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How Do Retinoids Helps To Reduce Wrinkles?

Published : March 25, 2024 8 mins read Updated On : Mar 25, 2024

If all the beauty influencers have convinced you to start your early journey towards the prevention of fine lines and wrinkles, then we would like to confirm that those wrinkle “doomsday” propagandas are very real!

However, do not panic just yet as it isn’t something that will happen overnight.

Ageing is a completely natural and inevitable process, but several external and internal factors can lead to early signs of ageing for a lot of people, these signs can be prevented or minimised with simple skincare products such as Retinoids.

While they are easily available in the market, choosing the right retinoid ingredient may be a tricky decision. This is why we have compiled a guide with the complete information you will need to start your skincare for anti-ageing with retinoids.

● What are retinoids?
● How do retinoids work against anti-aging?
● Retinoids: Prescription Vs. Over the counter
● Types of retinoid ingredients

What are retinoids?

Vitamin A is amongst the first vitamins to be approved by the FDA for its exceptional properties as an anti-wrinkling agent. Vitamin A is a part of a group that is fat soluble substances from which retinoids are derived. (1)

Retinoids are potent derivatives that are amongst the most effective substances against slowing the ageing process.

Retinoids can regulate cell apoptosis, proliferation and differentiation.

How do retinoids work against anti-ageing?

Retinoids belong to a group of compounds that are derived from Vitamin A. It has excellent anti-aging properties that when applied to the skin can interact with specific receptors and lead to a cascade of beneficial effects.

The ageing of skin is an intricate process that consists of two types: (2)

● Intrinsic or chronological ageing is an inevitable and natural process of ageing in the body
● Photoaging refers to premature ageing of the skin due to external factors.

Photoaging can be treated by retinoids as it is potent enough to reverse/prevent the effects of ageing.

The anti-wrinkle properties of retinoids help promote keratinocytes (cells found on the outermost layer of skin) proliferation, strengthen the protective function of the epidermis (superficial layer of skin) and restrain the skin from having any water loss while protecting the collagen against degradation. (3)

Collagen is an essential protein that is produced by the body and is the main structural protein that is found in the skin, bone and tendon. It is considered one of the most useful biomaterials (4). As we age, our body’s ability to naturally produce collagen decreases which leads to fine lines and wrinkles, however, retinoids can stimulate collagen synthesis that can make the skin appear plumper and more youthful.

The epidermis (superficial skin layer) regenerates throughout our lives. In humans, the epidermis turns over every 40-56 days (5). Until you reach your early 30s, the cells turn over every 28 days and reveal a layer of fresh, healthy and pristine skin.

However, post your mid-30s, the skin cell turnover begins to slow down for a cycle of 50-70 days. This decline leads to drier, dull and wrinkled skin. Retinoids can help accelerate the process of skin cell turnover which can regenerate the skin back to its smoother, plump look quicker. This process takes up to 3-6 months of consistent application for reduction in photodamage, fine lines, wrinkles and acne.

Additionally, retinoids have also been shown to be beneficial for acne as it has anti-inflammatory properties. It helps in unclogging pores, reduces inflammation and regulates oil production that helps reduce acne.

However, it's essential to note that retinoids can be quite potent and may lead to certain initial skin irritation. Start with a lower concentration before moving up the usage to allow the skin to get used to it.

Also, always remember to wear sunscreen (a non-negotiable) during the day when using retinoids as it tends to make your skin more sensitive to the sun.

Retinoids: Prescription Vs. Over the counter

Over-the-counter prescriptions are recommended by the dermatologist once a diagnosis has been made.

Generally, for acne topical retinoids are prescribed which also help with discolouration and skin cell turnover treatment.

However, the gentler formulations in the non-prescribed retinoids are generally safer for sensitive skin. Newer variations of the retinoid ingredients have shown to be high efficacy with lower risks of irritation.

Types of retinoid ingredients

Retinoids as we have previously stated is an umbrella term for the class of molecules that bind to retinoic acid receptors. It comes with a variety of ingredients and it is essential to choose the right one in your skincare routine:

1. Retinoic Acid

Retinoic acid is synthesised from retinol through a process called enzymatic reaction:

● The first reaction is the reversible oxidation of retinol to the retina.
● Followed by an irreversible oxidation reaction towards the retinoic acid.

Retinoic acid breaks down to be utilised by the skin for skin cell turnover, collagen stimulation and elastin production.

It also improves hyperpigmentation and discolouration.

Prescription retinoids contain retinoic acid while the OTC retinoids gradually convert to retinoic acid through the enzymatic reactions that occur within the skin.

