Lotions containing retinol improve the appearance of skin that has become wrinkled through the normal aging process, not just skin that has been damaged by exposure to the sun, according to a new study from the University of Michigan Health System.

Researchers tested lotions containing retinol - Vitamin A that is found in many skin-care products - on the skin of elderly patients. Lotion containing retinol was used on one arm of each participant, while a lotion without retinol was applied to the other arm.

Wrinkles, roughness and overall aging severity were all significantly reduced in the retinol-treated arm compared with the control arm, according to the study, which appears in the May issue of the journal Archives of Dermatology. The production of collagen, due to the retinol treatment, also makes it more likely that the skin can withstand injury and ulcer formation, researchers say.

"With the population aging so rapidly, it is important that we find ways of treating skin conditions of elderly people - not just for purposes of vanity, but also for the healing of wounds and the reduction of ulcers," says senior author Sewon Kang, M.D., professor of dermatology at the U-M Medical School.

This research serves as an important step forward in the understanding of how aging skin can be improved, researchers say.

"In the past, it was everyone believed that retinoids would treat only photoaging, or damage from exposure to sun. This is the first systematic, double-blind study showing that it improves any kind of aging - photoaging as well as natural aging," says co-author John J. Voorhees, M.D., the Duncan and Ella Poth Distinguished Professor and chair of the Department of Dermatology at the U-M Medical School. "You can rub it anywhere, and it will help to treat the signs of aging."

The lotion was made at U-M, but U-M will not commercialize this lotion because it was designed only for experimental purposes and, therefore, is cosmetically undesirable. Many retinol containing cosmeceutical creams, however, are sold by various companies. Those specific products were not tested by the U-M team.

The reduction of wrinkles in the study's participants was due to increased collagen production and a significant induction of glycosaminoglycans, which are known to retain large quantities of water. In general, aging skin tends to be thinner, laxer and more prone to fine wrinkles than young skin.


In addition to Kang and Voorhees, authors of the study were lead author Reza Kafi, M.D.; Heh Shin Kwak, M.D.; Wendy E. Schumacher, B.S.; Soyun Cho, M.D., Ph.D.; Valerie N. Hanft, M.D.; Ted A. Hamilton, M.S.; Anya L. King, M.S.; Jacqueline D. Neal, B.S.E.; James Varani, Ph.D.; and Gary J. Fisher, Ph.D. All of the authors were at the University of Michigan Department of Dermatology when they participated in the study. Kafi and Kwak now are at Stanford Medical School, and Cho is with the Seoul National University in South Korea.

Fisher, Kang, Varani and Voorhees are named inventors on an issued patent application concerning methods for treating skin aging. They would receive royalties under U-M's Intellectual Property Policy in the event that a commercial license is signed and a product is sold. This article describes research that was part of the basis of the approved application.

The study was supported in part by grants from the Babcock Endowment for Dermatologic Research, the Merck-American Federation for Aging Research, Alpha Omega Alpha Student Research Fellowship and the National Institutes of Health.

Reference: Archives of Dermatology, May 2007, Vol. 143: 606-612.

Contact: Katie Gazella
University of Michigan Health System