Tretinoin Cream: Skin Benefits, How to Use, and Side Effects

Tretinoin Cream Benefits

Tretinoin cream is a topical medication used for treating acne and sun-damaged skin. It also helps erode deep wrinkles by enhancing surface wrinkles, fine lines, and dark spots. It is composed of retinoic acid, aka the generic name of synthetic Vitamin A.

How does Tretinoin cream work?

Tretinoin cream works in two ways – it speeds up the life cycle of skin cells, and disrupts the production of skin oils. Upon application, the cream works by causing irritation of the skin. This forces the skin to speed up the life cycle of the cells, making them multiply and die faster. As a result, new and healthier cells occurs at a faster pace than usual.

Tretinoin also affects the way the skin produces oils. Although not much data is available in this area, researchers believe that since Tretinoin changes the skin development process, it enables the skin to reduce oil production levels. As a result, it makes it difficult for the skin to develop pimples or acne on the face and various body parts.

Tretinoin is sold under a wide range of brands names such as Altreno, Retin-A, Renova, Stieva, Tretin-X, Avita, Atralin, Refissa, Rejuva and more.

It is also available with other products such as Solage, Tri-Luma, Veltin and Ziana, etc.

What is Tretinoin used for? 

Tretinoin topical cream is used to treat acne, wrinkles and sun-damaged skin.

For 50 years, Tretinoin has been prescribed by doctors for treating mild to moderate acne. Sometimes doctors may prescribe it with combination drugs mainly containing antibacterial agents.

Tretinoin helps in reducing acne-related inflammation, preventing follicular plugging and skin exfoliation. The best thing is that Tretinoin works on both inflammatory and non-inflammatory acne.

Research also shows Tretinoin as an effective treatment for fine lines, wrinkles, sun-damaged skin. It helps improve the skin structure and reduce dark spots and uneven tones on the skin.

Are Tretinoin and retinol the same?

Both retinol and tretinoin comprised of compounds derived from Vitamin A. Generally, they both fall under the same umbrella of topical skincare products and treat the same conditions. They both work as excellent skin exfoliators and boost collagen and elastin of the skin.

However, they also have some differences:

Retinol contains a natural form of Vitamin A. They are milder in composition and less irritable to the skin. You can purchase them over the counter without any prescription.

Tretinoin is a synthetic version of vitamin A that is usually stronger than retinol. Due to their higher strength, they are only available at a prescription. Doctors often start with retinol to treat skin conditions and later prescribe Tretinoin when retinol fails to achieve the expected results.

How to use Tretinoin Cream?

Wash your hands properly before applying the medication. Clean the skin using a mild or non-scented cleansing agent and pat it dry. Squeeze a pea-sized amount of Tretinoin cream on your fingertips and apply it to the affected area in a thin layer or as directed by your physician. Generally, doctors advise patients to use the acne cream once daily at bedtime. You can also use a gauze or cotton swab instead of your finger to apply it to your skin.

In some cases, your doctor may tell you to wait for 20-30 minutes after your face before applying the cream.

Tretinoin cream is only for external use. Do not apply it on thinner regions of the skin such as your inner lip area, inside the nose or mount. Do not use it on scraped, cut, eczema-affected, and cut. Tretinoin can help skin issues due to sun damage, but do not use it directly after sun damage. Consult your doctor for details before using it for sun damaged skin.


If you are using it for acne or pimple, you may notice an increased outbreak of pimples in the first few weeks. This is because the cream works on pimples from inside the skin. Plus, it increases cell turnover, which makes all the impending pimples break out faster and diminish forever from your skin. It may take up to 8-12 weeks to see noticeable results.

Use the medicine as directed. Tretinoin is a prescription-based drug only administered when the doctor carefully considers your medical and medicinal history. Don’t try to self-medicate yourself by borrowing or letting someone borrow your medicine.

Use it regularly as per your schedule for a better result. Try to use it at the same time every day. It would help if you set the alarm never to miss a treatment.

Tretinoin is available in different strengths and forms such as cream, gel and solution. Your doctor will increase or decrease the strength depending upon your skin condition and its response to the therapy.

 Side Effects of Tretinoin Cream

It’s very common to feel a warm or stinging sensation on the skin immediately after applying Tretinoin. Some common side-effects such as redness, dryness, scaling, itching, mild burning or worsening of acne may occur within 2-4 weeks after starting the therapy. The effects will cease to continue as the day passes. You may ask your doctor to recommend a good moisturizer to help you with excessive dryness.

