Recently, a picture of a 78-year-old person went viral because of her youthful, age-defying skin. And her grandchild, who shared the picture on a social media site, made no bones that it was due to disciplined use of retinoid via night cream over the years. Quite naturally, this boosted curiosity about retinoid and if it is truly an elixir for youthful looks.
Traditionally, retinoids are defined as one of a group of compounds having effects on the body like those of vitamin A. In short, they are synthetic compounds that are similar to concentrated vitamin A. The natural vitamin A can be directly obtained from non-vegetarian food such as liver and egg yolk. For vegetarians, consuming vegetables rich in carotenoids such as carrots helps, as the body converts carotenoids to vitamin A.
But is a diet rich in retinoids as good as its topical application? Apparently not, according to Dr Mahesh Patil, dermatologist, Global Hospitals. “All foods such as fish eggs, and yellow-orange coloured vegetables that contain carotenoids will supplement retinoids. But they do not provide the therapeutic effects of synthetic retinoids,” he says.
However, given that consumption of retinoids is not risk-free, it is recommended by experts to include foods with vitamin A in diet. “Supplements are not real food. Nutrients from food are most important. Supplements can fill the gaps. If someone does not eat foods rich in vitamin A, then supplements help,” says Shraddha Gadit, nutrition expert, Gold’s Gym India.
How do retinoids work?
Retinoids are definitely not magic ingredients that provide a one-stop solution to all dermatological problems. However, with disciplined use, they do promise results that come quite close. Dr Saumya Shetty Hegde, dermatologist, Roots Skin Clinic, says, “Longterm retinoid use in the form of creams, lotions, serums, etc. changes your skin by affecting gene expression and causing new skin cells to divide and function at their best. When used consistently, retinoids can clear the skin, even out the skin tone, repair sun damage and prevent premature ageing.”
She adds, “This skin-changing factor, along with its exfoliating and anti-inflammatory properties, makes retinoids the gold standard for acne and anti-inflammatory treatments. It keeps the skin young and healthy in the long run.” Synthetic formulations consumed as tablets are effective for severe skin problems, too. Patil says, “Oral isotretinoin is a magic drug for acne or pimples. It’s the only drug that can cure pimples. Acitretin is a drug used for various skin diseases, especially psoriasis. Oral isotretinoin, acitretin, and bexarotene have been used to treat various cancers. Retinoids play a very important role in prevention of cancers,” says Patil.
The effects of retinoids are laudable when used correctly, but a slight miscalculation can make way for a host of issues. Hegde lists a few:
Redness: Usually accompanied with feelings of windburn or warmth. This can start right after applying retinoid, or may develop later after you have used it a few times
Slight flaking and dry skin: Retinoid increases the turnover of skin cells, so the top layer of your skin is also turning over at a faster rate.These dead skin cells stay on the skin surface, causing flaking or dusting
Itching: You may get slight itching, particularly on the cheek. This arises due to increase of cell turnover, like how a wound itches when it is healing. It’s not unbearable, but not fun too
Breakouts or pimples: Not everyone experiences this, but it can happen when skin cell turnover and sebum production increases, which can lead to blocked pores.
Do not use retinoids if:
You are pregnant. Experts recommend that you should stop using them three months before you start your family planning. Also, keep your dermatologist in the loop about any irritation or breakouts, as they will then revise your prescription.