Retin-A: Uses, Side Effects, Dosage, Precautions


Retin-A ( tretinoin) is a prescription medicine that is applied topically or to the skin to treat acne. It can be effective in treating inflammatory acne and works especially well for comedonal acne , which is associated with blackheads or whiteheads .

Available in gel, cream, or liquid form, Retin-A belongs to a group of medications derived from vitamin A called topical retinoids . Initiates a process that increases the rate of skin cell production, reducing pore clogging.

In addition to the Retin-A brand products, there are inexpensive generics that are marketed under the name 'topical tretinoin'.

This article looks at tretinoin use, what to consider before using it, possible side effects, recommended dosages, and more.


Retin-A is approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for the treatment of acne vulgaris . It is the most common form of acne and is characterized by inflammatory and non-inflammatory skin lesions, including blackheads, whiteheads, and pimples.

Retin-A is generally prescribed when over-the -counter medications and optimal skin care don't work.

Retin-A has a comedolytic effect , which means that it prevents clogged pores. It does this by binding to receptors on a type of skin cell called keratinocytes . This blocks the action of hormones that regulate cell exfoliation.

As a result, the rate of skin cell production increases, pushing old cells to the surface rather than allowing them to build up and clog pores. Retin-A also makes existing blackheads less "sticky", which helps move the plugs to the surface.

This prevents comedones , the source of all acne.


Retin-A is a prescription medicine that is applied to the skin to treat acne. It works by increasing the rate of production and release of skin cells. Therefore, the cells are less likely to clog pores and cause acne.

Because Retin-A stimulates the growth of new cells and has an exfoliating effect, it can give the skin a smoother texture and smaller pores.

Superficial acne scars may seem less obvious. and it can also reduce the darkening of the skin caused by inflammation (known as hyperpigmentation ).

That said, the effect of Retin-A is generally not enough to reduce depressive, ulcerated, or raised acne scars . This may require special scar treatment procedures .

Use not indicated on the label

Some people take Retin-A as an anti-aging agent. It is said to reduce fine lines and wrinkles for a brighter, smoother complexion.

Laboratory studies with human skin samples show that it not only increases cell turnover, but also activates the type of cells responsible for the secretion of collagen, a protein that gives skin elasticity.

Human studies have shown that it can thicken the outer layer of the skin ( epidermis ) and help minimize facial wrinkles after 12 weeks of use. These benefits may be greater in people experiencing photoaging – premature aging of the skin caused by overexposure to ultraviolet radiation .

Due to its ability to irritate the skin, Retin-A is commonly used to treat conditions such as hyperpigmentation or photoaging rather than for cosmetic purposes. It is also often used in combination with hydroquinone and topical corticosteroids .

As such, Retin-A may not be the best option if you are just looking for an anti-aging cream .

Are Retin-A and Retinol the same?

No. Retinol , found in many over-the-counter creams and serums, is a topical formulation of vitamin A. Retin-A is a stronger synthetic derivative of vitamin A that requires a prescription. While it is gentler on the skin, retinol has only a mild anti-acne effect. and it is not as effective in reducing wrinkles as tretinoin and other retinoic acids.

Before drinking

Retin-A should be used under medical supervision as part of a comprehensive acne treatment plan. This should include wearing an effective sunscreen (minimum SPF 15 ), wearing clothing with sunscreen, and avoiding excessive exposure to sunlight.

If you are using another over-the-counter or prescription acne treatment, tell your doctor before starting treatment. When it comes to acne treatment, the more the merrier. In some cases, you may need to take a break from your current acne medications before starting Retin-A.

You should also consult your doctor about your daily skin care. Because Retin-A can irritate your skin, your dermatologist may recommend changing it, such as using a different cleanser, astringent , or exfoliator .

Precautions and contraindications.

You should avoid taking retina-A if you have a known hypersensitivity to tretinoin or any other ingredient in the product.

People with eczema (atopic dermatitis) or burned skin should also avoid taking retina-A, as it can cause severe irritation.

Retin-A should not be given to children under 12 years of age for whom safety has not been established and the drug may be too aggressive.

Although there is no clear evidence that topical tretinoin causes birth defects, oral administration Tretinoin has been associated with this risk. It is not known whether the drug is excreted in human milk.

People who are breastfeeding or pregnant should only take retin-A if the benefits outweigh the potential risks. Making an informed decision requires a thorough discussion with your doctor.


