Retinol in topical skin care products are a less concentrated version of tretinoin, a prescription vitamin A derivative that is highly effective in reversing sun damage and signs of aging. Tretinoin decreases fine lines, evens skin color, improves texture, tightens pores, and stimulates blood flow and collagen production. There are numerous people who cannot tolerate the highly concentrated tretinoin as their skin becomes irritated and dry. Even though Retinol is milder and the results may not be as dramatic, more people tolerate it well. Like tretinoin, retinol encourages skin cell turnover; this new skin is delicate and should not be exposed to the sun. If a person uses Retin-A and other topical retinoids their skin is more susceptible to ultraviolet light and it becomes necessary to take special care to avoid sun exposure and use sunscreen which is why these ingredients should only be found in products intended for night use.
Another important note for users of Vitamin A derivatives: the ingredient rapidly breaks down when exposed to the sun and air. Once opened, these products do not keep well and should be used within a couple of months.
These vitamin A derivatives in topical skin care may prevent skin cancer in people particularly vulnerable to skin cancers. The oral retinoid isotretinoin (Roaccutane) improves wrinkles and other sun-induced skin damage, while actinic keratoses and basal cell carcinomas treated with the topical retinoid tretinoin, sometimes marketed as Renova or Retin-A have completely regressed. Although such results may be temporary tretinoin .05 percent does reduce some signs of skin aging (such as fine facial wrinkles, brown spots, and roughness) associated with chronic sun exposure. Used with topical DNA repair enzymes, it may help treat actinic keratoses and prevent basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas.
Retinoids that are taken orally can decrease the risk of SCC of the skin in certain high-risk populations. However, retinoids in topical form have not been shown to reduce skin cancer risk.
Conclusion: The use of vitamin A derivatives post skin cancer removal has been shown to reduce skin cancer risk and not increase it. Any arising skin cancers can likely be caused by a person’s history of sun exposure, rather than the use of Retin-A cream or any other topical product with Retinol.
Kraemer KH, DiGiocanna JJ, Peck GL. Chemoprevention of skin cancer in xeroderma pigmentosum. J Dermatol 1992; 19(11):715-8.
Bouwes Bavinck JN, Tieben LM, Van der Woude FJ, et al. Prevention of skin cancer and reduction of keratotic skin lesions during acitretin therapy in renal transplant recipients: a double-blind, placebo-controlled study. J Clin Oncol 1995; 13(8):1933-8.
Harwood CA, Leedham-Green M, Leigh IM, Proby CM. Low-dose retinoids in the prevention of cutaneous squamous cell carcinomas in organ transplant recipients: a 16-year retrospective study. Arch Dermatol 2005; 141(4):456-64.
Bollag W, Ott F. Retinoic acid: topical treatment of senile or actinic keratoses and basal cell carcinomas. Agents Actions 1970; 1(4):172-5.
Peck GL. Hypertrophic scar after cryotherapy and topical tretinoin. Arch Dermatol 1973; 108(6):819-22.
Belisario JC. Recent advances in topical cytotoxic therapy of skin cancer and precancer. In: Melanoma and Skin Cancer. Sydney, Australia: Proceedings of the International Cancer Conference. Sydney; 1972:349-375.
Bollag W, Ott F. Vitamin A acid in benign and malignant epithelial tumours of the skin. Acta Derm Venereol Suppl. Stockholm: 1975; 74:163-6.