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Retinol (Acne)

Retinol is a derivative of Vitamin A and is an ingredient in some over-the-counter and cosmetic products. Topical retinoids (retinoid acids) are well known and effective for all acne lesions, but prescription is necessary. Retinol is converted into retinoic acids and has similar but less potent effect as retinoids.

Level of evidence: B

Retinoids normalise some of the cellular processes in the skin by influencing the production and development of skin cells, and reducing the clogging of the pores. Clogging of the pores with skin cells leads (along with other causes) to formation of spots and blackheads. Retinoids are therefore said to be ‘anti-comedogenic’, meaning they have an exfoliating effect, and support an anti-inflammatory process to reduce acne1.

HelloSkin’s experts were unable to find any scientific data or clinical trials comparing retinoids and retinol in acne patients. However, a recent study comparing retinol and retinoid’s anti-wrinkle effects shows that retinol and retinoids induce similar changes in skin2.

Studies show a decrease in number of acne lesions and a significant improvement in acne severity upon use of topical retinoids3. However, there is a lack of evidence supporting the effect of retinol on acne compared to topical retinoids. Retinol has shown to cause enhanced sun sensitivity4.

The concentration of an ingredient is important for its efficacy, and therefore products containing the same ingredient may not necessarily have the same effect as in the studies mentioned above.

Updated: July 2017


1J Dtsch Dermatol Ges. 2008

2J Cosmet Dermatol. 2016

3Semin Cutan Med Surg. 2016

4J Am Acad Dermatol. 2016

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