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Benefits and precautions of tretinoin under eye treatment

This powerful skincare ingredient may be beneficial for treating your undereye circles—but you should use it carefully.

Curology Team Avatar
by Curology Team
Updated on Aug 31, 2023 • 7 min read
Medically reviewed by Laura Phelan, NP-C
Woman Applying Cream Under Eyes
Curology Team Avatar
by Curology Team
Updated on Aug 31, 2023 • 7 min read
Medically reviewed by Laura Phelan, NP-C
We’re here to share what we know — but don’t take it as medical advice. Talk to your medical provider if you have questions.

When you’re in the pursuit of a youthful and radiant appearance, the delicate skin under your eyes requires special attention. One powerful tool in the arsenal of dermatology is tretinoin, a topical medication derived from vitamin A. With its powerful ability to rejuvenate and improve skin texture, tretinoin has gained popularity as an effective treatment for under-eye concerns.

That said, it’s important that you use this topical correctly in order to see all of its benefits. Here, we’ve asked Curology’s team of dermatology providers to unpack the benefits and precautions of using tretinoin for under-eye treatment. Whether you’re battling fine lines, dark circles, or uneven skin tone, understanding the potential advantages and being aware of necessary precautions can help you harness the full potential of this popular skincare ingredient.

What is tretinoin? 

Tretinoin is a vitamin A derivative. While tretinoin is primarily known for its effectiveness in treating acne, it also offers other FDA-approved uses for your skin. This medication can be used as a supportive treatment for photoaging and help improve the signs of aging caused by sun damage, such as fine facial wrinkles, rough skin texture, and mottled facial hyperpigmentation.¹

By incorporating tretinoin into your skincare routine, you can address both acne and common signs of photoaging, improving the appearance and texture of your skin.

What causes under-eye dark circles? 

Dark under-eye circles are a common skin concern you might want to treat. This condition can be caused by various factors, including:²

  • Excessive melanin production or uneven distribution 

  • Postinflammatory hyperpigmentation 

  • Periorbital edema (fluid accumulation around the eye)

  • Superficial location of blood vessels 

  • Skin laxity and shadowing

The causes of dark circles can vary from person to person, and individual factors such as genetics, lifestyle choices, and the aging process can also contribute to their development.

If the darkness under your eyes is caused by skin pigmentation, using a topical product containing tretinoin might be helpful as a first step. However, it’s important to note that the improvements achieved with topical treatments may be minimal. If your dark circles persist and don’t show improvement with topical remedies, consult a dermatologist to explore potential cosmetic procedures that may help.

Benefits of tretinoin as an under-eye treatment

Using tretinoin as an under-eye treatment can help reduce fine lines and wrinkles, lighten dark circles, and increase collagen production in this sensitive area

Let’s take a closer look at how it works.

Reduction of fine lines and wrinkles

Tretinoin accelerates the turnover of skin cells in the epidermis (the outermost layer of skin). This process helps to shed dead skin cells more efficiently, promoting the growth of new, healthier cells which helps to improve the overall texture of the skin.³

In one study, 298 patients applied either 0.05% or 0.01% tretinoin emollient cream once daily for a year. Significant skin improvements were observed in both groups compared to a placebo. In another study, 126 individuals who had completed 48 months of daily 0.05% tretinoin therapy were evaluated. The results showed that participants experienced improvement in fine wrinkles, but discontinuation of therapy led to some reversal of the beneficial effects.⁴

Lightening of dark circles and hyperpigmentation

Retinoids, including tretinoin, may help lighten dark circles and reduce hyperpigmentation. Retinoids can decrease the size of structures involved in melanin production, such as the melanocyte Golgi complex and endoplasmic reticulum. This reduced melanin production decreases skin discoloration and dyschromia, resulting in a more even skin tone.⁵

Tretinoin also helps disperse melanin granules, which are responsible for skin pigmentation. By reducing the clumping of melanin, tretinoin promotes proper distribution of melanin in your skin, contributing to a more uniform appearance and a reduction in the visibility of dark spots or hyperpigmentation.⁶

Increased collagen production

Not only does tretinoin help reduce fine lines and dark spots—it has also been found to improve collagen production.⁷ Retinoids can promote collagen production and reorganize collagen bundles in your skin. Collagen is a key structural protein that helps maintain skin firmness, elasticity, and overall quality. By stimulating its synthesis, tretinoin can enhance your skin turgor, aka the firmness and tightness of your skin.⁸ The increased collagen production induced by tretinoin can help improve the appearance of fine lines, wrinkles, and overall skin texture in your under-eye area.

Precautions and considerations 

When using tretinoin or retinoid creams for under-eye treatment, there are important precautions and considerations to keep in mind. 

