Tretinoin is a powerhouse ingredient beloved by skincare aficionados of all stripes — its pore-clearing, collagen-boosting benefits make it an option for both anti-acne and anti-aging skincare. Of course, with great power comes great responsibility — so before you run out to get a prescription, here’s what you need to know about what tretinoin does for the skin.
Tretinoin is a retinoid (aka a derivative of vitamin A) that impacts the way your skin generates new cells. Tretinoin is known to help unclog pores while speeding up the cell turnover process — meaning it clears away dull, dead skin cells more quickly. So it may be an option if your skin goals include a bright and smooth complexion free of blemishes.
The ingredient is a more potent cousin of over-the-counter retinol, and a key difference between tretinoin and retinol is that you need a prescription to use tretinoin. To get tretinoin, you must first consult with a medical professional who will evaluate your skin concerns. If tretinoin is right for you, you’ll get a prescription for a tretinoin cream or gel to be applied nightly after cleansing (or as otherwise directed by your dermatology provider).
If you don’t want to wait to see an in-person provider, Curology is a teledermatology service that can deliver you prescription-grade skincare. (Subject to consultation, of course — it is a prescription, after all!)
When you first start on tretinoin, you might experience something called “purging.” Your cell turnover rate increases, meaning the way your skin regenerates speeds up. And as this process starts clearing out your pores, you might see some new pimples.
Believe it or not, this is actually a sign that the tretinoin is working! “Purging” is a (semi-scary) term for temporary breakouts, and though we know that breakouts are never fun, sticking with it for those first 6–8 weeks can pay off.
Other potential side effects of tretinoin include
Increased sensitivity (including sun sensitivity)
Keep in touch with your prescribing provider while you’re adjusting to tretinoin — they can help you adjust or make the decision to stop using tretinoin if it’s causing you discomfort. No matter what treatment you choose, remember that acne won’t disappear overnight!
If you want to try tretinoin, you’ll need to consult with a medical provider. They can evaluate your skin and decide if tretinoin makes sense for you. You should work closely with this provider when first starting out on tretinoin.
One of the easiest ways to get a skincare consultation is through Curology. Curology members are paired with an in-house dermatology provider, licensed to practice in your state. Just take a quick quiz and snap a few selfies, and then we’ll review your skin concerns to determine the best way to meet your goals.
Your first month of Curology is free — just pay $4.95 (plus tax) to cover shipping and handling. You’ll get your Custom Formula + any of our dermatologist-designed skincare products at no extra cost to you. You can cancel any time or edit your subscription to meet your needs.
Nicole Hangsterfer, PA-C