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Beauty Superhero Retin-A

Your Health Matters - with Janet Zappala

The iconic fashion designer Coco Chanel once said, “Nature gives you the face you have at twenty. It is up to you to merit the face you have at fifty.” And, of course, beyond. 

Most of us realize that a diligent skin care routine is a must if you want to stave off the effects of aging. And although dramatic results don’t happen overnight, there is a go-to product that many reach for to expedite getting those amazing results: Retin-A (tretinoin). 

Originally developed to treat acne, doctors eventually discovered that the powerful prescription cream also promotes collagen synthesis, thus helping with firmness and elasticity. “A lot of people think that Retin-A thins the skin, but over time it actually thickens the skin by stimulating active collagen production,” says Mary Fishenfeld, a registered nurse, and aesthetic laser specialist at the Helton Skin & Laser Institute in Newport Beach. According to Fishenfeld, a good retinoid will increase cell turnover, which also helps to even texture and minimize wrinkles.

Retin-A, the superhero retinoid, as some refer to it, can deliver dramatic results relatively quickly, but it’s not a one-and-done type treatment. To reap the anti-aging benefits, Fishenfeld says, you’ll need to use it regularly. “Consistent use will continue to help shed dead skin cells, increase collagen, and promote a healthy complexion.” While it does come in varying strengths from .25 mg to 1 mg,  she cautions that because prescription-strength Retin-A is so strong, some skin types, especially those with sensitive skin, may consider something more gentle such as retinols, “the little sister of Retin-A,” as Fishenfeld calls them. “While both are vitamin A derivatives, retinols are found in many over-the-counter beauty products, and while they’re not as strong as Retin-A, they can be very effective.”

 As for Retin-A, the initial effects can be harsh. Fishenfeld says, “It is an acid and gets the skin to turnover, so at first it’s normal to experience redness, irritation, and flaking. Usually after a few weeks, your skin adapts and the irritation subsides on its own.” However, if you’re too aggressive, adds Fishenfeld, things can go sideways quickly. “You could develop an allergy and cause dermatitis, a rashy type of reaction. Better to go slow and steady and follow the advice of your doctor.” You also want to avoid using this product too close to your mouth, nostrils or eyes. 

With summer in full swing comes a warning about the use of retinoids and retinols, which both make skin much more sun sensitive. “If a patient has been using Retin-A over a prolonged time, it should be fine to continue applying at night, and making sure to wear sunscreen every day,” says Fishenfeld. “However, we don’t recommend starting any kind of Retin-A treatment during the hot summer months; better to start when it’s cool, if it’s an option.” 

Retin-A, or any retinoid or retinol isn’t for everyone, especially pregnant women as the ingredient has been linked to birth defects in mice. 

The bottom line, use common sense, know your skin type and remember that about 80 percent of aging is due to prolonged sun exposure. 

Janet Zappala is a certified nutritional consultant, an Emmy-award-winning anchor and reporter and the creator and host of Your Health Matters. Find her on Facebook @JanetZappalaYourHealthMatters.

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