2. Retinol

Retinol is used to treat anti-ageing and acne, you can buy it over the counter. It can be directly applied to the skin and comes in many forms including:

● Creams
● Gels
● Lotions
● Serums
● Ointments

Retinol increases the production of skin cells that can help regenerate the skin to a more youthful and smoother appearance.

Topical Retinol products including tretinoin and tazarotene can help improve the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles by slowing down the collagen breakdown and enhancing the skin's elasticity.

If you’re wondering what is better, retinol or retinoids? Then you need to take into consideration that retinoid is stronger than retinol, but for beginners, if you have sensitive or dry skin go for retinol and if you have oily skin and have used retinoids before then retinoid is a better choice.

How to use retinoids on your face?

Do an allergy check before getting into this routine.

● First step- apply a small amount onto your lower cheek or jawline every alternate night for a week along with a moisturiser.
● Second step- if there's no irritation or redness visible after a week it can be incorporated into your regular skincare routine
● Third step- retinoids can be potent, the irritation may take a while to subside, so it is best to increase the usage post 2 weeks.

Side effects

While retinoids are extremely potent and effective there are some side effects that one should be vary of like:

● Dry skin and peeling
● Redness and irritation
● Sensitivity to UV
● Can cause temporary acne breakouts
● Stinging and burning sensation

Always begin with a low dose of retinoids and if the condition worsens consult a healthcare professional immediately.

Additionally, retinoids, retinoids and retinoic acid are not safe to use during pregnancy and could cause complications in the fetus.

How to manage the side effects of retinoids?

The side effects can be minimised with a few steps:

● Start slow: apply a very small amount of retinoid initially this will also help you gauge out any allergies. You can then gradually increase the frequency and concentration over time this will have your skin accumulated to it and reduce the chances of any severe side effects.

● Moisturise: use a non-comedogenic (doesn’t cause blocked pores) moisturizer after using retinoids to prevent dryness and keep the skin hydrated
● Sun protection: retinoids can cause skin sensitivity towards the sun which makes it essential to use sunscreen with a high SPF when leaving the house during the day. It will help protect you from any sun damage or sunburn.

● Time of application: a good time would be before bed as it will allow your skin enough time to recover and reduce the chances of any UV damage.
● Avoid irritants: while using retinoids you need to be mindful about combining them with other skincare products that can further irritate your skin. Gentle cleansers are a safer choice, avoid using abrasive scrubs.
● Patience is key: it is completely normal amongst the initial users to encounter certain side effects such as redness, peeling and dryness. However, they usually subside as your skin has found the time to adjust to the treatment course. Patience is essential when dealing with retinoids.

How long can you use retinoids?

Retinoid treatment needs consistency for best results, a recommended period is generally up to 12 weeks (3 months) to notice improvements in your skin.

The skin goes through a process called “retinization” during these 12 weeks, where it adjusts to the retinoid treatment. You may experience side effects such as dryness, peeling and redness during this time as it is settling in, which will subside gradually.

Once the period of 12 weeks is completed, you can use it for as long as you'd like to. For a lot of people, retinoids are part of their long-term skincare routine for anti-ageing and acne prevention.

However, it is extremely important to follow the guidelines for the specific retinoid product you are using or consult a dermatologist for long-term treatments.


Amongst all the anti-aging products out there retinoids are the most promising and highly potent. It requires patience as it can be difficult for first-time users. The results can take up to 6 months or up to a year.

If there aren’t results in the first 6 months it is best to consult a dermatologist for further evaluation of the usage.


1. How do retinoids work for the face?

Retinoids are derived from vitamin A and are known to improve cell turnover, stimulate collagen production, and reduce the appearance of wrinkles and fine lines.

2. Should I use retinol or retinoids?

Both are beneficial for the skin but are slightly different. Retinol is available over the counter and is milder while Retinoids are prescription strength but are harsher for the skin but yield better results.

To find the best option for you refer to your dermatologist to avoid any side effects.

3. Are retinoids safe during pregnancy?

Retinoids are not safe to use during pregnancy. They have high doses of retinoids, such as isotretinoin, which have been associated with birth defects.

4. When to use retinoids?

The best time to use retinoids in your skincare routine is at night as it will give your skin more time to heal and avoid encountering any sunlight.

Dr. Pragati Naval Mundra
( Facial Cosmetic, Hair Transplant and Maxillofacial Surgeon )

How Do Retinoids Helps To Reduce Wrinkles?

Soumil Vartak
Health and Fitness enthusiast

Soumil is really passionate about health and fitness. He provides great insight on various trends about health and fitness. By writing about these topics he try to provide key insight on diet and e... Read More


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