Biological activities of topical retinaldehyde

Dermatology. 1999;199 Suppl 1:19-24. doi: 10.1159/000051373.


Background: We had hypothesised that retinaldehyde (RAL) should be an interesting precursor for topical use.

Aim: We review our observations about its biological activities.

Methods: We performed pilot studies to explore its biological effects and tolerability in human skin and compared the effects of topical RAL to that of all-trans-retinoic acid (RA) in the mouse tail test.

Results: The biological activities of RAL were found to be qualitatively identical to that of RA: (i) induction of cellular RA-binding protein type 2 mRNA and protein, (ii) increase in epidermal proliferation (increase in DNA synthesis, epidermal thickness, induction of 50-kD keratin mRNA and reduction in 70-kD keratin mRNA), and (iii) metaplastic effects (induction of orthokeratosis, reduction of 65-kD keratin mRNA, increase in filaggrin and loricrin mRNAs). When associated with RAL, citral (known for its capacity to inhibit the oxidation of retinol to RA in epidermis) counteracted the effects induced by RAL indicating that RAL exerts biological activities through transformation to RA. Hypothesizing that keratinocytes would metabolize 9-cis-RAL to 9-cis-RA, we compared the biological effects induced by topical 9-cis-RAL and found that hyperplastic and metaplastic responses were lower than those induced by all-trans-RAL or all-trans-RA at similar concentrations. This suggests that 9-cis-RAL has no advantage over all-trans-RAL for specific delivery of natural retinoids into the skin. As in clinical studies conducted in human skin, we also found topical RAL less irritant than RA.

Conclusion: These studies indicate that topical RAL has biological activity and is well tolerated.

MeSH terms

  • Acyclic Monoterpenes
  • Administration, Topical
  • Animals
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • Humans
  • Keratins / metabolism
  • Keratolytic Agents / administration & dosage
  • Keratolytic Agents / pharmacology
  • Mice
  • Monoterpenes*
  • Peroxidase / metabolism
  • Retinaldehyde / administration & dosage
  • Retinaldehyde / pharmacology*
  • Retinaldehyde / toxicity
  • Skin / drug effects*
  • Skin / metabolism
  • Terpenes / pharmacology
  • Tretinoin / administration & dosage
  • Tretinoin / pharmacology
  • Tretinoin / toxicity


  • Acyclic Monoterpenes
  • Keratolytic Agents
  • Monoterpenes
  • Terpenes
  • Tretinoin
  • Keratins
  • Peroxidase
  • Retinaldehyde
  • citral