Topical Agents in Skin Health

Face & Neck

Topical agents should be classified based on: therapeutic value and does it work intracellularly or extracellularly? More specifically, topical agents can be classified as essential or supportive. Basically, essential topical agents are those that are intracellular and supportive agents are extracellular. In this blog post, we will discuss the difference between essential and supportive agents and what ingredients fall within those categories. 


Essential intracellular topical agents include retinol, antioxidants, hydroquinone, DNA repair, and anti-inflammatory ingredients. Intracellular means a product can penetrate and affect inside cells.


Retinol and Retinoic Acid


Retinol provides specific skin cell repair, meaning it targets individual skin conditions. It is also used to treat, prevent, and maintain dermal stabilization. Retinol converts to retinoic acid. Retinoic acid is a form of Vitamin A. this is used for general repair, meaning it addresses multiple skin conditions. Retinoic acid can only be used for show periods – up to five months. 




Antioxidants protect and stabilize the skin. Skin damage occurs when cells are oxidized. Antioxidants reverse that oxidation, leading to stable and healthy skin cells. Stabilization equals healthy and happy skin. Antioxidants are anti-inflammatory and aid in skin barrier repair. Most vitamins have antioxidant properties. The best vitamins for topical application are C and A. 




Hydroquinone is best used in pigment control. Alone, hydroquinone arrests melanin production. This process is commonly referred to as bleaching. Hydroquinone can also be mixed with Retinoic Acid, which blends the pigment instead of bleaching it. This is usually recommended after about 4-5 months of hydroquinone use. Hydroquinone is a great pigment inhibitor but can only be used for approximately four to five months. The skin can and will build a resistance to hydroquinone and cause the problems you are trying to correct. 


Supportive extracellular topical agents are used with intracellular topical agents. Supportive extracellular topical agents assist essential topical agents. Examples of supportive extracellular topical agents are cleansers, exfoliants, and toners. Even though they are supportive, they are essential for daily skin care and prevention practices. Without supportive extracellular topical agents, essential topical agents would not be able to penetrate deep into the skin. 


There are two main types of topical agents in skin care: essential and supportive. Both are essential for skin health and treatment. We recommend seeing an esthetician or dermatologist for a complete regimen.