Always follow the instructions provided by your prescribing healthcare professional when using tretinoin or other retinoid creams. They will give you specific guidelines on using the product safely and effectively. Adhering to their instructions will help minimize the risk of adverse effects and maximize the benefits of the treatment. 

Aside from using the right product and consulting with a dermatology provider, keeping your under-eye area hydrated and moisturized is important, as the skin in this area can be prone to dryness and sensitivity. Consider using an undereye cream with hydrating and moisturizing properties to help mitigate any potential dryness or discomfort caused by the treatment.

Individual sensitivity to tretinoin or retinoids can vary, so start slowly and pay attention to your skin’s response. Consult your healthcare professional for further guidance if you experience severe or persistent irritation. They can provide advice and make any necessary adjustments to your treatment plan. By taking these precautions and considerations into account, you can ensure safer and more effective use of tretinoin or retinoid creams for under-eye treatment.

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Can I use tretinoin for dark circles?

Yes, tretinoin can be used to treat dark circles under the eyes. It has been found to effectively reduce darkness related to pigment and improve overall skin texture. However, it’s important to consult a dermatology provider before starting tretinoin treatment for dark circles. They can assess your situation, provide personalized guidance, and determine the most appropriate concentration and frequency of use for your skin type.

Does tretinoin tighten skin?

Yes, tretinoin has the potential to tighten the skin. Retinoids, including tretinoin, have been found to promote collagen production and reorganize collagen bundles in the skin. Collagen is a crucial protein that provides structural support and elasticity to your skin. By stimulating collagen synthesis, tretinoin can help improve skin turgor, which refers to the firmness and tightness of your skin.⁹ However, the degree of skin tightening may vary among individuals, and results can be influenced by factors such as the concentration and formulation of the tretinoin product used, and individual skin characteristics. Consult a dermatology provider to determine the most suitable concentration and application method of tretinoin for your specific skin concerns and goals.

Does retinol cream help under eye bags?

Retinoid cream may offer mild improvement in the appearance of under-eye bags. A study found that nightly application of a hydrating retinoid eye cream resulted in significant improvements in the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, under-eye darkness, puffiness, and dryness after 12 weeks. Using a peptide-rich eye cream in the morning provided additional benefits. The products used in the study were non-irritating, and participants reported high satisfaction levels.¹⁰

However, under-eye bags can have various causes, including genetics, age, fluid retention, and lifestyle. Consult with your healthcare provider to determine the underlying cause of your under-eye bags and discuss appropriate treatment options.

• • •

P.S. We did the homework, so you don’t have to:

  1. Yoham, A.L. and Casadesus, D. Tretinoin. StatPearls. (2023, March 27).

  2. Freitag, F.M. and Cestari, T.F. What causes dark circles under the eyes? J Cosmet Dermatol. (September 2007).

  3. Zasada, M. and Budzisz, E. Retinoids: active molecules influencing skin structure formation in cosmetic and dermatological treatmentsPostepy Dermatol Alergol. (August 2019).

  4. Mukherjee, S., et al. Retinoids in the treatment of skin aging: an overview of clinical efficacy and safety. Clin Interv Aging. (December 2006).

  5. Vrcek, I., et al. Infraorbital Dark Circles: A Review of the Pathogenesis, Evaluation and Treatment. J Cutan Aesthet Surg. (April-June 2016).

  6. Zasada, M. and Budzisz, E. Retinoids: active molecules influencing skin structure formation in cosmetic and dermatological treatments. Postepy Dermatol Alergol. Ibid.

  7. Sitohang, I.B.S., et al. Topical tretinoin for treating photoaging: A systematic review of randomized controlled trials. Int J Womens Dermatol. (2022, March 25).

  8. Vrcek, I., et al. Infraorbital Dark Circles: A Review of the Pathogenesis, Evaluation and Treatment. J Cutan Aesthet Surg. Ibid.

  9. Vrcek, I., et al. Infraorbital Dark Circles: A Review of the Pathogenesis, Evaluation and Treatment. J Cutan Aesthet Surg. Ibid.

  10. Kaufman, J., et al. Efficacy and Tolerability of a Retinoid Eye Cream for Fine to Moderate Wrinkles of the Periorbital Region. J Drugs Dermatol. (2022, September 1).

Laura Phelan is a board-certified Family Nurse Practitioner at Curology. She earned her Masters of Science in Nursing at Benedictine University and went on to get her post-master’s certificate as a Family Nurse Practitioner at the University of Cincinnati.

*Cancel anytime. Subject to consultation. Results may vary.

• • •
Our medical review process:We’re here to tell you what we know. That’s why our information is evidence-based and fact-checked by medical experts. Still, everyone’s skin is unique—the best way to get advice is to talk to your healthcare provider.
Curology Team Avatar

Curology Team

Image of Laura Phelan Nurse Practitioner

Laura Phelan, NP-C

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