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  3. > Trifarotene Cream: All the details you need on the newest topical retinoid

Trifarotene Cream: All the details you need on the newest topical retinoid

This treatment, known commercially as Aklief, fights acne on the face and body. Here’s how it works.

Curology Team Avatar
by Curology Team
Updated on Jul 25, 2023 • 9 min read
Medically reviewed by Laura Phelan, NP-C
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Curology Team Avatar
by Curology Team
Updated on Jul 25, 2023 • 9 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.

Dealing with acne can be a challenge, but there's a new player on the field to help you manage it: trifarotene cream, also known by the brand name Aklief. This prescription-only cream, approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 2019, is the newest retinoid designed for the treatment of acne. But what sets trifarotene apart from its predecessors? And how does this topical retinoid transform acne treatment? Allow us to explain!

Here, we'll delve into the unique properties of trifarotene, including its effectiveness for different areas of the body and how you can incorporate it into your skincare routine. We’ll also discuss any potential risks and precautions you need to know about. So, if you're grappling with stubborn acne or simply keen on understanding the latest advances in acne treatments, keep on reading.

What is trifarotene cream?

Trifarotene cream, commercially known as Aklief,¹ is a prescription-only acne treatment that gained FDA approval in 2019. It belongs to the fourth generation of a group of medications called retinoids. Both topical and oral retinoids are vitamin A derivatives used frequently for treating acne vulgaris alone or in combination with other treatments.² 

So, what makes retinoids, and by extension, trifarotene, beneficial for skin health? Well, they essentially function by modulating the growth and differentiation of skin cells. In simpler terms, they aid in regulating the process through which your skin cells grow, mature, and behave. This is particularly useful in controlling the formation of acne.³

Retinoids also stimulate both humoral and cellular immunity—meaning they help strengthen your body’s immune response and decrease the inflammatory response, reducing swelling and redness, associated with acne. In addition, retinoids profoundly impact cell proliferation, the process of cell multiplication. By reducing cell proliferation, retinoids help control the overproduction of skin cells, a factor that contributes to acne formation.⁴

Trifarotene cream also brings some unique benefits to the table. It has been found to boost skin hydration, improve skin texture, and encourage cell turnover—the natural process where your skin produces new cells and sheds old ones.⁵ These qualities make trifarotene an effective ally in the fight against acne vulgaris.

The benefits of trifarotene cream

Trifarotene boasts unique benefits that set it apart from other acne products available today. It's been rigorously studied and proven effective not just for facial acne, which is commonly the case with most acne treatments, but also for acne on the trunk—the chest and back areas.⁶

Results from a long-term study spanning 52 weeks demonstrated positive outcomes. By the 12th week of using trifarotene cream, clear or almost clear skin was achieved by 26.6% of participants for facial acne and an impressive 38.6% for truncal acne.⁷

However, the true power of trifarotene was shown as the trial continued. By the end of the 52-week study, more than half of the patients (65.1% and 66.9%) achieved clear or nearly clear skin on their face and trunk, respectively.⁸ This shows that trifarotene cream not only works relatively quickly but also maintains its effectiveness over the long term.

Further, trifarotene delivered comprehensive results, with 57.9% of patients achieving clearance of acne lesions on both the face and trunk.⁹

In light of this, the benefits of trifarotene cream are twofold: It effectively treats both facial and truncal acne and maintains its effectiveness over extended periods. This makes it a strong treatment option for those grappling with acne, helping them regain clear, healthy skin and the confidence boost that goes with it.

Are there any risks in using trifarotene cream?

While trifarotene cream is an effective acne treatment, as with any medication, it’s important to be aware of the potential risks and side effects.

First, it is worth noting that trifarotene has not been studied in breastfeeding individuals.¹⁰ We also don’t have enough data to say whether trifarotene is safe during pregnancy.¹¹ We generally recommend avoiding the use of all topical retinoids during this time. So, if you are trying to become pregnant, are pregnant, or are nursing, speak with your healthcare professional before using this topical treatment.  

One particular risk associated with all topical retinoids, including trifarotene, is photosensitivity, or increased sensitivity to sunlight. This can lead to a higher risk of sunburn. Consequently, using sunscreen, avoiding excessive exposure to sunlight, and wearing protective clothing when using trifarotene is crucial.¹²

In terms of side effects, most are mild to moderate and usually diminish after the first few weeks of use. The most commonly reported adverse events include sunburn, application site pruritus (itchiness), and skin irritation.¹³ In long-term trials, the frequency of these negative responses decreased over time.¹⁴

Some users may experience erythema (skin redness), dry skin, and flaking. However, these effects can often be managed by adjusting the frequency of application and using a moisturizer.¹⁵

Remember, everyone’s skin is different, and what works for one person may not work for another. It’s always a good idea to consult your dermatology provider before starting any new medication or treatment regimen.

Using trifarotene cream in your skincare routine

Incorporating trifarotene cream into your skincare routine can be a game-changer if you’re dealing with moderate to severe acne. As a prescription-only medication, your first step should be to consult a licensed dermatology provider to see if this treatment is right for you.

If prescribed, trifarotene cream is typically used in the evening. You should begin by cleaning the areas to be treated with a mild or soapless cleanser and then patting them dry. Then, apply a thin layer of cream as directed by your provider.¹⁶

Topical retinoids, like trifarotene, can sometimes cause skin irritation, especially within the first two weeks of treatment. If you’re experiencing this, don't hesitate to discuss it with your provider. They might suggest applying the cream every other day instead of daily to minimize this irritation.¹⁷

A moisturizer can be your best ally to deal with the potential dryness and irritation. Apply it as often as needed to keep your skin hydrated and comfortable.¹⁸ Curology’s lightweight daily moisturizer is a good choice for acne-prone skin. 