If the side effects persist or worsen, you must consult your doctor. Your doctor may change the medication’s strength or application quantity/frequency or even prescribe you a different treatment.

Some serious side-effects of Tretinoin that requires immediate treatment include blistering of the skin, severe burning, swelling of the skin, eye-watering, eye redness, swelling of the eyelid, and skin discoloration.

Although serious side effects happen in rare cases, you must notify your doctor right away if you notice anything.

Tretinoin may cause an allergic reaction in some people. The allergy symptoms include rash, itching or swelling on eyes/face/throat, severe dizziness, and trouble breathing. Seek immediate medical attention if it happens.

Precautions to take before using Tretinoin

Tretinoin is a composition of Vitamin-A derived compounds. Inform your doctor if you are allergic to vitamin-A related drugs such as isotretinoin or retinoids. This product may contain inactive ingredients such as fish proteins that can cause an allergic reaction to some people. Talk to your doctor for more details.

You must not withhold any of your medical histories from your doctor, especially if you have skin conditions like eczema. This is because Tretinoin makes your skin more susceptible to the sun, and excessive sun exposure can make your condition worse.

While on Tretinoin, you must avoid going outside on sun, tanning booth and sunlamps. Extreme weather such as cold or wind can also irritate your skin when on the medication.

Cover your body with protective clothing and sunscreen lotion while going outdoors. Inform your doctor if you notice any sunburn or skin blister when outdoor. If you have sunburn, you may avoid using the medicine on the affected area until you see a full recovery.

Avoid using any hair removal process on the treated areas such as waxing, chemical depilatories, and waxing while using Tretinoin. Before using Tretinoin on areas recently treated with salicylic acid, resorcinol or sulphur, you must be cautious. It’s better if you wait for a couple of days until the effects of the product decrease.

You must avoid using Tretinoin during pregnancy as it may harm the unborn child. You may only use it if your doctor thinks it’s safe.

There is not enough information on whether the drug is safe for breastfeeding mothers. Consult your doctor to ensure it’s safe for you.

Drug interactions with Tretinoin Cream

Drug interactions change the effectiveness of the medication or may increase the risk of severe side effects. The list does not cover all the drug interactions; make sure you inform your doctor about your current/past prescription/nonprescription drugs/herbal supplement intakes.

Some products that can interact with Tretinoin includes:

  • Hair perming solutions
  • Products containing menthol, lime, alcohol such as astringents, shaving lotions, toners, etc.
  • Medicated or perfumed soaps & cleansers
  • Products containing sulphur, salicylic acid and resorcinol
  • Products containing alpha hydroxy acid
  • Products containing glycolic acid
  • Soaps and cosmetics with drying effect

Some drugs, when combined with Tretinoin, may make your skin more susceptible to sunlight. These products include:

  • Fluoroquinolones such as ciprofloxacin, tetracyclines, hydrochlorothiazide, and other thiazide water pills
  • Sulfa drugs like sulfamethoxazole
  • Phenothiazine like chlorpromazine


Should I use Tretinoin or retinol?

Both Tretinoin and retinol work for peeling the skin and improving skin appearance. However, retinol is a milder and better option for extremely dry and sensitive skin. However, Tretinoin works better for severe cases of acne, acne-related scars, sunburn scars, fine lines, wrinkles and more. Remember, Tretinoin is a prescription-based medicine, and it is only prescribed by your doctor if they think it is a better treatment for you than retinol.

Is Tretinoin stronger than retinol?

Both Tretinoin and retinol are a form of vitamin A, but Tretinoin works faster and may be more irritable to the skin. Unlike retinol, Tretinoin is a synthetic form of Vitamin-A known as retinoic acid. When you apply retinol, your skin converts it to retinoic acid. Since Tretinoin is a direct form of retinoic acid, it skips the time it takes for your skin to convert retinol to retinoic acid. Consequently, it makes Tretinoin more powerful and faster than retinol-based products.

Can Tretinoin remove acne scars?

Tretinoin speeds up skin’s cell turnover, encouraging your skin to grow new cells on the scarred or affected site. Your acne scars will eventually fade by discarding old cells and replacing them with new skin cells.

Why am I getting pimples after using Tretinoin?

Tretinoids, including other acids like salicylic and benzoyl peroxide, exfoliate your skin by increasing skin cell turnover rate- a phenomenon known as a purge. When purge happens, the skin accelerates the recovery process by pushing everything to the surface, including underlying pimples and acne. However, purging is temporary and usually occurs within 1-2 weeks. Your skin starts looking better within 8-12 weeks of using the medication.

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