Harvard Women's Health Watch

In Brief: Retinol helps reverse normal skin aging

In Brief

Retinol helps reverse normal skin aging

Throughout life, our skin helps shield us from the sun's ultraviolet rays, often at the price of premature aging (called photoaging), with its attendant lines, wrinkles, and brown spots. Many procedures and skin products are designed to address these effects, including retinoids — topical vitamin A–based drugs. Now research has found that retinol, one of the retinoid compounds, can also help counter the signs of skin aging that's unrelated to the sun, including fine wrinkles, roughness, and skin looseness. The findings, published in the May 2007 Archives of Dermatology, suggest that in addition to improving the appearance of older skin, retinol may also increase its durability and capacity to heal. The implications of these findings are particularly important given the rapidly rising number of older Americans.

Researchers at the University of Michigan Medical School tested retinol in a six-month randomized controlled trial involving 36 men and women, ages 80 to 96. For 24 weeks, three times a week, study personnel applied a lotion containing 0.4% retinol (a minimal dose) to the inner portion of each participant's left or right upper arm (lotion without retinol was used on the other arm). After two, four, eight, 16, and 24 weeks, dermatologists who didn't know which arms had been treated with retinol compared the two arms for roughness, fine wrinkles, and overall severity of aging.

As early as four weeks into the study, fine wrinkles began to fade in the retinol-treated arms, and the treated skin continued improving through week 24. Roughness and severity of aging were also significantly reduced.

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