A topical form of vitamin A, tretinoin increases epidermal turnover—your body’s internal process for creating new skin cells—which helps to clear acne and treat other signs of aging like wrinkles and discoloration. As a prescription-only product, tretinoin is far more potent than over-the-counter retinol products and should always be used under the guidance of a doctor or dermatologist.
Tretinoin can improve the appearance of acne scars by minimizing their size and fading dark pigmentation caused by previous breakouts (Leyden, 2017). This is achieved by accelerating the growth of skin cells that contain less melanin—the substance responsible for skin color—in the treated area (Zasada, 2019). It also decreases hyperpigmentation that occurs as the result of long-term sun exposure or hormonal changes.
Despite its many benefits, tretinoin can have a few side effects. It can make the skin red and feel dry, especially during the first 2-4 weeks of use. It may also irritate the eyes, mouth or nose if it gets in contact with them. It’s also not recommended for those with rosacea, as it can exacerbate their symptoms of inflammation.
To minimize side effects, it’s important to apply tretinoin at night and avoid the sun. It’s also best to begin with a lower strength tretinoin cream—your doctor may decide to increase your dose later on—and work up to higher strengths as you become accustomed to its effects. It can take a few months before you notice significant results, so stick with it!
Lastly, you should always avoid smoking or taking any medications that can increase sensitivity to this medication. It’s also not recommended to use it during pregnancy or breastfeeding.
Apply a thin layer of the gel or cream to your face before bedtime. A little goes a long way, so only use about a pea-sized amount for your entire face. You can use a moisturizer afterward to help reduce the drying effects of this treatment. If your skin gets excessively dry, consult with your doctor as they might want to decrease your dosage or switch the type of tretinoin you are using.