Tretinoin : What is it, Benefits in Acne & How to Use

Acne is a common skin condition that usually affects people in adolescent years and may or may not persist in their adulthood.

The good news is that a lot many effective treatments are available which, though might not cure acne, can certainly prevent its breakout.

These treatment options include antibiotics, anti-retinoid, oral contraceptives, Accutane, etc. One such option is that of tretinoin.

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What is Tretinoin?

Tretinoin is a combination retinoic acid and Vitamin A acid. It is a carboxylic acid form vitamin A and is also known as all-trans retinoic acid (ATRA).

It is commonly used in a gel or cream form and in strengths of 0.025%, 0.05% and 0. 1% for the treatment of acne vulgaris.

Apart from this it is also used to treat acute promyelocytic leukemia (APL) and is sold for this by Roche (USA) under the brand name Vesanoid.

How does Tretinoin treat acne?

Tretinoin helps in reducing acne breakouts in two ways.

Firstly, it causes the skin of the affected area to peal thereby unclogging the pores and secondly, it increases the speed at which surface skin is replaced thereby helping in the reduction of inflammation.

Tretinoin Dosage

Tretinoin comes in the form of a topical liquid, cream, and gel. It is applied once every day at bedtime or once in 2 or 3 days.

It might cause worsening of acne in the first 7 to 10 days of its usage but if you continue to use it, the acne sore will slowly start disappearing.

It commonly comes in concentration of 0.025%, 0.05% and 0.1%. It usually takes two or three weeks of regular use to see any difference.


The face must be washed with a non-medicated soap and pat dry.

We must usually apply tretinoin 20 to 30 minutes after washing the face so that the surface of the skin is completely dry. The medication should be applied only to the affected area.

Cream: To be applied only where the acne lesions appear, using enough to cover the entire affected area lightly.

Liquid: The liquid should be applied using a cotton wash or gauze and it also must be ensured that either of the two is not over soaked with the liquid so that the medication does not run off to the unaffected areas of the skin.

Gel: Excessive application of the gel leads to pilling of the gel.

Possible Side effects

  • Warmth or slight stinging of the skin.
  • Lightening or darkening of the skin.
  • Red, scaling skin.
  • Increase in acne sores.
  • Swelling, Blistering, and crusting of the skin.


  • Tretinoin makes your skin sensitive to the Sun and therefore exposure to sunlight and sunlamps and tanning must be avoided. In case it is not possible to avoid complete exposure a sunscreen must be used along with a protective covering.
  • Before using any another medication over a period where you are using tretinoin, you must consult your doctor. Any medication containing sulfur, resorcinol or salicylic acid may cause too much irritation when used in combination. Irritation might also develop due to the use of abrasive and harsh cleansers and soap.
  • Do not use topical medication with alcohol, menthol, spices or lime in it. They can sting your skin if you are using tretinoin. Preferably use non-medicated cosmetic on cleansed skin.
  • Allergy to tretinoin or any other drug must be reported to the doctor.
  • All prescriptive and non-prescriptive medications including vitamins that you are taking must be reported to the doctor.
  • If you are pregnant or a nursing mother, the doctor must be informed about it.
  • Do not use this medication for a skin problem that has not been checked by the doctor.
  • The contents of tretinoin topical gel are flammable. Do not smoke while you are using this medication and always keep it away from high heat, flames or fire.
  • During the first 3 to 6 weeks of using this medication, your skin might sting or burn. This means that the medicine is working and you must continue using it.
  • Make sure your doctor knows that you are also using other medications that may make your skin sensitive to the Sun, like a sulfa drug or phinothiazines.
  • Do not use wax, electrolysis or laser treatment to remove hair from the affected area that is under treatment.

Drug interaction

Because of possible interaction with tretinoin, concomitant topical medicated and abrasive soaps and cleansers and cosmetics containing a high concentration of alcohol, astringents, spices or lime should be used with caution and not doing so may cause severe drying of the skin.

Proper caution should be exercised while using preparations containing sulfur or/and resarcina with Retin-A.

It is advisable that tretinoin should be started only when the effect of such medications have subsided.

Popular brands

  • Renova: It comes in form of an emollient cream in the concentration of 0.05%.
  • Retin A: It comes in the form of a gel as well as a cream. The cream is available in all three combinations of 0.025% (56.14$), 0.05 %(62.24$) and 0.1 %(51.62$) while the gel is available only in the two concentrations of 0.025 %(88.74$) and 0.1 %(72.44$).

Consumer Reviews of Tretinoin

Tretinoin is a very widely used medication for the treatment of acne vulgaris.

We did a survey of online consumer’s review regarding this product and here is a summary of what they like and dislike about the product:

What they like about it

Smoother skin: For many consumers, tretinoin proved effective not only in the reduction of acne breakouts but also improved their skin as a whole including the texture and roughness.

It has also provided a solution for wrinkles, hyperpigmentation and red marks.

Effective with deep cysts: Unlike other forms of topical medications that heal only the moderate acne from outwards, tretinoin has been effective in clearing the deep cysts acne in a lot of cases of various consumers, by drying them out.

What they did not like about the product

Sunburns: Since tretinoin makes the skin sensitive to the Sun, a few consumers experienced sun burns and this exposure also caused the coming out of red pimples and whiteheads and in rare cases also caused scarring.

Initial breakouts: Tretinoin is not a time effective solution and in the initial stages causes worse breakouts. It only shows it efficacy after 3 to 6 weeks. Therefore, treatment through this medication requires a lot of patients.


Tretinoin uses its anti-inflammatory property to cause a reduction in the frequency and severity of acne vulgaris.

It is a good option for treatment in as much as it has minimal side effects and most of them not very severe.

It also causes a betterment of the skin texture making it smoother and gentler which is an added advantage because most people undergoing treatment for acne vulgaris experience dryness and roughness.

It can provide one solution to many of your skin problems and you must not give up on your acne before you have tried out this product.

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