A Clinician's Guide to Topical Retinoids

J Cutan Med Surg. 2022 Jan-Feb;26(1):71-78. doi: 10.1177/12034754211035091. Epub 2021 Jul 22.


Retinoids are defined as molecules that bind to and activate retinoic acid receptors to influence the proliferation and differentiation of cells. Topical retinoids have evolved over the past several decades, being used in multiple dermatological conditions. This review aims to differentiate between synthetic and natural retinoids, discuss the pharmacology behind topical retinoids, highlight clinical applications, and categorize all the commercially available agents, including combination products. Understanding retinoid affinities for unique receptor subtypes can impact clinical decisions, resulting in optimizing treatment and enhancing patient adherence.

Keywords: acne; keratinization; retinoid.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Administration, Cutaneous
  • Administration, Topical
  • Dermatologic Agents / administration & dosage*
  • Dermatologic Agents / pharmacology*
  • Humans
  • Off-Label Use
  • Retinoids / administration & dosage*
  • Retinoids / pharmacology*
  • Skin Diseases / drug therapy*


  • Dermatologic Agents
  • Retinoids