Tretinoin: For Smooth and Blemish-Free Skin

Text by Edma Remillano

Having smooth and blemish-free skin is the dream for a lot of Filipinas. After all, who wouldn’t want clear, healthy skin that glows? But the truth is, in the words of John Green’s famous male protagonist, August Waters, “The world is not a wish-granting factory.”

Some ladies, even at a young age, already have to deal with problems of acne and photo-damaged skin.

But thanks to science, what nature did not offer, medicine can conquer. Ladies, meet your new best bud: tretinoin.

Tretinoin is a drug that belongs to a group of compounds known as retinoids. According to the websites MedicineNet and WedMD, it works by affecting the growth of skin cells. Its primary use is for the improvement of skin appearance, texture, and color.

It can be bought over the counter, but dermatologist Dr. Lyn Paglinawan-Lu of the La Derma Skin Center, warns consumers that tretinoin should still be used under the supervision of a doctor.

Artillery against acne
Over the past years, tretinoin has been a very popular treatment for acne. According to a study from the US National Library of Medicine National Institute of Health, this drug has been used to keep red spots at bay for over half a century.

In more recent times, it has been combined with anti-bacterials to create a topical treatment for acne. Dermatologists also prescribe it along with antibiotics to achieve faster and better results.

Tretinoin is a popular treatment particularly for acne vulgaris or what is commonly referred to as pimples, although it can also be used for acne rosacea. There are two ways to use the drug—topical or oral.

For topical treatment, tretinoin is applied on the affected area at night time. The anti-inflammatory and exfoliating properties of the drug act to clear the skin and induce collagen growth.

But according to Paglinawan-Lu, topical tretinoin alone cannot achieve fast results. It would take around three to six months for the patient to be acne-free. This is why the drug is often used along with antibiotics and facial cleaning to facilitate the process.

On the other hand, oral tretinoin delivers results in just one month. This is mainly because it targets all causes of pimples—inflammation, production of blackheads, and sebum production.

Results are almost always permanent. There are a few cases of recurrence after five years, but these are usually the products of incorrect dosages.

Tretinoin is an extremely effective treatment, but for some dermatologists like Paglinawan-Lu, it should be used only as a last resort. The drug has several side effects, including redness, dryness and itching, but the doctor was quick to note that these risks are very manageable. She also make it a practice for patients to undergo laboratory tests to see if this is the best treatment for them.

But while it is predominantly anti-acne, tretinoin is also anti-wrinkles or anti-aging, and is used as a treatment for photo-damaged skin.

Ironing-out facial wrinkles
Another popular use of topical tretinoin is for anti-aging. The exfoliating properties of the drug helps in getting rid of fine lines and wrinkles.

Results can be seen in as early as two weeks to a month. The skin clears out, but it appears thinner than before.

It should also be noted that during the first two weeks of use, usual side effects like flaking or pagbabalat and redness of the affected area will manifest, especially for sensitive skin.

Skin tone corrector
At the same time, tretinoin is also used for photo-damaged skin, which usually stems from prolonged exposure to sunlight. Some examples of are sun spots and skin pigmentation.

Topical tretinoin is used to even out the skin color. Darkness of the affected area is reduced through exfoliation and collagen production.

Risks and side effects
While some consider tretinoin a sort of wonder drug, it also has its side effects. These are mainly redness of the affected area, flaking, irritation, and dryness.

But according to Paglinawan-Lu, these side effects can be controlled through regulating the dosage and the frequency of drug use.

Tretinoin is administered in different concentrations – either 0.025, 0.05, or 0.1.

Higher concentration and frequency will logically result in graver side effects. Thus, your dermatologist can either lower the dosage or limit the frequency of use to address the side effects.

Dermatologists have to weigh the risks and needs of the patient. While side effects are definitely undesirable, graver skin conditions require higher dosage and frequency, and may be prescribed despite the increased risk of side effects.

According to Paglinawan-Lu, this is among the main reasons why it is important to consult your dermatologist when using tretinoin. He or she will determine the proper dosage that will yield the best results with minimal or no side effects.

Dermatologists also come up with their own formulations for tretinoin treatment. Instead of making their patients buy branded products from drug stores, they have tretinoin compounded with other chemicals in certain concentrations to suit the specific needs of their patients.

Follow instructions
Tretinoin should only be used once a day, and best during night time. Apply it all over the face but be careful to avoid the eyes, nostrils, and mouth. Cut, sunburnt, or eczema-infected skin must also be evaded.

In the morning, users are required to apply sunblock. This is because the chemical structure of the drug is photo-sensitive. It becomes unstable once exposed to sunlight. This causes the skin irritation and redness.

To keep the skin hydrated and prevent dryness, users are also advised to apply moisturizer.

Pregnant and nursing moms are prohibited from using both topical and oral tretinoin. The chemicals in the drug can be hazardous to the mom and baby’s health.

Patients must also notify their dermatologists of any allergies and other medical conditions that may cause a reaction with tretinoin.

A few reminders
Overall, dermatologists recommend the use of tretinoin. Scientific studies also attest to the efficacy of the drug, and while they do pose some risks, the drug’s side effects can be controlled.

But still, it is important to remember that the results from this product are in no way cookie-cutter. Getting rid of acne or wrinkles doesn’t have to be painful, as long as you use the product with caution and follow the advice of your dermatologist.


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