- Tretinoin is a retinoid acid used to treat acne, as well as to improve skin texture and reduce fine lines.
- The product is only available with a doctor’s prescription.
- Below, we break down everything you need to know about tretinoin.
When I hit my mid-twenties, I really started getting acne more regularly. Although I had no problems in high school or college, once I turned 25 it seemed like my breakouts were endless. It took me a while to master my skin and learn how best to treat it, but eventually I started taking spironolactone, an acne medication for women, and eventually mastered a routine. of beauty that worked for me.
For a while this was enough to completely relieve my acne. However, about two years ago I started noticing an increase in breakouts and breakouts. I was reluctant to increase the dose of my acne medication, so my dermatologist suggested I add tretinoin to my skin care routine. If you’re curious about the prescription-only treatment, we’re breaking down everything you need to know.
What is tretinoin?
Tretinoin is a vitamin A derivative, which means it belongs to the retinoid category of ingredients, which “helps regulate the protein in the skin called keratin,” Ellen Murmur, MD, board-certified dermatologist and founder of MMSkincare. It is sold as a prescription topical cream or gel to treat acne, hyperpigmentation, and many other skin conditions.
“Decades of studies show that it is generally considered the safest and most effective retinoid for helping to improve the effects of ultraviolet light-induced collagen breakdown, elastic fiber degeneration and inflammation,” says Whitney Tolpinrud, MD, FAAD, board-certified dermatologist and deputy medical director of the Agency. “It’s also considered one of the best ingredients for treating and helping to prevent fine lines, wrinkles, dark spots, and acne.”
The treatment is sold under many different names, such as Retin-A, Tretin-X, Altreno, and Altralin, and your dermatologist will usually determine which is best for your skin type.
What are the benefits of tretinoin?
Simply put: “Tretinoin accelerates cell turnover to shed dead and damaged cells faster,” says Dr. Tolpinrud. “By accelerating the renewal process, tretinoin encourages new, fresh skin cells and gives them the support they need by stimulating the production of the protein collagen. Collagen helps give skin firmness and structure, but it deteriorates with age and UV exposure. Tretinoin stimulates the production of new collagen and helps improve skin firmness.”
Because tretinoin chemically exfoliates the top layers of skin, it can help even out texture, reduce the appearance of acne scars, unclog pores, and calm inflammation caused by acne.
Tretinoin Cream vs Tretinoin Gel: Which is Better?
When it comes to choosing between gel or cream, the differences are slight but significant and entirely depend on your skin type. Tretinoin in gel form has a thinner consistency and generally soaks into the skin faster, which tends to make it more potent (read: potentially irritating). Tretinoin in cream form has a thicker consistency, does not absorb as quickly, but tends to be more easily tolerated by all skin types. Tretinoin Gel is available in 0.01% and 0.025% strengths, while Tretinoin Cream is available in 0.025%, 0.05% and 0.1% strengths.
The best way to determine which tretinoin formula is right for you is to ask your dermatologist. Although the ingredient is suitable for most people, it is more effective for acne-prone or mature skin. If you have extremely sensitive skin, eczema or rosacea, or are at risk of becoming pregnant, be sure to consult your doctor before starting treatment.
What are the common side effects of using tretinoin?
“Redness, hyperpigmentation, extreme sun sensitivity, flaking, excessive dryness, itching, discomfort, stinging are all side effects of tretinoin,” says Dr. Marmur.
Through my personal use of tretinoin, I have discovered that I am more sensitive to the sun, especially when it comes to my lips. Although I don’t apply tretinoin directly to my lips, my dermatologist explained to me that it could migrate during the night just because I moved around in bed. For this reason, I make sure to apply Aquaphor or a lip balm to my lips before applying the tretinoin to reduce the chances of the tretinoin getting on my lips.
Those using tretinoin should always be sure to protect their skin from the sun at all times.
How to Use Tretinoin in Your Skincare Routine
When first starting tretinoin, it’s important to take it slow – only use it a few times a week, then increase from there, depending on how your skin tolerates it. When I first started using tretinoin, for example, my dermatologist recommended I start using it every other night before bed. Ask your dermatologist which cadence would be best for your skin before starting treatment.
Tretinoin can be used as a spot treatment for acne, but I prefer to apply it all over my face. The product should be applied once a day to dry skin, preferably in the evening. (Dr. Tolpinrud suggests using it “just before bedtime” to get the most benefit from your treatment.) Squeeze a pea-sized amount onto fingertips and slowly apply a thin layer all over your face. .
“To help minimize irritation, I often suggest applying moisturizer before applying tretinoin or mixing tretinoin with moisturizer before applying to face and neck,” says Dr. Tolpinrud. . I have personally found that I see the best results when I use tretinoin alone and not when layering moisturizer; However, if you have very dry skin, applying moisturizer after the treatment may help reduce dryness or flaking. Whatever your preference, it’s important to make sure your face is completely dry and free of any other product before applying tretinoin.
How long will it take to see results from tretinoin?
It took me about three weeks of regular use to see a difference in my skin, but doctors say it can take two to six weeks to see noticeable changes. Since using tretinoin, I have noticed a big reduction in breakouts, as well as a big improvement in my skin texture. It’s noticeably smoother and softer, and I rarely have acne issues. If you want to try tretinoin yourself, be sure to contact your dermatologist for a consultation.
Image source: POPSUGAR Photography / Matthew Kelly