With rates of skin cancer on the rise, people with eczema need to be prepared to self-screen for any trouble spots that flaring skin may make it hard to identify
Published On: Dec 2, 2021
Last Updated On: Dec 2, 2021
Retinol and retinoids, whether in creams, lotions, or gels, are widely used in over-the-counter and prescription skin products. They’re also touted for many tantalizing benefits. Indeed, it seems that this family of ingredients can almost do it all: from fighting acne, fine lines, wrinkles, sun damage, uneven pigmentation, to boosting collagen and fostering a healthy “glow.”
But there’s a catch, especially for people with eczema.
Retinol and retinoids are part of the same class of chemical compounds derived from vitamin A, a key nutrient for boosting cell turnover and, in turn, helping to whisk away dead skin cells, clogged pores and dull skin. Unfortunately, however, retinol and retinoid products can also be irritating if used too frequently or if a formulation is too strong for your skin.
So if you experience eczema and are already prone to skin irritation, is retinol an option? And what should you expect? We asked Dr. Raj Chovatiya, assistant professor of dermatology at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago to weigh in.
“Topical retinoids help the regulation of cell turnover, protein production and inflammation,” Chovatiya explained. “This is why retinol can be very helpful for anyone looking to treat acne or minimize wrinkles. However, several side effects often occur during the first several weeks of therapy, including skin irritation, scaling, redness, pain, burning, and itching.” Chovatiya added: “These symptoms are quite familiar to people with eczema! Unsurprisingly, these side effects tend to be more pronounced in individuals with baseline sensitive skin and eczema.”
Dr. Chovatiya generally recommends that patients with eczema avoid retinoids, or at the very least, use them only with extreme caution.
“If someone with eczema was interested in trying out a retinoid for the treatment of photoaging or mild acne,” Chovatiya said, “I would first recommend having a discussion with a dermatology healthcare provider to thoroughly review potential benefits and risks.”
Still wondering if a retinoid might be worth it? Chovatiya and other experts offer the following tips:
If you think your skin is too sensitive for retinol, or if you’ve tried retinol and it wasn’t pretty, don’t worry. There are other anti-aging ingredients you can try.
“One option,” Chovatiya said, “for those who cannot tolerate retinol, are antioxidants like vitamin C and E. This class of products can help to prevent fine lines and pigmentary changes by neutralizing free radicals in the skin.”
Another antioxidant option for sensitive skin might be bakuchiol, from the seeds and leaves of the Indian babchi plant. A study published in the British Journal of Dermatology showed that bakuchiol was comparable to retinol in its ability to improve photoaging but with less skin irritation. Another study found that bakuchiol functioned similarly to retinol with twice-daily application for 12 weeks resulting in improvement in lines and wrinkles, pigmentation, elasticity, firmness and photo damage.
One more choice: Choose to admire the lines of distinction on your face as a testament to a life well lived. As Mark Twain said, “Wrinkles should merely indicate where smiles have been.”