Retinoid Creams and Their Relation to Accutane

I recently received a great question from one of my followers on Instagram…how are topical retinoids, such as Retin-A, and oral retinoids Accutane (an oral acne pill) related? Do they have the same side effects? Since you must have bloodwork checked regularly when you are on Accutane, does the same recommendation apply when you are using Retin-A cream? And this spurs a host of other questions: we know that it is absolutely not safe to become pregnant while taking Accutane, but what are the recommendations on using Retinoid skin creams during pregnancy? How much of the skin cream that is applied to your skin actually penetrate into your bloodstream or into your body?

Retinoids are derivatives of vitamin A and are helpful in regulating skin cell growth and turnover. They also play a role in our vision and in allowing our skin cells to mature and develop specific characteristics. Retinoids also affect our immune system.

I am going to sum up a few key points: Retinoid creams, including tretionin (Retin-A, Renova), adapalene (Differin) tazarotene (Tazorac) are not safe to use during pregnancy. Although they are applied to skin, a small amount of these medications can pass into the bloodstream and circulate through the body and harm a developing fetus.

Retinoid creams do not have nearly the same degree of side effects throughout your body as a retinoid pills such as isotretinoin (Accutane), acitretin (Soriatane), or etretinate (Tegison) which can be harmful to your liver and your muscles, cause dry eyes and really dry skin, and harm a developing fetus. There are many other potential side effects with your GI tract and bones that can also be instigated by these medications. Like any medication, the wonderful benefits of these medications to treat diseases such as severe potentially scarring acne, psoriasis, and other significant skin conditions must be weighed against the potential side effects. And it is absolutely not safe to take any of these pills during pregnancy as they can severely harm the developing fetus.

It is very important to recognize that applying a retinoid cream to your skin is much different and associated with far fewer side effects than taking a retinoid pill. Again, retinoid pills are only going to be prescribed by a specialist with a profound understanding of how these medications can improve a skin problem after careful consideration of potential side effects. And your provider will be checking bloodwork while you are on a retinoid pill to verify that no significant harm is occurring to your organs as a result of the medication.

Retinoid creams, on the other hand, are widely used to treat milder cases of acne and psoriasis, but also have tremendous benefit in correcting skin damage, facilitating skin cell turnover and skin regeneration, strengthening collagen, and achieving clear skin. The most common side effects of irritation, dryness, skin flaking, and redness can usually be overcome by implementing the recommendations that I mentioned in my previous post No bloodwork is necessary while using a retinoid cream, and they can be used for years without any significant toxicity to our bodies. Additionally, retinoid creams may be applied directly to the area where you would like to see benefit, thereby allowing more targeted results.

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