Health Care Pros and Cons of Retinoids for Acne Treatment

Pros and Cons of Retinoids for Acne Treatment


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A common prescription given by dermatologists for the treatment of acne vulgaris is the use of a product called retinoids, which may also be used as anti-aging agents due to their ability to slough off dead skin well.

What are Retinoids?

Retinoids are somewhat natural (although changed in the process of becoming medical treatments) substances that are derived from common vitamin A, that are used to unplug follicles and pores to help clear up acne.

Retinoids Can be Used Topically and Internally (medication)

There are two types of retinoid uses, based on how they are applied and delivered. There’s external (topical treatments such as creams and gels) and oral (an orally taken medicine). The best known externally applied retinoids are Retin-A, Differin, and Tazorac, while the orally taken retinoids list is headed by the popular and ever so controversial Accutane.

Retinoids are derived from vitamin A, and they attempt to control the oil glands in the face by controlling their secretion of sebum (pore-clogging oil). This primary effect is what makes retinoids effective against acne in some individuals.

The long-term (4-6 months) decrease in oil secretion means that hair follicles are less likely to clog and turn into acne lesions (whiteheads and blackheads, and the painful “under the skin kind of acne that we all hate). However, about one-fourth of the patients who use Accutane or other drugs based on isotretinoin (the medical name for Accutane) may relapse and require additional treatments – which means additional exposure to the physical and mental threats that Accutane has been linked to such as depression and birth defects in children conceived while a patient is on Accutane.

But the biggest drawback of retinoids is the long list of side effects, which sometimes makes retinoids look like a bigger problem rather than a cure. Retinoids are used only under the close supervision of a dermatologist or physician precisely because of these somewhat severe side effects.

If a patient needs more than one treatment, the doctor will always insist on letting a few months pass between the treatments to give the patient’s body a chance to recover from the last treatment.

The most common side effects are dry skin and nosebleeds. Many patients have also reported liver problems, while a few complained of depression. However, the scientific community is still split on the issue of depression as it cannot be “scientifically proven” – although we all know we’ve heard the stories.

More seriously, isotretinoin is known to cause birth defects, which is why female patients have to use two separate forms of birth control or vow abstinence during the treatment. Pregnant women are not allowed to use anything but the mildest treatments.

The bottom line is that retinoids are a good idea if one can cope with the side effects. This begs the question: why not use something just as effective, but without the side effects.

Acne treatment systems, such as ClearPores which is one of the medical alternative acne treatments most highly recommended by me, are also popular because of their success in dealing with the condition but lack the extreme side that makes retinoids a possible liability to use.


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