September 14, 2020

Tretinoin is one of the best creams used to treat acne scars and improve the appearance of fine lines, surface wrinkles, and dark spots. Tretinoin is also referred to as all-trans retinoic acid, is a medication derived from synthetic vitamin A and that’s why it’s called Retin-A. Retin-A is a brand name for the cream, an active ingredient of Tretinoin.

This article covers some of the most frequently asked questions about Tretinoin.


What is Tretinoin Used For?

Tretinoin is categorized under different medications classes of retinoids. These retinoids are derived from vitamin A, which helps in skin cells growth or regeneration and improves skin functionality.

Tretinoin treats different skin conditions, including acne, fine wrinkles, stretch marks,  skin aging, hyperpigmentation, keratosis, pilaris, psoriasis, and even some cancers like leukemia(when treating leukemia, it’s taken by mouth).

Tretinoin (Retin-A) is one of the most effective and most potent types of topical retinoids that can treat both inflammatory and non-inflammatory acne. It is used in conjunction with other topical acne treatments to enhance their penetration to the skin.


What are the Different Types of Tretinoin (Retin-A)?

Tretinoin medications differ in strengths and forms. It can either be in the form of a cream, gel, or lotion. 

The best type of tretinoin for your skin depends on your skin condition and your reaction to the specific form of tretinoin. For example, Tretinoin (Retin A) products with a high percentage level of medication are the best in treating cystic acne (one of the most severe acne).

  • Gels are usually transparent and have the lowest medication levels, but they work pretty fast. However, they can cause skin irritation.
  • Creams, on the other hand, are thicker and contain the highest medication levels. Creams can cause less irritation but work quite slowly.
  • Lotions have lower medication levels, but high water levels and the skin absorbs them very quickly.

How to Apply Tretinoin

Retin A(Tretinoin) unblocks the clogged follicles that cause acne scars. This product is used together with antibiotics to help remove bacteria that bring about the breakout of acne marks.

Tretinoin is used once daily, usually before bed or as directed by the physician. Before application, you need to wash the affected skin(e.g. face) thoroughly with a soapless cleanser or a mild soap and then pat it dry gently.

Then, you should wait at least 20 to 30 minutes and apply the Retin-A medication. Check the product leaflet, label directions, or ask your pharmacist if not sure how to use it. 

Always clean your hands before applying this medication. Use your fingertips, a cotton swab, or a gauze pad to apply a small amount of the drug (pea size is recommended) to the face or the affected area.

Please be cautious when applying so that it doesn’t get into the eyes, inner lip area, mouth, ears, or nostrils. Use it on the thin layer of the skin only. 

Also, avoid the regions where you have a cut, sunburn, is scraped. If it accidentally gets into any of these areas, flush it out with lots of water. Contact your doctor if you develop skin irritation or any other complication.


How Long should you Use Tretinoin for The Best Results?

When you start applying tretinoin, the acne may seem to worsen in the first few weeks because the cream is working on the pimples that form inside the skin. But within 8 to 12 weeks of application, you’ll start to see the expected results.

Use the medication for an extended period like three months(or as directed), at the same time each day to get optimal results. 

Never exceed the right dosage or use the product more times than the recommended frequencies. Doing so won’t make outcomes better, and on the contrary, it might worsen the condition and even increase the risk of pain, peeling, and redness. When the situations worsen, seek medical help.

Always read the prescription before application and consult with your dermatologist if you have any questions or concerns.


What are the Common Side Effects of (Tretinoin )Retin-A Cream?

Using tretinoin medication results in some complications or side effects. However, this shouldn’t scare you as the doctors recommend the best medication for you after judging that the benefits will surpass the side effects.

After you apply the medication on your skin, you may develop a stinging sensation. The skin may also become red, dry, itchy, or mild burning or scaling. This may occur in the first few days or weeks of using the medication. These side effects should decrease with continued use. Use a moisturizer to reduce skin dryness.

If you develop severe complications, discontinue the use and consult with your doctor. The doctor may recommend changing the type of medication that you’re using, decrease the amount, or may have to ask you to stop using it.

