The group of medicines known as retinoids are derived from Vitamin A. Creams containing the retinoids retinol and retinaldehyde can be obtained over the counter at pharmacies and supermarkets. Other topical retinoids containing tretinoin or isotretinoin require a doctor’s prescription. Adapalene is a related prescription medicine.
There are many brand name face creams that contain retinol or retinaldehyde, which are quite well tolerated and may help improve the appearance of aging skin.
Topical retinoids are effective treatments for mild to moderately severe acne. In the last few years tretinoin has also been shown to reverse some of the changes due to photo-aging, i.e. sun damage. If used long term, it may reduce some fine lines, freckles, comedomes (whiteheads and blackheads) and solor keratoses (dry scaly sun spots). They may also be used with bleaching creams to reduce pigmentation in melasma.
Retinoids can irritate the skin and increase the chance of sunburn. Excessive use results in redness and peeling. Retinoids should be applied at night and daily sunscreen is mandatory.