How does tazarotene work? | Medical newsletter

Tazarotene is a relatively new prescription retinoid, and it is used to treat acne vulgaris, psoriasis, and other skin problems. How does tazarotene work, what is it used for, and what are the potential benefits and side effects?

What is tazarotene?

Tazarotene, also known as Tazorac, is a prescription topical cream available in 0.05% and 0.1% strengths.1 Tazarotene is approved by the FDA as a treatment for plaque psoriasis as well as acne vulgaris.1 Plaque psoriasis is a common type of psoriasis, and it’s a chronic inflammatory disease that causes potentially uncomfortable scaly patches on the surface of the skin.2

Tazarotene is a third generation topical retinoid, and it works similarly to other topical retinoids such as tretinoin and adapalene. However, it is unique in that it is also FDA approved for the treatment of plaque psoriasis, unlike tretinoin and adapalene.

Some evidence suggests that it may be more effective than other retinoids in treating acne vulgaris. For example, one study found that patients with moderate to severe acne who applied 0.1% tazarotene cream daily for 16 weeks had greater improvement in acne lesions than those who used 0 cream. , 3% adapalene.3 However, another study found that there was no significant difference in effectiveness between the two retinoids, so more research is needed to determine this.4

Tazarotene could potentially be more irritating than adapalene; Common side effects of prescription topical retinoids can include irritation, dryness, redness, and scaling, and there is some evidence to suggest that there may be a difference in the severity of these side effects between the two. For example, one study found that participants tolerated adapalene 0.3% gel better than tazarotene 0.1% gel, and fewer unwanted side effects were reported.5 However, different people respond to different treatments differently, and more research is needed to determine if these claims are meaningful.

How does tazarotene work?

The exact mechanism of tazarotene is unknown; However, current research suggests that it can induce a variety of potential changes by binding to retinoic acid receptors near the skin.6 It is believed to help acne by increasing the rate of cell turnover in the skin and reducing the risk of keratin buildup in the sebaceous ducts.7

Tazarotene also appears to reduce inflammation in various studies, which could potentially contribute to its therapeutic effect against psoriasis given that psoriasis is an inflammatory disease and is induced by the immune system.8 The mechanism for this is unknown, and more research is needed to determine the effects tazarotene may have on the inflammatory response and the immune system, if any. Tazarotene is also believed to decrease the risk and severity of skin atrophy and side effects associated with topical corticosteroids, which are often prescribed to treat plaque psoriasis.8

What are the side effects of tazarotene?

For some people, tazarotene may have side effects similar to those of other topical retinoids, such as excessive dryness of the skin, peeling, redness, and irritation.8 The use of tazarotene can also be associated with increased sensitivity to UV rays, so it is especially important to limit sun exposure and use broad spectrum sunscreens that protect against UVA and UVB rays.

It is important to tell your doctor or other healthcare professional about any side effects that worry you; they may want to change the strength of the medicine or stop it altogether. In addition, tazarotene should not be used by people who are allergic to tazarotene. Seek immediate medical attention if you experience signs of an allergic reaction after using the medicine, such as hives, chest tightness, and swelling of your face, mouth, or throat.

Oral retinoids, such as isotretinoin (Accutane), are not recommended during pregnancy due to their potentially teratogenic effects.9 The use of topical tazarotene is associated with minimal absorption of the drug into the bloodstream; however, the blood level associated with teratogenicity is not known.ten For this reason, tazarotene is not recommended during pregnancy.ten

Some topical and oral medications can interact with tazarotene, so it’s important to tell your doctor or health care professional about all the products, supplements, and medications you use. This article is not medical advice, and it is not intended to prescribe, diagnose, or promote specific treatments for any condition. Consult your physician or other qualified provider for your unique needs.

The references

  1. Access Data FDA (2013, December). Complete prescribing information. Allergan, Inc; Irvine, CA 92612: Accessed May 19, 2021 from
  2. Badri, T., Kumar, P., Oakley, AM (Aug 10, 2020). Plaque psoriasis. StatPearls [Internet]. Retrieved May 19, 2021, from
  3. Tanghetti, E., Dhawan, S., Green, L., et al (2010, May). Randomized comparison of the safety and efficacy of 0/1% tazarotene cream and 0.3% adapalene gel in the treatment of patients with at least moderate facial acne vulgaris. J Drugs Dermatol 9 (5): 549-558. Retrieved May 19, 2021, from
  4. Pariser, D., Colon, LE, Johnson, LA (2008) (June). Adapalene 0.1% gel compared to tazarotene 0.1% cream in the treatment of acne vulgaris. J Drugs Dermatol 7 (6 suppl): s18-23. Retrieved May 19, 2021, from
  5. Thiboutot, D., Arsonnaud, S., Soto, P. (2008). Efficacy and tolerance of adapalene 0.3% gel compared to tazarotene 0.1% gel in the treatment of acne vulgaris. J Drugs Dermatol 7 (6 suppl): s13-s10. Retrieved May 19, 2021, from
  6. Chandratatna, RA (1997, August). Tazarotene: the first receptor-selective topical retinoid for the treatment of psoriasis. J Am Acad Dermatol 37 (2 part 3): s12-17. Retrieved May 21, 2021, from
  7. Gregoriou, S., Kristotaki, E., Katoulis, A., et al (2014). Use of tazarotene foam for the treatment of acne vulgaris. Clin Cosmet Investig Dermatol 7: 165-170. Doi: 10.2147 / CCID.S37327
  8. Dando, TM, Wellington, K. (2012, August 21). Topical tazarotene. Adis drug review 6: 255-272. Doi: 10.2165 / 00128071-200506040-00006.
  9. Tang-Liu, DD, Matsumoto, RM, Usansky, JI (1999, October). Clinical pharmacokinetics and drug metabolism of tazarotene: a new topical treatment for acne and psoriasis. Pharmacokinet Clin 37 (4): 273-287. Doi: 10.2165 / 00003088-199937040-00001.
  10. Han, G., Wu, JJ, Del Rosso, JQ (2020, September). Use of topical tazarotene for the treatment of acne vulgaris during pregnancy: a review of the literature. J Clin Esthet Dermatol 13 (9): E59-65. Retrieved May 21, 2021, from
  11. Image by Joseph Mucira from Pixabay

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