Retin-A is one of the most well-known acne medications; many people recognize its name from use either as a teenager or as an adult. It is no accident that Retin-A is such a well-known medication. Retin-A is an example of a topical retinoid medication, a category of topical medication for acne that is very effective and beneficial. Dr. Schweiger explains that, “Topical retinoids help clear acne by one main mechanism; they increase skin cell turnover. Increasing skin cell turnover helps to clear out follicles, which may be plugged with excess sebum (oil) and dead skin cells. When these materials are allowed to remain in the follicle, they can attract acne-causing bacteria. By removing them from the skin’s follicle, the precursor to acne is eliminated.”
It is important not only to understand how topical retinoids help clear acne, but also to understand the best way to use topical retinoids. When used too aggressively, they can cause dryness and irritation to the skin. However, nearly everyone can tolerate the use of a retinoid, when the medication is used sparingly. We recommend using only a pea-size amount to treat the entire face. A moisturizer should be applied either immediately before or after application of the retinoid (or both before and after for very dry skin.) Most patients will be advised to begin use of a retinoid only three nights a week. If they do not experience dryness using the retinoid three nights a week, they should increase the frequency of use slowly.