Topical OTC Retinols vs Prescription Retinoids

Whether you’ve been struggling with acne, or looking to fight the signs of aging, you may have wondered if a retinoid would be right for you. But with so many options on the market, it can be tough to decide which type of retinoid is best suited for your needs. In this article, we’ll compare the benefits of topical over-the-counter (OTC) retinoids to those of prescription retinoids, to help you make the best decision for your skin.

1. What are topical OTC retinoids?

Topical Over The Counter (OTC) retinoids are products that contain a derivative of vitamin A, which can be found in many skincare and beauty products. The most common type of OTC retinoid is retinol, which is available in a variety of skincare products, such as face cream, serums, and masks.

2.What are prescription retinoids?

Prescription retinoids are topical products that contain a more potent form of vitamin A than OTC retinoids. They are available in cream, gel, or liquid form and are applied to the skin in the same way as OTC retinols. Prescription retinoids are only available with a prescription.

One of the most common prescription retinoids is Tretinoin, also known as Retin-A. Tretinoin is an FDA-approved medication that is used to treat acne and signs of aging, such as fine lines, wrinkles, and dark spots.

3. How do they work?

Retinoids work by increasing cell turnover, which helps to improve the appearance of fine lines, wrinkles, and uneven skin tone. They can also help to unclog pores and reduce the severity of acne breakouts.

As new skin cells are generated, existing dead skin cells are shed from the surface of the skin. This process helps to improve the overall texture and appearance of the skin.

4. What are the benefits of each?

Topical OTC retinoids offer a number of benefits for the skin, including reducing fine lines and wrinkles, restoring collagen production, and improving skin tone and texture. Additionally, they can help to fade hyperpigmentation and treat acne by preventing pore clogging. A walk down the skin care aisle at your local drugstore will show how abundant the options are. (More on this a bit later)

Benefits offered by Retinoids such as Tretinoin may include but are not limited to:

  • Reducing fine lines and wrinkles
  • Restoring collagen production
  • Inhibiting collagen degradation
  • Improving skin tone and texture
  • Fading hyperpigmentation
  • Treating acne by preventing pore clogging
  • Tightening and smoothing of the skin
  • Reducing sallowness

5. Are there any side effects?

Both topical OTC retinoids and prescription retinoids can cause skin irritation, redness, and dryness. It is important to start with a lower concentration and slowly increase the frequency of use as your skin gets used to the product. As with all products, it is important to test a small area of skin before applying the product to your entire face.

Always follow the instructions on the product label and talk to your medical professional if you have any questions or concerns about using retinoids.

6. Which is better for acne/anti-aging?

We discussed above how many options are available for OTC options, but this can also lead to confusion. Pair the options with intense marketing on TV, social media, and magazines, and it’s easy to become overwhelmed by trying to decide on the “just right” product for you.

There is no one-size-fits-all answer to this question, as the best retinoid for you will depend on your individual skin type and needs. However, in general, prescription retinoids are thought to be more effective than OTC retinols for both acne and anti-aging. This is because they contain a more potent form of vitamin A, which allows them to better penetrate the skin and provide superior results. The results obtained from using a prescription retinoid are usually obtained more quickly, as well.

If you have acne-prone skin, a prescription retinoid such as Tretinoin can help to unclog pores and reduce the severity of breakouts. 

Additionally, because prescription retinoids are obtained from a medical professional, they can be tailored to your specific needs, which may make them more effective than OTC retinoids.

7. The Derm NP is here to help!

We know selecting an anti-aging or acne regimen can be overwhelming, but The Derm NP is here to help! We offer a variety of services, including skin care consultations, during which we can assess your individual needs and recommend the best retinoid for you.

Virtual visits are only $37 and are available via telehealth. Learn more about information regarding the states we serve and other commonly asked questions here.

At the Derm NP, Laura Collins , APRN, ANP-BC, DCNP, ACTTP, has over 17 years of exclusively practicing dermatology. She’s here to offer you the best advice for your skin, so you can feel confident about your appearance.

Don’t hesitate to contact us today to schedule a consultation!

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