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What Does Retinol Do for Acne?

Écrit par : Dr. Leslie Baumann

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Temps de lecture 4 min

One of the best skin solutions for acne is retinol, a type of retinoid. Retinoids have been heroes in the skincare world for a long time, not just for keeping our skin looking young but also for being super effective against acne. Let’s explore how retinol helps prevent pimples and keep your skin clear and healthy.

Retinoids like Retinol for Acne

Retinol treats acne from many different angles which is why retinol and retinoids are still the best topical treatments for acne.  Acne medications with retinoids are prescription only, but they turn into retinol in the skin. Sadly, retinol is not FDA approved to treat acne so companies cannot claim that retinol serums work on acne. But we can look at the studies on prescription retinoids like adapalene, tazarotene, trifarotene and tretinoin- to see what retinol does for acne.

Effects on acne causing bacteria

Makes environment less hospitable

Retinol reduces sebum production, effects skin pH, and makes the skin less attractive to acne bacteria by exfoliating sweat, oil and debris from pores.

Blocks effects on TLR-2

Bacteria stimulates TLR-2 which leads to inflammation.  Retinol blocks the effects of bacteria on TLR-2.

retinol and inflammation

Inflammation

Retinol is not considered an anti-inflammatory ingredient. However, in acne it does have anti-inflammatory effects due to its actions on specific receptors that can prevent inflammation.


Inflammation is a big part of why acne happens. When our skin gets inflamed because of certain bacteria (like Cutibacterium acnes), it can lead to those annoying, red, and painful pimples and acne cysts. Retinoids like retinol step in to calm this inflammation. They work on something called toll-like receptors (TLRs), specifically TLR-2, which are like tiny alarm systems in our skin. When these alarms go off, they usually cause inflammation. But retinol helps keep these alarms quiet, reducing the redness and swelling that come with acne. 

Retinoids are the only ingredient in skincare that quiets toll like receptor 2. This is why retinoids like retinol are a crucial part of any acne skincare routine.

Exfoliation

One of the cool things retinoids do is help our skin shed dead cells more effectively. This process is known as desquamation. Retinoids increase the activity of epidermal growth factors (EGFs), which are like little signals telling skin cells to multiply and move faster. This means old skin cells don’t hang around to clog pores, which helps prevent blackheads and pimples from forming.

dark spots

Lightening Dark Spots from Acne

Acne can leave behind dark spots and acne scabs, which can be frustrating. Here’s where retinol shines again! It blocks an enzyme called tyrosinase, which is involved in making those dark spots. By putting the brakes on tyrosinase, retinol helps fade  hyperpigmentation, giving you a more even skin tone. Retinol can also prevent these dark acne marks on the skin.

Decreases Acne Scarring

Not only does retinol help with active acne and dark spots, but it also works wonders on new acne scars. It promotes collagen production, which is like the building block of our skin. More collagen means the skin can repair itself better, reducing the depth and appearance of  scars left by acne.

retinol products for acne

Retinol for Acne

Retinol is more than just a trendy skincare ingredient; its a great treatment for acne. By understanding how it works and using it correctly, you can enjoy clearer, healthier-looking skin, no matter your age.

Remember, everyone's skin is unique, so it’s always best to know your Baumann Skin Type before you shop for skincare products. 

We can guide you on the best way to use retinol for acne. Read these instructions on how to use retinol and how to find a retinol for beginners.  Here's to clearer, healthier skin with the power of retinol! Take the quiz because oily skin types and dry types and sensitive skin types need completely different skincare routines in addition to using retinol for acne.

Level up your skin care knowledge with medical advice from dermatologists

Is retinol as good as tretinoin for acne?

Tretinoin turns into retinol in the skin, however, it is stronger than retinols available without a prescription.

Retinol vs retinoid for acne?

Retinol is a type of retinoid. Other retinoids are tretinoin, adapalane, trifarotene, and tazarotene.

Does retinol work for cystic acne?

Retinol can help cystic acne but it is best to use a strong retinoid combined with other acne treatment products such as salicylic acid. Which skin products to use with the retinoid depends upon your Bauman Skin Type.

Best References and Scientific Publications on Retinol for Acne

  1. Baumann L. Ch. 16 Acne and Ch. 45 Retinoids of Baumann's Cosmetic Dermatology Ed 3. (McGraw Hill 2022)
  2. Baumann, L. Ch.79 Retinol for Acne in  Cosmeceuticals and Cosmetic Ingredients (McGraw Hill 2015)
  3. Rigopoulos, D., Ioannides, D., Kalogeromitros, D., & Katsambas, A. D. (2004). Comparison of topical retinoids in the treatment of acne. Clinics in dermatology, 22(5), 408-411.
  4. Chivot, M. (2005). Retinoid therapy for acne: a comparative review. American journal of clinical dermatology, 6, 13-19.
  5. Thielitz, A., Krautheim, A., & Gollnick, H. (2006). Update in retinoid therapy of acne. Dermatologic therapy, 19(5), 272-279.
  6. Kolli, S. S., Pecone, D., Pona, A., Cline, A., & Feldman, S. R. (2019). Topical retinoids in acne vulgaris: a systematic review. American journal of clinical dermatology, 20, 345-365.
  7. Thielitz, A., Abdel‐Naser, M. B., Fluhr, J. W., Zouboulis, C. C., & Gollnick, H. (2008). Topical retinoids in acne–an evidence‐based overview. JDDG: Journal der Deutschen Dermatologischen Gesellschaft, 6(12), 1023-1031.
  8. Thielitz, A., & Gollnick, H. (2008). Topical retinoids in acne vulgaris: update on efficacy and safety. American journal of clinical dermatology, 9, 369-381.
  9. Leyden, J., Stein-Gold, L., & Weiss, J. (2017). Why topical retinoids are mainstay of therapy for acne. Dermatology and therapy, 7, 293-304.