A natural derivative of vitamin A, retinoic acid is often used to improve the appearance of aging skin. Some studies show that 0.05% topical retinoic acid may also be helpful in treating keloid scars for some people.8
Lab research and study evidence indicate that retinoids can help regulate the production of collagen and other skin cell factors. This activity may be able help counteract the dysfunctional processes in keloid skin cells.3,8
In two small clinical trials, application of topical retinoid cream to keloids produced positive results in the majority of patients. Benefits included a significant decrease in scar size and improvement in symptoms (e.g., itchiness).3 However, another study also done in the 1980s indicated that retinoic acid only helped reduce the size of keloids by less than 20%.3
Potential common adverse side effects are relatively mild when using topical retinoic acid for keloids (e.g., contact dermatitis).3 However, it is important to note that the potential side effects of the topical form of retinoic acid are very different than the systemic form.
In fact, patients taking or who have taken the oral form of retinoic acid (isotretinoin) and who are considering laser therapy for keloids may have to delay that treatment for at least six months because of increased risks of adverse side effects.26