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The Secret Behind Retinol Acne Treatments
First off, what is retinol, and what does it have to do with successfully treating your acne? Retinol is actually a derivative of vitamin A , which is a fat-soluble antioxidant. Although it may sound like a good thing to put an antioxidant like vitamin A on your skin, retinol is actually a harsh and aggressive ingredient when used in retinol acne treatments.
Vitamin A in the diet has a number of benefits, especially when it comes from whole food sources like lean protein and green leafy vegetables. However, when vitamin A is converted into retinoic acid to be used in retinol acne products on the surface of the skin, it is a different story altogether.
Retinol acne products alter the formation of the outer layer of the skin by sloughing off dead skin cells in the hopes of preventing excess skin from mixing with oil in the hair follicle to create yet another acne lesion. 
But Do Retinol Acne Treatments Really Work?
Unfortunately, I have seen the detrimental effect of retinol acne products firsthand in my career as an aesthetician, where they cause redness and peeling to the skin at the very minimum and excessive flaking, inflammation, and cracking at the maximum. Is that really the way that you want to get rid of your acne? The theory behind retinol acne products is that they will reduce acne in the skin by speeding up the exfoliation process so that pimples are less likely to form.
However, the one danger that you may not have been made aware of when using retinol acne products is that the extreme exfoliation that they cause will reveal new skin cells that are highly susceptible to sun damage. This means that if you do not vigilantly wear an SPF of a minimum of 30 every single day that blocks both the UVA and UVB rays, then you are leaving your complexion open to free radical damage from the sun that could result in hyperpigmentation, premature wrinkles, and even skin cancer. Is that something you were told when you started using your retinol acne product? Probably not.
Here are what a few acne sufferers had to say about their not-so-pleasant experiences with a wide assortment of retinol acne products at the acne.org forums:
I am lily white and used roaccutane twice and been on Retin A for 10 years. Cannot go in the sun as it does age you and not good for wrinkles but I want to have a tan. I used to have spray tans but like you paid too much money.
I’ve been on Retinol and don’t like the harsh effects on my skin.
So I think I over did it on the topicals…. my skin looks cracked and dry and peeling. Ahhh! Is there anything I can do to speed the healing process??
I’ve been using Retisol-A, cream form, 0.01% for over a month now. I don’t apply it every day because my skin is super super sensitive. I’m having issues with a bit more breakout, but mostly, my skin is a horribly dry, flaking, extremely red mess! Is this normal? In the past I have struggled with dry patches around my nose, eyebrows and chin – like an ecsema/psoriasis almost, and those areas have been exposed to cortisone creams. These are the areas that have become most irritated by the retin-A. The redness is really bad, I am barely leaving my apartment, and when I do, it’s with a baseball cap to try to hide my face.
Is There an Alternative to Retinol Acne Treatments?
Instead of using topical derivatives of vitamin A found in retinol acne products to clear up your skin, why not go to the source and get healthy doses of vitamin A from a balanced diet? If you do not have enough vitamin A in your diet, it will become clearly evident in the poor quality of your skin, likely leaving you susceptible to skin issues, like a dry and damaged complexion.  This damage in the surface of your skin will only leave you more vulnerable to acne breakouts since ample amounts of vitamin A are necessary to repair and restore healthy skin that has been injured.
As I said earlier, vitamin A can be found in a fresh and whole diet rich in foods like carrots, spinach, egg yolks, liver, and other lean proteins. If you are considering using retinol acne products to clear up your skin, you may want to save yourself the trouble and potential long-term damage to your complexion. Instead, you can start out by making simple dietary changes to include healthy doses of vitamin A in your diet and give your skin the natural antioxidants it needs to repair itself and eliminate acne for good. Simply brilliant!
- “What Is Retinol?” Acne Resource Center. Web. 11 Jan. 2011. <http://www.acne-resource.org/acne-skin-care/what-is-retinol.html>.Bouchez, Colette. “Skin Nutrition: Vitamins and Minerals for Your Skin.” WebMD – Better Information. Better Health. 1 Aug. 2006. Web. 11 Jan. 2011.
About the Author: Bethany Ramos is an aesthetician and makeup artist with a special interest in using nutrition to heal and alleviate a number of conditions in the skin. You can find out more skin care and makeup tips by visiting her blog at FacebyBethany.
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