In cases of severe acne, your provider might recommend using trifarotene cream in combination with an oral antibiotic such as doxycycline. This dual approach can help clear up your skin more effectively.¹⁹

Remember, every skincare journey is unique, and patience is key. While trifarotene can lead to significant improvements in your skin, it may take a few weeks to see noticeable changes. Keep open communication with your provider to navigate any concerns and achieve the best results.

Thinking of trying a topical retinoid for acne?

If you want to know more about trying a topical retinoid for your acne, consult a licensed dermatology provider, such as those at Curology. We were founded by dermatologists who believe everyone should have access to skincare products with proven-effective ingredients. 

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Getting started is easy, just take a quick skin quiz and snap a few photos of your skin concerns. You’ll be paired with one of our licensed dermatology providers to create a customized treatment plan for your acne. If appropriate, this could include a prescription for Curology’s Custom Formulaᴿˣ for acne, made with pimple-fighting ingredients picked for you. 

FAQs

What is trifarotene cream used for?

Trifarotene is a fourth-generation topical retinoid, a kind of medication derived from vitamin A. Approved by the FDA in 2019, it’s used for treating acne vulgaris. The unique aspect of trifarotene is that it can help acne not only on the face, where most people typically experience it but also on the trunk, which includes the chest and back areas.²⁰

So, if you’re struggling with acne on your face or body, trifarotene cream could be an effective treatment option to consider. However, remember that it is a prescription-only medication, so you would need to consult a licensed dermatology provider to determine if it’s right for you.

Is trifarotene stronger than tretinoin?

As of now, there are no direct comparative studies to determine whether trifarotene is stronger or more effective than tretinoin, both of which belong to the family of retinoids used for acne treatment. Retinoids have been used for decades in dermatology, and their effectiveness and safety profiles vary.²¹ Always consult a healthcare provider to determine the most suitable acne treatment for your skin concerns.

What not to use with trifarotene?

Trifarotene cream is generally safe and well-tolerated when used as directed. However, it's important to be aware of certain products and conditions that might not mix well with this topical treatment. Using trifarotene in combination with other retinoids or skin products that are keratolytic (peeling agents) or astringents can result in excessive irritation and dryness. This can lead to erythema (skin redness), scaling, dryness, and a stinging or burning sensation.²²

Further, trifarotene cream should not be applied to cuts, abrasions, eczematous, or sunburned skin, as this can exacerbate irritation. Also, avoid using trifarotene on the skin where you’re using wax to remove hair.²³ Always consult a licensed dermatology provider if you have concerns about combining this treatment with other skincare products or practices.

• • •

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

  1. Galderma Laboratories. About Aklief Cream. (2023, n.d.).

  2. Tolaymat, L., et al. Adapalene. StatPearls. (2023, March 7).

  3. Tolaymat, L., et al. Adapalene. StatPearls. Ibid.

  4. Tolaymat, L., et al. Adapalene. StatPearls. Ibid.

  5. Cosio, T., et al. Trifarotene: A Current Review and Perspectives in Dermatology. Biomedicines. (2021, February 26).

  6. Naik, P.P. Trifarotene: A Novel Therapeutic Option for Acne. Dermatol Res Pract. (2022, May 27).

  7. Tan, J., et al. Management of Acne Vulgaris With Trifarotene. Journal of Cutaneous Medicine and Surgery. (2023, March 16).

  8. Tan, J., et al. Management of Acne Vulgaris With Trifarotene. Journal of Cutaneous Medicine and Surgery. Ibid.

  9. Tan, J., et al. Management of Acne Vulgaris With Trifarotene. Journal of Cutaneous Medicine and Surgery. Ibid.

  10. Drugs and Lactation Database (LactMed®). Trifarotene. National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. (2021, September 20).

  11. Galderma Laboratories. Aklief Cream Prescribing Information. (October 2019).

  12. Tolaymat, L., et al. Adapalene. StatPearls. Ibid.

  13. Tan, J., et al. Management of Acne Vulgaris With Trifarotene. Journal of Cutaneous Medicine and Surgery. Ibid.

  14. Naik, P.P. Trifarotene: A Novel Therapeutic Option for Acne. Dermatol Res Pract. Ibid.

  15. Naik, P.P. Trifarotene: A Novel Therapeutic Option for Acne. Dermatol Res Pract. Ibid.

  16. Naik, P.P. Trifarotene: A Novel Therapeutic Option for Acne. Dermatol Res Pract. Ibid.

  17. Tolaymat, L., et al. Adapalene. StatPearls. Ibid.

  18. Naik, P.P. Trifarotene: A Novel Therapeutic Option for Acne. Dermatol Res Pract. Ibid.

  19. Del Rosso, J.Q., et al. A Randomized, Controlled Trial of Trifarotene Plus Doxycycline for Severe Acne Vulgaris. J Clin Aesthet Dermatol. (July 2022).

  20. Tan, J., et al. Management of Acne Vulgaris With Trifarotene. Journal of Cutaneous Medicine and Surgery. Ibid.

  21. Tolaymat, L., et al. Adapalene. StatPearls. Ibid.

  22. Cosio, T., et al. Trifarotene: A Current Review and Perspectives in Dermatology. Biomedicines. Ibid.

  23. Galderma Laboratories. About Aklief Cream. Ibid.

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.

• • •
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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