Some people experience allergic reactions and experience severe side effects, including:

  • Blistering
  • Swelling
  • Severe burning of the skin
  • Eyelid swelling
  • Clustering
  • Unusually warm skin
  • Skin discoloration or unexpected lightening or darkening of the skin
  • Eye-watering or redness (conjunctivitis)
  • Severe dizziness
  • Trouble breathing, among others.

What are Some of the Vital Precautions to Take When Using Tretinoin?

Before you start using the tretinoin medication, let the doctor know any medication allergies you may have. This product may have some inactive ingredients of proteins like fish, resulting in an allergic reaction or other problems.

Also, before use, let the doctor know all your medical history, especially eczema-related. If you have sunburns, let them first clear up before you start using the tretinoin. Research shows that exposure to the sun after applying the topical retinoid can cause skin cancer.


Extreme weather conditions like cold or wind could also cause skin irritation. This product is also not safe for people who are sensitive to sunlight as they may react strongly. Always reduce your exposure to the sun. Also, avoid sunlamps and tanning booths. Use a sunscreen, or wear protective hats or attires when going outdoors. 

Also, avoid waxing, electrolysis, and other chemical depilatories while using Retin-A. You also need to be cautious if you’ve recently used products that contain sulfur, salicylic acid, or resorcinol. Wait a few months for the effects of such products to decrease before using Retin-A. Avoid this product when pregnant or nursing.

Never share this product with anyone else, not even family members or friends, even if you’ve changed your mind and won’t use it. Discard it properly if it’s expired.

Which Medications or Interactions should you Avoid when using Tretinoin?

Drug interactions can affect the effectiveness of how this medication works, or it may make the side effects more severe. Share the list of all the products you’re using with your doctor for both prescription and non-prescription or herbal. Don’t start, stop or change the dosage that your doctor recommends without their approval.

Several products can interact with this medication, including:

  • Hair perming solutions
  • Lime/menthol/alcohol-containing products such as toners, shaving lotions, and astringents
  • Products containing sulfur, resorcinol, and salicylic acid
  • Medicated or abrasive cleansers and soaps
  • Soaps and cosmetics that cause a strong drying effect
  • Products containing alpha hydroxy and glycolic acids
  • Other medications that can increase the sensitivity of the sun to your skin like fluoroquinolones such as tetracyclines, ciprofloxacin
  • Sulfa drugs, including sulfamethoxazole
  • Phenothiazines such as chlorpromazine
  • Thiazide water pills like hydrochlorothiazide
  • Benzoyl peroxide irritates the skin and may cause tretinoin’s effectiveness to reduce if the two products are used simultaneously.

You may use some cosmetics but always clean the skin thoroughly before application. When using some cosmetics, soaps, moisturizers, or other skin care products, ensure that you check the label for non-acnegenic or non-comedogenic. Ask your dermatologist the safe products to use and what to avoid.

What Happens when you Miss a  Dosage?

If you realize that you’ve missed a dose, apply as soon as you remember if that happens to be just a few hours past the time you use it. However, if you remember much later or in the morning the following day, just wait for the next dose.

How to Store the Medication

You should store the drugs at room temperature and away from moisture and sunlight. Gel type is flammable, and thus you should never expose it to fire sources or heat. Also, avoid smoking and keep all the medications away from pets and children.

If you no longer use it or if it expires, discard the product appropriately. Never flush the medications down the toilet or the drain unless instructed to do so. Talk with your pharmacist or the local waste disposal company on how to discard it safely.

What Happens when you Overdose or Accidentally Swallow?

If you overdose or accidentally swallow the product, dial emergency or the local poison control center. Signs of overdose may include trouble breathing, excessive peeling, redness or discomfort. Some people pass out. Whoever is close to you should call 911.

Parting Shot

Retin-A (Tretinoin) is typically safe to use, but you should always be cautious with it. Talk with your dermatologist to better understand whether this product is safe for your skin and if not, which other ideal treatment options to try like silicone gel, dermabrasion, or micro-needling, among others.