Many patients ask us if over-the-counter retinols are effective for treating their acne. The answer is, probably not. Retinols are derivatives of retinoids, but they have not been studied for efficacy in treating acne. Retinols are converted to retinoids when they are applied to the skin, but the concentration of retinoid that they become is significantly lower than a prescription retinoid preparation.
Dr. Schweiger explains that, “Retinoids must undergo rigorous clinical testing in order to prove their efficacy. Over-the-counter retinol products are not studied in the same way; we are not seeing the same efficacy in over-the-counter retinol formulations that we do when using prescription retinoids for the treatment of acne.” Over-the-counter retinols play a role in anti-aging products, particularly for those who cannot tolerate more irritating prescription formulations, but they have not been proven to improve acne. Retinol and retinoid sound very similar, but their results are much different.