Although most people think of acne as a problem mostly restricted to teenagers, the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) reports that many adult women also get pimples. In fact, about half of women in their 20s, and one-quarter of those in their 40s, have acne. Luckily, one of the most common acne medications — tretinoin — also effectively improves the appearance of aging skin.
Acne is a multifaceted skin problem caused by several factors, the AAD says. Excess oil in the skin combines with dead skin cells that are sloughed off daily to create a paste that can plug pores. Combined with an overgrowth of acne-causing bacteria, this causes whiteheads, blackheads and inflammation. Hormones often drive acne breakouts in adult women, which is why they commonly occur around the time of a woman’s menstrual period or during pregnancy.
Women with a case of acne often turn first to over-the-counter acne products, most of which contain the acne-fighting ingredient benzoyl peroxide. New cosmetic products containing ingredients that both fight acne and make skin look younger also have been introduced, although dermatologists warn that these products may not be effective in either acne control or skin improvement. Fortunately, women who have both acne and an interest in improving the tone and texture of their skin can ask their dermatologist to prescribe tretinoin.
Tretinoin, a form of vitamin A, effectively treats blackheads, whiteheads, wrinkles, fine lines, and sun damage. It works by encouraging the skin’s upper layer to rejuvenate, which speeds the appearance of new, younger-looking skin and at the same time clears pore blockages, according to the Mayo Clinic. Tretinoin is sold under seven different brand names, and also as a generic, although only one brand — Renova — holds specific U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval for treating wrinkles and age spots.
It’s common for women who are new to tretinoin use to notice skin irritation during the first month or so of use, although newer formulations seem to cause less irritation, according to the AAD. Acne often gets worse before it gets better with tretinoin treatment, and it can take upwards of three months to begin to notice improvement. Tretinoin is considered long-term therapy for both acne and anti-aging.
Patients who use tretinoin — especially those who seek improvements in skin tone, fine wrinkles and age spots along with treatment for their acne — must apply a high-SPF sunscreen whenever they venture outdoors, the AAD says. Tretinoin makes the skin much more sensitive to sun damage, and sunburn can result very quickly in tretinoin-treated skin. In additon, physicians warn women not to use tretinoin during pregnancy, as the medication potentially can cause birth defects.