Retin-A should be used with caution in pregnant or lactating women, ideally after consulting a dermatologist. Do not take Retin-A to children under 12 years of age.

Other related drugs

There are other topical tretinoin medications used to treat acne. The choice of medicine may depend on the severity of your acne and the condition of your skin.

There are two similar drugs approved for use by the FDA:

  • Renova (0.05% tretinoin cream), a gentler formulation based on an emollient cream .
  • Retin-A Micro (tretinoin gel microspheres), a slow-release version of Retin-A that can reduce the risk of skin irritation.

A related drug called Accutane ( isotretinoin ) is taken by mouth and used to treat severe inflammatory acne.


Retin-A is applied to the skin daily and gives the best results with continued use. The drug is available in three forms:

  • Cream : 0.025%, 0.05% and 0.1% ABV.
  • Gel : 0.01% and 0.025% ABV
  • Liquid : 0.05% strength

It usually takes two to three weeks before you start to see the benefits of retin-A treatment. In some cases, this can take six weeks or more.

How to use and store

Retina-A is used once a day before bedtime. Apply enough to lightly cover the affected area. Applying a thick layer will not improve results and can only increase skin irritation.

Do not apply Retin-A to the corners of the eyes, nose, or mouth. It should not be applied on open wounds as it can cause pain and inflammation.

Protect your skin from the sun, wind, and cold, as it will be more sensitive to the elements for several months after you start taking tretinoin. Daily sunscreen is recommended.

Retin-A cream, gel, and liquid can be safely stored below 80 degrees Fahrenheit. The medicine does not require refrigeration, but can be stored in the refrigerator if there is a risk of excessive heat exposure. (Chilled Retin-A also soothes the skin.)

Retin-A gel is highly flammable. Keep the gel away from open fire and do not expose it to temperatures above 120 degrees Fahrenheit.

Keep the tube tightly closed and out of the reach of children. Discard expired medications.

Side effects

Like all medicines, Retin-A can cause side effects. While some of the initial side effects may go away as your body adjusts to treatment, others can be serious and require temporary or permanent discontinuation of the medication.

Get Medical Information / Emily Roberts


Common Retin A side effects include:

  • Burning or tingling sensation (usually mild)
  • Redness of the skin
  • Dry Skin
  • Peeling, flaking, or peeling of the skin;
  • Lightening or darkening of the skin (usually temporary)

Retin-A is prescribed in the lowest effective dose to avoid side effects.

Worse before it gets better

When you first start treatment, it may seem like your acne is getting worse. This is not uncommon and is associated with the drug's effect on acne that develops deep below the surface of the skin. Do not stop treatment, as these symptoms will improve over time.

Severe form

Retin-A induces sensitivity to the sun (photosensitivity) by removing the outer layer of skin cells called the stratum corneum . This exposes the underlying cells to ultraviolet radiation.

Side effects can become serious if you are in the sun for too long, such as at work or during sports. You can minimize these effects by using sunscreen, although they can still occur to some extent.

Serious Retin-A side effects include:

  • Swelling and redness of the skin
  • Swelling, oozing, and crusting
  • Skin pain

If these side effects develop, treatment should be temporarily stopped. After the skin has healed, a lower dose should be given. If serious side effects return, other treatment options should be considered.

In rare cases, allergic contact dermatitis is known to occur after the use of Retin-A. Serious allergic reactions, such as anaphylaxis , sometimes occur with oral tretinoin medications, but rarely occur with topical medications such as retin-A.

Warnings and interactions

Retin-A can interact with certain medications, cosmetics, and skin care products. Among them, the main ones are topical products that contain alcohol, sulfur, resorcinol or salicylic acid . Using Retin-A with any of these products can increase skin dryness.

If these products are used, it is generally best to discontinue them and allow your skin to rest before starting Retin-A.

Tretinoin was once available as an oral drug called a vesonoid, which was used to treat acute promyelocytic leukemia (APL) . Since then, the drug has been discontinued for safety and efficacy reasons.


Retin-A (tretinoin) is a prescription cream used to treat acne. This is an option your dermatologist may recommend when over-the-counter medications and proper skin care don't help.

Applied once at night before bed, Retin-A generally improves acne symptoms within a few weeks, although dryness, peeling, and temporary darkening of the skin may occur. The rash may also temporarily get worse before the skin begins to clear up.

Retin-A should only be used in adults and children over 12 years of age.

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