pensive boy with acne
Copyright: (c) Miguel Sotomayor

Topical tretinoin is a generic form of the acne medication Retin-A. In the United States, purchasing topical tretinoin requires a prescription. The only retinoid medication that can be purchased over the counter (OTC) is adapalene (Differin).

It is a short-term solution and a long-term treatment for clearing up active breakouts. It is used for clear skin on the face.

It is not for everyone. Before you try to treat your skin problems with tretinoin, you should read this.

Tretinoin is a retinoid, meaning it’s a form of vitamin A. Retinoids stimulate cell turnover on your skin. Dead skin cells are cleared off your skin more quickly as new skin cells rise to the surface.

Cell turnover can open your pores and cause your skin to become irritated.

Retinoids such as tretinoin also help your skin to regulate its natural oil (sebum) production, which can prevent future breakouts. They also have anti-inflammatory properties, which clear up active acne pustules.

Tretinoin for wrinkles

The effects of tretinoin on the visible symptoms of aging have been studied.

Tretinoin cream has demonstrated both short-term and long-term effects on the appearance of wrinkles. That’s why tretinoin is a popular ingredient in many OTC face and eye creams.

Tretinoin for acne scars

Tretinoin can also be used to decrease the appearance of acne scarring. Since tretinoin speeds up cell turnover on your skin, it can encourage new cell growth at the site of your scarring.

Tretinoin in several forms has been tested successfully as an effective way to treat acne scars. Tretinoin is also sometimes used to prep skin for chemical peel treatments that target scarring.

Side effects can be caused by using tretinoin for skin problems. Some of the side effects may be more severe than others. Possible side effects include:

  • burning or itching skin
  • You are peeling or redness on your skin.
  • It is unusual for your skin to be dry.
  • Your skin feels warm.
  • Your skin is a lighter color at the spot where it was used.

It can take up to 12 weeks to see results from using tretinoin for acne. If your skin seems irritated by using it, check with a doctor or healthcare professional to see if your symptoms are within the range of what’s normal for OTC tretinoin.

It is not recommended for pregnant or breastfeeding people.

When you’re using tretinoin, be extra careful about your exposure to the sun. Due to skin cell turnover and decreased sebum, the skin can be sun sensitive for the first few weeks or longer, making it more prone to sun damage and sunburn.

Wear a hat with a brim if you go outside, and make sure you wear sunscreen whenever you go outside.

If you are experiencing serious side effects from using it, stop and get medical attention immediately.


It is possible to overdose on OTC tretinoin. In prescription-strength forms of this medication, overdoses are more likely.

There are symptoms of an overdose.

Drug interactions

Other drugs can cause irritation to your skin or cause a burning sensation on your skin, which can be caused by the interaction with tretinoin.

Unless they’re part of a plan you’ve discussed with a doctor, avoid using other topical skin treatments (such as benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid, as well as products containing sulfur) while using tretinoin.

Alcohol-laden products that dry your skin are not good.

If you want to use a cream or gel that has a low amount of the active ingredient, you should start with it. As your skin gets used to the treatment, you can work up to higher amounts.

To apply it safely and effectively.

  1. Before using any medication on your skin, wash it with warm water and pat it dry. Before applying any product to your face, wash your hands. Wait a few minutes to make sure your skin is dry before you use the medication.
  2. “To lightly cover the affected area, apply just enough of the medication. You don’t need to build a thick layer of medication on your face. A dime-size amount of the medication should be enough to cover your entire face.”
  3. Spread the medication away from sensitive areas such as your eyes, nostrils, and lips by using the tips of your fingers. Rub the cream or gel on your face lightly.

Apply tretinoin at night. It can be absorbed into your skin while you sleep and not interact with sunlight. It is best to not apply makeup until the next day.

“If you don’t see any improvement in your skin after 12 weeks, you should speak with a skin doctor about prescription-strength tretinoin or other treatment options.”

When you first use tretinoin to treat a problem, you may experience redness, scaling, and irritation. You should see fewer cysts after consistent use.

It is an effective long-term treatment for the condition ofAcne. Studies show that it can encourage cell turnover that can help with skin problems, such as breakouts, and decrease the appearance of scars.

After a few weeks, you should see results from the treatment.