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What is Tretinoin: How to Use and Benefits for Skin
Acne treatment can be a bit of a pain. If you’re lucky, you can get by with an OTC topical treatment and maybe a mild soap to keep those pesky bumps at bay. But if this doesn’t work, then the acne might be severe enough to warrant medical attention. A board-certified dermatologist can provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.
One treatment often prescribed to severe cases of acne is tretinoin cream or gel. Topical tretinoin is a prescription-strength topical cream or gel used for the treatment of acne. It’s also known as retinoic acid and it is a synthetic derivative of Vitamin A. In some cases, tretinoin is used to treat surface fine lines and wrinkles. However, it can’t treat deep wrinkles.
You’ve likely heard of topical tretinoin by its more popular brand name, Retin-A. Tretinoin is simply the Retin-A generic form, and it’s not to be confused with retinol.
Other brand names apart from Retin-A include Retin-A Micro, Atralin, Renova, and Avita. Tretinoin comes in gel form and cream. There’s also oral tretinoin, which is a medication used to treat a type of cancer of the white blood cells.
What Exactly Does Topical Tretinoin Do?
Tretinoin works by triggering the shedding of skin cells by speeding up their life cycle. The primary purposes and research-backed uses of tretinoin are to:
- Treat acne, reduce inflammation associated with acne
- Prevent follicular plugging by removing dead skin cells
- Exfoliate the skin
There are plenty of other benefits of topical tretinoin, as suggested by adequate studies:
- Mildly reduce surface fine lines and wrinkles
- Improve the health of sun-damaged skin and sunburned skin
- Improve skin tone and skin color
- Remove dark spots
Tretinoin to treat acne scars
Tretinoin is known to be effective as a means of treating acne scars. Topical use of tretinoin can stimulate new cell growth at the treated areas and promote new growth of tissue. This drug will reduce the appearance of pigmentation in some instances of acne scarring and acne scars.
Tretinoin for wrinkles
What Is Tretinoin Vs Retinol?
It’s easy to confuse tretinoin with retinol. After all, it is the generic name of Retin-A, which sounds pretty close to retinol. But there are some important distinctions to make, and you’ll understand pretty quickly why you should not ever confuse the two in your skincare routine.
Retinol is a natural derivative of vitamin A. It’s milder and much more well-tolerated by sensitive skin. You’ll find it in many cosmetics and skincare products since it’s pretty much available over the counter.
On the other hand, tretinoin is a synthetic version of vitamin A. It requires the medical advice, guidance, and prescription of a doctor. That said, if you’ve been using retinol and find it doesn’t help much, then you can talk to a doctor to see if you’re qualified to start using tretinoin to get your skin treated.
Is tretinoin stronger than retinoid?
Tretinoin falls under the umbrella of retinoids, which is the name for compounds that are derived from Vitamin A. Less strong retinoids include retinol, retinoid esters, and adapalene, which are all available over-the-counter. Tretinoin, being a prescription-grade treatment, is much stronger than these retinoids and requires supervision by a professional.
How to use Tretinoin Cream (Retin-A)? How Does Retin-A work?
Looking to add Retin-A to your routine? Make sure to talk to a doctor first so they can provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Remember that tretinoin is a strong medication and your healthcare provider will have to assess if your skin is ready for the side effects.
Its dosage will also vary according to your doctor’s advice. Make sure to read and follow instructions carefully to avoid potential risk. It also takes around 6 weeks to see drastic changes.
The steps in applying tretinoin are as follows:
- Wash and dry your face with warm water and pat dry.
- Make sure your face is completely dry — it’s best to wait 30 minutes before applying a thin layer of Retin-A (or other topical tretinoin brands). Only apply enough to lightly cover the affected area of skin.
- You can use your finger tips, a gauze pad, or a cotton swab to apply the product on the affected area.
Precautions for Sensitive Skin
- When applying tretinoin, be careful not to get any product in or near your eyes, mouth, nose, or mucous membranes.
- Never apply this medication to sunburned skin or on open wounds.
Skin sensitivity is one of the most pertinent side effects of this drug. Here’s what to avoid while you are on medication:
- Excessive exposure to sun and sun lamps
- Weather extremes, such as too cold or too windy weather
- Abrasive soaps and hair products
- Cosmetics that cause dryness
Tretinoin carries potential risks and may cause an allergic reaction when not used according to the recommended dosage forms. Depending on your doctor’s advice, you may or may not be able to use tretinoin daily. Typically, most people are advised to use it once a week or once every third night as their skin starts to build tolerance.
What drugs or supplements interact with tretinoin?
It’s important to take note of drug interactions to avoid while you’re on the drug, since using tretinoin along with other topical acne medications — such as salicylic acid — may lead to severe irritation and sensitivity. Unless they are suggested by your doctor, avoid harsh exfoliants.
According to Healthline, some things you should generally steer clear from are:
Tretinoin is notorious for its side effects during the first few days (and even weeks) of use. That’s why it is rarely prescribed to people who already have a sensitive complexion.
Take note that these adverse effects occur only during the first few weeks and should lessen as skin adjusts:
The good news is, there are things you can do to relieve the pain. It is highly recommended to wear sunblock and protective clothing, as well as minimize exposure to the irritants mentioned in the prior section.
Tretinoin During Pregnancy
So far, the chances of a baby having a birth defect due to tretinoin is still low. However, doctors usually do not recommend taking the drug while pregnant. In general, it is only advised if the potential benefit justifies the potential risk.
Tretinoin may seem a little intimidating, but there is a reason it’s one of the most trusted acne treatments in the last 50 years. If you have been struggling with acne and find that other topical meds don’t work, you might be due for a consultation with your derma.
Joey is an AB Psychology graduate of the University of St. La Salle – Bacolod. Her life’s passions include writing, film, and spending hours on end binge-watching fashion vloggers on Youtube.