Psoriasis is a skin condition that may cause uncomfortable, thick, scaly plaques to form on the skin. Treatments may include topical agents such as retinoids. While some people may consider using retinol, which is a weaker and commonly available type of retinoid, it is unlikely to be as effective as prescription-strength retinoids.
Retinol is generally safe and is a common ingredient in many skin care products available to support healthy skin. However, it is unlikely to help treat symptoms of psoriasis. Instead, a person with psoriasis will require stronger prescription retinoids or other topical agents to reduce and control their symptoms.
In this article, we will discuss retinol and retinoids and their effectiveness for treating psoriasis.
Psoriasis is an autoimmune disorder that causes skin cells to multiply rapidly. The skin is unable to shed the new skin cells, resulting in a buildup that forms thick, red patches or scales of skin. These scales can grow anywhere but commonly affect the elbows, knees, and scalp. They are also likely to cause an intense itching or burning sensation.
Psoriasis is a chronic condition, and there is no direct cure. Treating psoriasis typically involves addressing symptoms and managing individual triggers.
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However, a dermatologist treating a person with psoriasis would prescribe stronger topical retinoids or oral retinoids, not retinol. As retinol is weaker than prescription retinoids, it will have less of an impact and typically take longer to achieve the desired result.
Both forms work in a similar way by reducing the amount of cytokines and interleukins, which are chemicals that play a role in inflammation. This helps to not only reduce inflammation but also slow the rate at which skin cells develop plaques. This helps to reduce the thickness, dryness, and flaking of the skin, which helps improve its appearance.
Retinol is a common ingredient in OTC skin care products. For topical skin products, a person should follow the instructions on the packaging. This will typically involve rubbing a small amount of product into problem areas. It is advisable to test a new product on a clean patch of skin first to check for skin sensitivity or irritation before moving on to larger areas.
People should only use prescription retinoids to treat psoriasis under the guidance of a doctor. A person will typically use topical retinoids in a similar way to OTC retinol by applying the prescribed amount in a thin layer to the skin, then rubbing it in completely. For oral retinoids, a person will usually take a capsule once a day.
Topical and oral retinoids are generally safe, but a person should only use them under the guidance of a doctor.
Products containing retinol are generally safe. Using retinol may support skin health and can help treat acne, improve texture, and reduce signs of aging. However, it is unlikely to help treat symptoms of psoriasis.
The potential side effects of both retinol and retinoids are similar, with side effects more common with higher doses and longer use. These side effects can include:
For people using tazarotene, the most common side effect is skin irritation. It can also make the skin more sensitive to sunlight and increase the risk of sunburn. Therefore, it may be advisable to apply tazarotene at night or cover skin with clothing when in the sun.
If taking acitretin, a person may initially notice that symptoms of psoriasis worsen. This can affect the skin, hair, nails, and tissue inside the mouth, nose, or eyes. However, people who continue to take the medication will notice an improvement in roughly 2–12 weeks.
Other rarer side effects of acitretin can include unhealthy cholesterol levels, bumps on nails, reduced color vision, difficulty seeing at night, pain in the muscles and joints, and bone problems.
Acitretin also carries the potential risk of birth defects. Therefore, people who are pregnant or planning to become pregnant should not use acitretin. To prevent the risk, people should wait 3 years after taking acitretin before trying to become pregnant. This also means a person will be unable to donate blood during this time.
Retinoid treatment is just one form of psoriasis treatment. A person may use retinoids, or a derivative, alone or along with other treatments. Other psoriasis treatments depend on the strength and type of psoriasis, and can include:
Retinol is a derivative of vitamin A and a common ingredient in many over-the-counter skincare products. While it may support overall skin health and can treat acne, retinol is not an effective treatment for psoriasis.
Instead, a dermatologist may prescribe prescription-strength retinoids. These are in the same drug family as retinol but are much stronger. A doctor may suggest using topical or oral retinoids as an effective treatment for psoriasis.
Retinoids can irritate the skin. Dermatologists may prescribe retinoids alongside other treatment options such as biologics, light therapy, and other topical treatments.