What Is Tretinoin? Skin-Care Benefits, Side Effects, How to Use It, and More


When you first begin using a retinoid, says Massick, “I recommend starting low and going slow.” First, apply a little bit of the gel, lotion, or cream to a test area to make sure you don’t have any sensitivity or allergy to the product. Do this every day for a week or two, and then if all goes well, you can likely use tretinoin on your entire face, she says. And be sure to keep your dermatologist posted about how it’s going as you use this product.

While an allergy to tretinoin is very rare, the irritating and drying effect of the medication is experienced by nearly everyone who uses topical retinoids, says High. To prevent and combat skin irritation, peeling, and dryness, Massick suggests using a moisturizer containing hyaluronic acid, niacinamide, or other moisturizing agents.

As for how much product you should be using, Schwartz cautions against overdoing it. “Use just enough to cover your face — too much might irritate your skin,” she says. She recommends using a pea-size amount for the whole face, taking care to avoid the areas around the eyes, mouth, and inside your nose.

Where Tretinoin Should Fall Into Your Skin-Care Routine

Retinoids should be used in the evening because they can make you more sensitive to the sun, says High. “Retinoids can thin the top layer of the skin, making you more prone to sunburn,” he explains.

According to Chipps, “It’s very important when people are using tretinoin, to be very cautious about sun exposure and sun protection.” She recommends that anyone using tretinoin be vigilant about using sunscreen every day, avoiding direct sunlight, and wearing a hat when you do go out.

How Often Should You Use Tretinoin?

“Consistency in a skin care regimen is more important than frequency,” says Massick. So instead of following a complicated, multistep program every night, you may find that using a retinoid three times a week works just as well and prevents the dryness that comes with daily application.

Schwartz suggests easing into it by using tretinoin every other night at first so that your skin can adapt to it and develop a tolerance. Then, if you and your doctor decide that you might need to use it more frequently, you can apply tretinoin daily.

Is Tretinoin Suitable for Use in the Morning or Night?

Not only is tretinoin likely to make you more sensitive to sunlight, but it can become less effective in the sun, says Schwartz. This is another reason why doctors recommend using tretinoin at night rather than during the day.

Should You Increase the Concentration of Tretinoin?

Because tretinoin and other retinoids can be drying and irritating, especially if someone is using it for the first time, doctors usually have patients start with a lower percentage tretinoin product and have them use it less frequently, and then build up the dosage and frequency over time, says Chipps.

“It depends on the patient and their type of skin — people who have more oily skin can handle a stronger concentration and more frequent application than people with very dry skin,” she notes. “Also, the formula matters; somebody with oily skin might do better with a gel, while someone with drier skin might do better with a cream or lotion.” Chipps advises working with your dermatologist to maximize your results and minimize any irritation.



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