Topical Retinoids in the Management of Photodamaged Skin: From Theory to Evidence-based Practical Approach

R. Darlenski; C. Surber; J.W. Fluhr


The British Journal of Dermatology. 2010;163(6):1157-1165. 

In This Article

Retinoids – a Historical Perspective

The term 'retinoid' was widely used to refer to both naturally occurring molecules and synthetic compounds with biological actions characteristic of vitamin A.[14] Later on, the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC) defined retinoids according to their chemical structure, as four isoprenoid units joined in a head-to-tail manner.[15] Retinoid history dates back to ancient Egypt where liver was used to treat night blindness.[16] During World War I, the role of vitamin A was discovered for a number of vital functions in the mammalian organism. In the early 1930s, the chemical structure of retinol was determined and the first study using vitamin A to treat acne was published in 1943. Tretinoin or all-trans-retinoic acid (all-trans-RA) was first used in dermatological therapy in 1959, followed by decades of active research into topical retinoids.[16] The year 1983 saw the pioneer application of tretinoin in the management of skin aeging, and the milestone research of Kligman et al. [17–19] was published a few years later. Along with the advantages of retinoid therapy, there were reports on its toxicity and teratogenicity. Efforts were therefore made to create novel, less toxic, selectively acting, and better tolerated retinoid compounds. Today, the retinoid family can be classified into several generations, as shown in Table 1.