

Katie Rivera March 15, 2015 at 10:01 AM  

Interesting post.

Unknown April 17, 2015 at 4:12 PM  

It's amazing!!! I have used Anti-aged skin care supplements. The results are fabulous. I got fresh, healthy, flewless skin within two weeks. Now no need of painful injections or surgery for treatment of wrinkles. I would like to share more products related to Anti-aging supplements.

Unknown May 6, 2015 at 11:11 AM  


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Ali Williams October 16, 2015 at 6:04 PM  

Did you notice that it gave you vivid dreams? I just started using it every other night and on the nights I use it my dreams are crazy.

Anonymous January 16, 2016 at 5:50 PM  

Hi. My derma prescribed me to use retinoic acid cream 0.025%. She warned me that my skin will become dry and redness. I forgot to ask her how long it will take the redness. Does anyone know?


Anonymous March 11, 2016 at 8:30 PM  

Started using Tretinoin 0.1% and I think I have noticed a sudden onset of vivid and disturbing dreams. I also have noticed periods of severe loss of mental focus and memory. Has anyone else experienced these two possible side effects?

Anti Aging Treatment in Dubai May 4, 2016 at 2:57 PM  

Is it right for me?
As skin ages, wrinkles and loss of firmness occur, and skin begins to look less smooth and less luminous. Some anti-aging creams take time to help correct the signs of aging, but you want to see a more immediate transformation.

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