Tretinoin is the whole package: pore-cleansing, acne-busting, and anti-aging all in one.
Derived from vitamin A, tretinoin is a potent retinoid. Think of it as a gardener, stimulating the growth of healthy new cells while weeding out damage.
In healthy skin, skin cells naturally turn over. Old ones die, new ones replace them. Acne strikes when the process breaks down and dead cells stick around, gunking up pores.
If you think of your skin as a garden, tretinoin efficiently weeds out old dead growths of skin cells and replaces them with fresh ones. Tretinoin prevents clogged pores, which can lead to blackheads and inflamed cysts. It also improves the overall texture of your skin and reduces the appearance of dark spots.
FDA-approved in 1971 to treat acne, tretinoin took doctors by surprise when patients started showing other unexpected improvements: increased smoothness and firmness.
Tretinoin builds up what UV rays tear down: collagen, a protein that holds skin cells together and gives skin firmness. That's why it's one of the top prescribed ingredients for fine and medium-sized wrinkles. It works like a fertilizer, promoting collagen production. More collagen, fewer wrinkles.
A masterful gardener, tretinoin doesn't just tend to what you can see — it nurtures the root systems, too. Tretinoin stimulates healthy blood flow beneath the surface of your skin, improving skin tone and lighting up your complexion with a warm "glow." So there's actually a scientific basis to the coveted "glowing skin" look. Neat, right?
You can get a lot of things at the drugstore (life-sized teddy bears, pogo sticks, etc.). Tretinoin isn't one of them — unless you have a prescription in hand! It's powerful enough that the FDA classifies it as prescription-only. You'll need to chat with a dermatology provider — in person or online through
Like with any great master, quality work takes time. You may need to use tretinoin for 6–8 weeks before you see results with acne, and even longer for anti-aging.
If you’re experiencing sun sensitivity, flakiness or redness, get in touch with your provider about how to manage these side effects.
That's a wrap! Curious about other acne-busting or anti-aging ingredients? For acne, go to our guides on clindamycin, zinc pyrithione, and azelaic acid. For anti-aging, check out vitamin C or niacinamide. See you around!