Ingredient Feature: Retinoids

02.19.2014, 12:09 CST | Posted In: Acne & Blemishes, Lines & Wrinkles, Signs of Aging, Texture, Uneven Skin Tone & Dark Spots, Health & Beauty, Products, Skin Care

Ingredient Feature: Retinoids

Retinol, retinal, retinoid, retinoic acid, retinyl palmitate, tretinoin... What do they all mean and what are the differences among them? In this blog we take a closer look at the differences between the two most common retinoids: retinol and all-trans retinoic acid.  

Retinoids are derived from vitamin A. While the name comes from its relationship to the production of pigment in the retina of our eye, retinoids are more commonly known for their use in skin care and the tremendous benefits they offer for the skin. But what exactly do they do and how do you know which retinoid is right for you?

The first retinoid— all-trans retinoic acid (its chemical name) or tretinoin (generic name)—was approved (under the brand name Retin-A) almost 40 years ago as a prescription acne treatment. Dermatologists later found that it not only treated acne vulgaris, but it also helped to treat fine facial wrinkles. Now, there are multiple prescription-strength versions of tretinoin approved by the FDA for acne and some for fine facial wrinkles. Several other retinoid derivatives have also been developed for other skin diseases.

Since its introduction into skin care, the market has been saturated with various retinoid creams, gels and the like, along with cosmetic versions with related molecules. Deciding on the right one for you can be confusing. 

Here’s what you should know: different retinoids are offered in multiple forms and strengths – both prescription and non-prescription and, depending on the particular retinoid in the family, they are recommended for different uses. 

Here are some guidelines to help you understand the effectiveness and length of time before you may see results with the two primary types of retinoids available in skin care:

  • Tretinoin, or retinoic acid, requires a prescription from your skin care physician. It is used to treat acne, and in different cream bases can be used to treat fine lines and wrinkles, rough skin, and mottled hyperpigmentation.1 Experts believe it helps to speed up the skin’s natural exfoliation process and improve skin’s laxity. As a prescription-strength product, this topical treatment has expected side effects including redness, peeling, dryness and flaking of the skin.
  • Retinol is an ideal solution for those interested in a topical retinoid that does not require a prescription. Retinol refines the appearance of skin texture and tone for clearer-looking skin. You can learn more about Obagi’s line of retinol here

Whether you’re interested in prescription-strength retinoic acid like Obagi® tretinoin products*, which are indicated for acne vulgaris, Renova** to improve fine facial wrinkles, or, a non-prescription alternative such as retinol, which can be found in the Obagi360 System, Obagi has a product for you. In addition, both tretinoin and retinol are offered in multiple strengths for your varying skin care needs. 

Only your skin care physician can determine what is best for your skin. Be sure to meet with him or her to plan a skin care regimen that will deliver the most effective results and address your concerns. 

Reference: 1. Topical tretinoin therapy: its use in photoaged skin. J Am Acad Dermatol. 1989 Sep;21(3 Pt 2):645-50. 

Except as otherwise indicated, all product names, slogans, and other marks are trademarks of the Valeant family of companies.
© 2013 Obagi Medical Products Inc., a division of Valeant Pharmaceuticals North America LLC. OBG 13-107

Tretinoin cream and gel is indicated for topical application in the treatment of acne vulgaris. The safety and efficacy of the long-term use of this product in the treatment of other disorders have not been established. 

Important Safety Information
Tretinoin, USP, is contraindicated in individuals with a history of sensitivity reactions to any of its components. It should be discontinued if hypersensitivity is noted. 

Tretinoin has been reported to cause severe irritation on eczematous skin and should be used with utmost caution in patients with this condition.

The skin of certain individuals may become excessively dry, red, swollen or blistered during the use of tretinoin. If warranted, these individuals should temporarily reduce the amount or frequency of application, or discontinue use temporarily or altogether. 

The safety and efficacy of the use of this product in the treatment of other disorders have not been established.

Weather extremes, such as wind or cold, also may be irritating to patients under treatment with tretinoin.

Unprotected exposure to sunlight, including sunlamps, should be minimized during the use of tretinoin, and patients with sunburn should be advised not to use the product until fully recovered because of heightened susceptibility to sunlight as a result of the use of tretinoin.

Patients should be encouraged to use a sunscreen with a SPF of 15 or higher and protective clothing over treated areas when exposure cannot be avoided.

RENOVA® (tretinoin cream) 0.02% is a serious medication that may help treat but will not “cure” fine wrinkles, spotty skin discoloration, and rough-feeling skin. RENOVA 0.02% WILL NOT REPAIR SKIN, ELIMINATE WRINKLES, OR REVERSE AGING. RENOVA should be used as part of a broad skin care program that includes avoiding direct sunlight (by using protective clothing and sunscreens with a minimum SPF of 15) and using other moisturizing facial creams without RENOVA.

Important Safety Information
Do not use RENOVA if you are pregnant or trying to become pregnant. Tell your doctor about any other medications or skin creams you are using.
RENOVA increases your sensitivity to sunlight and should not be used with other medications or skin care products that increase sensitivity to sunlight. You should not use RENOVA if you are sunburned or highly sensitive to the sun, if you have eczema, or if your skin is irritated. Remember to limit your time in the sun, and always wear a sunscreen with SPF 15 or higher.

RENOVA has not been studied for daily use beyond 12 months. RENOVA 0.02% is a skin irritant. Almost all patients experience one or more local skin reactions, including dryness, peeling, burning/stinging, redness and itching. In some patients, these may be severe, especially if used near the eyes, ears, nose or mouth.

You are encouraged to report negative side effects of prescription drugs to the FDA. Visit or call 1-800-FDA-1088.