What is Tretinoin and how can it protect your skin against acne

A bottle of face serum

Acne and sun-damaged skin can be treated with the help of tretinoin, a skincare medication. It can also help with wrinkles, and fine lines due to age as well as dark spots. Tretinoin cream clears the pores of your skin. It can also help you get a glow by promoting the growth of skin cells. While it cannot remove tan, it can also lighten your skin tone, when used long-term. Read on to learn all about tretinoin, its benefits and how to use it.

What is tretinoin?

Tretinoin is a derivative of vitamin A and is used in dermatology for various skin conditions. “It is a prescription-strength medication which is applied to the skin. It tackles acne and sun damage, reducing wrinkles and fine lines,” explains dermatologist Priyanka Kuri. It is also used to treat acne and helps pimples to heal quickly.

What does tretinoin do?

Tretinoin helps promote the growth of skin cells. It is useful in lightening your skin and also promotes the growth of new skin replacing old skin cells. The benefits of tretinoin include the reduction of wrinkles, acne, discoloration, as well as age spots when used for at least three to four months.

Tretinoin vs retinol: What is the difference?

Tretinoin and retinol are both vitamin A derivatives, but tretinoin is much stronger. “Retinol converts to a weaker form of retinoic acid in your skin, making tretinoin work faster and bring stronger results,” explains Dr Kuri. Retinol is a natural version of vitamin A, while tretinoin  is a synthetic one. Retinol is mild and doesn’t irritate the skin, however, tretinoin is much stronger. Therefore, if you have sensitive skin, then you should be careful while using tretinoin.

Small quantities of tretinoin should be used initially, gradually increasing the dosage. Image courtesy: Freepik

Uses of tretinoin

1. Acne treatment

One of the most important tretinoin cream uses is that it is effective in treating acne by preventing clogged pores, reducing inflammation, and promoting skin cell turnover, which helps to clear existing acne lesions and prevent new ones. A study, published in Dermatology and Therapy, found that 12 weeks of tretinoin helped reduce small acne as well as blemishes. Tretinoin 0.1 percent reduced these by 80 per cent, while tretinoin 0.25 percent eliminated 35 per cent.

Also Read: What is acne? All you need to know about the stubborn breakouts

2. Anti-aging

One of the biggest tretinoin cream benefits is that it helps to eliminate the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. It does so by stimulating collagen production and improving skin elasticity, resulting in smoother and more youthful-looking skin. This study, published in Clinical Interventions in Ageing, states that retinoids are the most useful while treating ageing-related skin ailments, and among these, tretinoin is the best-studied retinoid. However, one needs to be careful as it can irritate the skin as well.

3. Improved skin texture and tone

Tretinoin application helps to improve skin texture and tone. Tretinoin works by encouraging exfoliation, reducing roughness, and making the skin more radiant. The Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology states that tretinoin helps in exfoliation and prevents blockage of skin follicles.

4. Hyperpigmentation treatment

Tretinoin can help fade certain types of hyperpigmentation, such as melasma and post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation. It promotes the shedding of pigmented skin cells and helps in the growth of new, skin cells. A study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, had 24 subjects apply tretinoin daily to their arms and face for 40 weeks. In the end, it was observed that the hyperpigmented lesions were significantly lighter.

How to apply tretinoin to your skin?

When it comes to tretinoin dosage, it is essential to note that you must apply a very small quantity. “Less than a pea-sized amount is enough. Mix it with a lot of moisturizers and keep it for one to two hours only at night initially. If any irritation occurs, then just wash it off and apply moisturizer,” advises Dr Kuri.

Tretinoin application may irritate your skin when you start to use it. Therefore, some of the initial side effects would include dryness, redness, and irritation, especially during the initial usage. It can also make your skin more sensitive to sunlight. However, if severe irritation occurs, consult your doctor.

A woman applying moisturiser on her face
Pea sized quantity of tretinoin should be mixed with moisturiser before application. Image courtesy: Pexels

Side effects of using tretinoin

There can be some side effects that are associated with the regular use of tretinoin. You can experience burning or you skin can turn red as well, and it may be itchy. Besides this, you might find your skin to be dry and chapped. The FDA drug labeled guidelines suggest that you might experience pain in the effected area, and it might be inflamed as well. Besides this, headaches, fever, fatigue can also happen.

What to keep in mind before using tretinoin?

Before using tretinoin, it’s essential to consider the following:

1. Consult a dermatologist

Tretinoin is a prescription medication, so it’s important that you talk to your dermatologist before starting treatment. The doctor would be able to tell you if it’s suitable for your skin, and the right tretinoin dosage.

2. Skin sensitivity

Individuals with sensitive skin may experience might experience side effects when using tretinoin. Therefore, if your skin is sensitive, it is important to discuss this with your dermatologist before starting treatment.

3. Sun protection

Tretinoin promotes skin sensitivity to sunlight, so it makes the skin more prone to sunburn and it can get damaged as well. Therefore, always use sunscreen with a high SPF during the day.

4. Avoid harsh products

Tretinoin can irritate the skin, especially when used with other harsh skincare products such as exfoliants or products containing alcohol. So don’t use very abrasive or irritating products with tretinoin.

5. Patience and consistency

You need to keep at it. Tretinoin may take several weeks to months to show some change on your skin. Initially, you might experience irritation or worsening of acne. However, be consistent.

Also Read: Can you use retinol during pregnancy?

6. Pregnancy and breastfeeding

If you are pregnant or are breastfeeding then tretinoin is not recommended. It has potential risks to the developing fetus or infant. Even if you are considering pregnancy, it’s best to ask a doctor before tretinoin application.

Can you use tretinoin every day?

The amount of tretinoin you need depends on your skin type and condition. Your doctor will determine the right dosage and strength for you. “Don’t increase usage without consulting them. Initially, the first week has to be done on alternate days, then gradually increase to daily application,” says Dr Kuri. If there is no irritation, you can keep it overnight as well because it causes a lot of dryness and rashes, so it should not be applied daily initially.

What should you tell your doctor before using tretinoin?

Before you embark on your journey of including tretinoin in your regular regime, you must make sure to let the doctor your are consulting know if you suffer from any skin condition such as dermatitis, dandruff or anything else such as eczema. Also, it is important to inform your doctor if you are pregnant or are planning a pregnancy.


Tretinoin is a medication that can help you deal with moderate to even very severe acne. Other skin diseases such as dark spots can also be treated with tretinoin cream, as it keeps the pores of your skin clean and treats fine lines and wrinkles as well. However, one must consult a doctor to know the right tretinoin dosage in order to avoid side effects.


Does tretinoin help with acne scars?

Using tretinoin for acne scars is a great idea. It can work to remove the scars caused by acne. It does this by promoting the growth of new cells at the places where you have the scars. However, you need to be consistent as it can take weeks for you to notice a change.

Does tretinoin stop melanin production

Yes, tretinoin can stop the production of melanin, and help with hyperpigmentation. Tretinoin cream or tretinoin gel has tyrosinase, an enzyme that controls the production of melanin.

How long does it take tretinoin to work

Tretinoin might take several weeks to work. It could take up to three months for it to bring about any noticeable change in acne. However, you need to be using the medicine every day.



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