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Tretinoin cream is a topical skincare treatment that’s used to reverse dark spots, some types of hyperpigmentation, and acne. It’s also classified as a retinoid that may also be able to reverse the appearance of fine wrinkles.
Discover the benefits of tretinoin cream, where to find it, and how to use it.
What is Tretinoin?
This vitamin mimics collagen in that it helps increase cell turnover and regeneration. Since our bodies’ collagen production decreases as we age (and as the result of some lifestyle choices, such as the use of stimulants or overexposure to the sun), we either need to make new collagen, repair old collagen, or introduce a collagen substitute.
While tretinoin is mostly safe, people with sensitive skin are encouraged to use other types of collagen replacement, such as retinol.
Conditions Treated by Tretinoin Cream
Tretinoin cream treats so many cosmetic conditions that some dermatologists tote it as a one-and-done panacea. Not only does it address acne, but it can also shrink large pores, break up pigmentation, and smooth surface fine lines and wrinkles.
The most common cosmetic skin conditions treated by tretinoin cream include:
Tretinoin cream has been used to treat acne for the last several decades (it’s only been recent that dermatologists discovered it’s ideal for treating other skin conditions, too!). That’s because vitamin A is a known anti-inflammatory. It can also soothe skin and increase collagen production, leading to less acne scarring.
Vitamin A is also known to prevent damage due to pollution, dirt, debris, and heavy metals — making it ideal for preventing future acne breakouts.
Some researchers also believe that it can regulate sebum (the oily, waxy substance that coats hair follicles growing out of pores), leading to fewer clogged pores and a reduced chance of acne.
Wrinkles/Fine Lines/Crepey Skin
Tretinoin does this by aiding in collagen production and cell turnover. In order to plump and firm, the skin needs healthy collagen. Yet as we age, our bodies don’t produce as much collagen as they did when we’re young. Our collagen can also break down over time — thanks to pollution, sun damage, and free radicals.
We often need a little help to keep producing healthy collagen, which is where vitamin A comes in. Tretinoin not only reduces wrinkles but can also help produce new blood vessels and lead to a more even skin tone.
This type of vitamin A can also help reduce hyperpigmentation. Another amazing benefit of tretinoin is that it can aid in exfoliation.
When our skin cells don’t shed after they die, they can make our dermis look dull. We need to shed those old cells before new cells can regenerate. Exfoliation can also reduce hyperpigmentation; as our bodies shed old skin cells, it also sheds hyperpigmented skin.
Some hyperpigmented skin is also caused by broken blood vessels. Since tretinoin helps to produce new blood vessels, it can also calm hyperpigmentation resulting from the damaged ones.
It’s important to note that tretinoin shouldn’t be used as a treatment for rosacea. This active ingredient is often found in rosacea treatments, but your dermatologist will probably prescribe a cream that has lower amounts of tretinoin if you suffer from rosacea.
Large Pores/Open Pores
Since Tretinoin is known to regulate sebum production, it stands to reason that it can also decrease the size of pores, too.
Sebum production happens in pores and overproduction of it can lead to oily skin, acne, and increased pores size. Eating foods high in vitamin A (like bell peppers and root vegetables) can help reduce pore size.
Yet, if you want to see faster results (or if your pores are overly large), a topical cream with tretinoin can help regulate sebum production and tighten pores. Though the results aren’t immediate, tretinoin may work faster than changing up your diet alone.
Melasma is a condition caused by an overproduction of pigmentation. Pockets of melanin can cluster and appear as dark spots on the skin. This can happen for a variety of reasons, including overexposure to the sun, imbalanced hormones, and dehydration.
Yet, tretinoin can help increase keratinocyte turnover and decrease the number of melanosomes (pigmentation) in skin cells. In clinical trials, researchers have found that topical tretinoin can improve melasma (though the improvement was said to be somewhat slow).
When using tretinoin to treat melasma, most dermatologists will prescribe a topical cream that also contains a skin-lightening agent, such as hydroquinone.
What Can’t Tretinoin Treat?
Tretinoin may be touted as something of a miracle cream, but this synthesized vitamin A can’t treat every skin condition. In fact, if you suffer from certain skin conditions, you shouldn't use tretinoin at all.
This treatment isn’t ideal for people with certain types of hyperpigmentation, including rosacea. Research shows that tretinoin may actually exacerbate the symptoms of rosacea and lead to further irritation, inflammation, and reddening.
