Tretinoin for acne is a prescription-strength medication that decreases the number and severity of acne pimples. It also promotes the quick healing of acne that does flare up.
It unclogs pores, reducing the chance of bacteria colonizing and creating an inflammation that worsens the acne. It also reduces the appearance of pitted acne scars.
How It Works
The active ingredient in tretinoin is vitamin A. It’s been used as a topical skin treatment for almost 50 years. While you can get vitamin A naturally in food, tretinoin is synthetic and only available by prescription. It works to reduce breakouts and improve the appearance of blemishes by encouraging cell turnover and blocking excess oil production.
Tretinoin can also help diminish the look of surface wrinkles and dark spots caused by sun damage. While it can irritate the skin at first, it usually goes away as your skin adjusts to the medication.
It’s important to use tretinoin consistently to see the best results. It takes about eight to 12 weeks to see improvement, and some people may need a full year before they see results. You should not apply the medication to wet or swollen skin, and avoid using it on the eyes (it may cause irritation). You should not use it with other topical products that contain a large amount of alcohol, menthol, lime, spices, or sulfur (eg, hair removers, astringents, and shaving creams), unless your doctor tells you to do so.
How to Apply
A dermatology expert can guide you through how to use tretinoin and make it work for your specific goals, whether that’s smoothing over fine lines, squelching acne or improving hyperpigmentation or melasma. However, if used incorrectly, it can be harsh on skin.
It’s best to start with a low-strength product when first using retinol to build up tolerance. It’s also important to avoid additional exfoliants, scrubs, peels, or any other active skincare products that could cause irritation until your skin adjusts to tretinoin.
The key is to apply it consistently and at bedtime, and be patient – the benefits can take 8-12 weeks to begin becoming noticeable. After applying your tretinoin, wash your face with a gentle cleanser and follow with a peptide-rich moisturizer to help reduce dryness and irritation. It’s important not to touch the sensitive areas of your nose, lips or eyes after application, as this can irritate your skin even further.
Tretinoin can be drying and irritating to the skin. It’s important to start slowly & build up to a higher strength, and moisturize with your favorite face cream daily. It’s also important to avoid using other topical acne products that irritate your skin, like benzoyl peroxide, salicylic acid or products containing sulfur (unless prescribed by your doctor).
Unclogs pores: The comedolytic effects of tretinoin help slough off dead skin cells that plug up our pores and attract bacteria that cause pimples. It also helps diminish the appearance of pitted textured scars.
Sun sensitivity: Because tretinoin increases skin cell turnover and decreases sebum production, your face can be more sensitive to the sun. This can make your skin burn easily and increase your risk of early skin aging and skin cancer. So be sure to wear sunscreen, hats and cover up if you plan on spending time outdoors during treatment. Also, the lotion formulation of tretinoin contains fish protein; if you are allergic to fish, consult with your physician for alternatives.
If you’re not careful, the tretinoin in OTC acne medications can over-irritate your skin. Use the lowest strength that will work for you and be sure to moisturize daily. Avoid using harsh scrubs or face washes, which can worsen the irritation. Also, tretinoin makes your skin extremely sensitive to sunlight. This means it’s more prone to sunburn and premature skin aging, so make sure to wear a broad-spectrum sunscreen every day and take additional preventive measures (like wearing a hat) if you plan on going outside.
Keep in mind that this medication can take 8-12 weeks to start working, so be patient! If you notice any significant improvement or side effects, talk to your dermatologist. You might need to reduce your dose, or switch to a higher-strength cream to get better results. Also, never apply tretinoin to cut or shaved skin. It’s best to avoid applying it to the corners of your mouth, eyes, or nose as well. Tretinoin for Acne