Could retinoids like Retin A cause cancer? How to evaluate what you read on the web.

I bought Retin A from my dermatologist however when researching retinol I’ve read info stating that studies say people using retin A have greater occurrences of cancer. Also info was somehow even when using sunscreen there are certain ingredients in sunscreen that activate the retinol to make it unsafe. I really wanted to start using it however now I’m concerned. Do you have any info regarding this and would the same apply to Vitamin C. I am 61.

It’s actually the opposite, topical (creams/lotions) retinoids (like Retin A, retinol, tretinoin, Differin, etc) REDUCE  skin cancers.  Can you send me the link to that “study” through the SkinTour Questions?  I’d love to pull that paper and evaluate it.  Twenty-five years of experience in thousands of dermatology offices worldwide is a good indicator too.  We use retinoids to reduce precancerous spots (actinic keratoses), and to help prevent more skin cancers and wrinkles.  In addition, studies have also shown that, when used in a cream as prescribed, it is not absorbed into the bloodstream when measured.

Ways to evaluate what you read on the web:

  • Notice the language.  Often misinformation will use generalities.  For example, did this web info say which kind of cancer they were referring to?  Did they put the study in the web piece? Are they selling something that competes with Retin A?
  • Does it make sense?  For example, retinoids are used at night because light inactivates them.  Sunscreens are used in the morning and reapplied during the day.  They aren’t applied at the same time, so they don’t really interact with each other.
  • How long has a product or drug been in use?  When a cream  (like Retin A) or drug has been in use for more than 20-30 years, it has been used by millions of patients.  Consequently, the side effects have been reported and tracked.  I don’t know about you, but I try not to use any drug that hasn’t been around at least 5-10 years because the side effect profile is more complete.
  • Fear Mongering.  This is a proven and often used tactic on the web. Try to activate peoples’ fear of something……anything……and they are more likely to click on it.  It’s awful! If we pay attention to that “fine level of feeling” in us, we’ll notice it. Once we notice it, we can teach ourselves not to react to senseless fears. For example, meditation is a good tool for this, and life becomes far more peaceful.

PREGNANCY WARNING:  Your obstetrician (baby doctor) will counsel you not to take capsules or any oral vitamin A supplements.  I’ll let them explain it to you. During pregnancy, we recommend that you NOT use retinoid creams, just to be super careful.

Hope this helps!
Dr. Brandith Irwin
Founder, SkinTour
Director, Madison Skin & Laser Center
Follow my skin tips and travels on Instagram!
Dr. Brandith Irwin, MD

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Hi, I’m Dr. Irwin. I believe that consumers deserve a medically trained and unbiased skin care advocate.

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