While it’s a solid treatment for fine lines and wrinkles, tretinoin won’t correct deep wrinkles. It’s best to use this treatment mainly for skin discoloration and acne; if you suffer from one of those conditions in addition to fine lines and wrinkles, it works well for the former while helping the latter.
Benefits of Tretinoin Cream
The list of benefits of tretinoin cream is pretty long. In addition to treating acne, smoothing fine lines and wrinkles, and lightening dark spots, it can also reduce symptoms of other skin issues. Its main benefits include:
Evening skin’s tone
Improving skin texture
Preventing clogged pores
Repairing sun damage
The main downside to tretinoin is that it doesn’t work as rapidly to decrease hyperpigmentation as other topical skincare treatments. If you’re suffering from hyperpigmentation, you may want to opt for a topical cream that contains several active ingredients known to lighten skin.
Tretinoin Vs Retinol
Tretinoin is known for having similar properties to retinol — yet these two versions of vitamin A aren’t created equally.
Retinol is essentially vitamin A in its natural form. It’s known for being mild, less effective, and less irritating. You can buy retinol in products in drugstores, big-box stores, and department stores (pretty much anywhere you buy skincare products).
Yet tretinoin is only available by dermatologist prescription, as it’s much stronger than its non-synthesized counterpart.
It’s also important to note that you should be careful using tretinoin if you have sensitive skin. Be sure to tell your dermatologist of any symptoms of sensitive skin; you may be prescribed a gentler active ingredient (such as azelaic acid) or simply a lower dose of tretinoin.
Tretinoin Cream Side Effects
It’s always important to talk to a doctor before starting tretinoin (especially since this form of vitamin A is only available by prescription).
Too high a dose of tretinoin cream can lead to some adverse side effects, including:
Adverse skin pigmentation
Studies haven’t proven either way whether or not it’s safe for breastfeeding or pregnant women to use tretinoin cream. If you’re pregnant or plan to become pregnant, talk to your doctor and/or dermatologist to see if it’s safe to continue tretinoin use. Your doctor will also explain the possible risks and side effects.
Your dermatologist may be able to recommend a less-aggressive alternative to tretinoin to use while pregnant and breastfeeding. If you’re experiencing symptoms of melasma while pregnant or breastfeeding, you may want to wait until after your hormone balances return to normal to begin treatment for this condition — as most people report their skin discoloration clears up on its own.
The effects of tretinoin may also be adverse if you spend a lot of time in the sun. Make sure to tell your doctor if this is the case. You may be advised to use an alternative treatment on the affected areas. Avoid sunburns by using sunscreen lotion with a high SPF, and wear protective clothing.
People on tretinoin should also avoid sunlamps and tanning beds.
Some medications may lead to allergic reactions when used with tretinoin. Your dermatologist should ask you what medications you’re taking to check for any interactions.
People with some skin types or those with extremely dry skin should tell their doctors before starting tretinoin, as this cream may have a drying effect. Those that suffer from eczema, psoriasis, and other skin conditions leading to dryness should avoid tretinoin.
It’s also important to chat with a licensed dermatologist before using topical tretinoin cream. A dermatologist will prescribe just the right amount of each active ingredient, so you won’t need to worry about side effects from taking too much.
Best Tretinoin Cream Products
Tretinoin cream is only available by a dermatologist’s prescription. The good news is that you can always make an appointment with an online dermatologist to get a prescription for vitamin A.
The below products are all available via online consultation, and each company mails prescription skincare directly to your door — meaning you don’t even need to leave your house to get acne, dark spots, and wrinkled skin treatments.
Musely’s Skincare Regeneration Set
Musely’s skincare regeneration set is designed for people with acne, large pores, wrinkles, and dark spots. This kit contains a cleanser, daytime moisturizer, and nighttime repair cream.
All-over skincare sets contain everything you need to treat skin issues. The products complement each other and counteract any known side effects.
For example, the cleanser in this kit soothes skin irritation (a known side effect of tretinoin).
The only product with tretinoin cream is the night cream, which increases cell turnover, balances sebum production, and hydrates skin while you sleep. The cleanser helps keep skin free of dirt, debris, dead skin cells, and sebum. The day cream protects your skin from any further sun and free radical damage.
The Night Cream
This tretinoin prescription cream has been formulated by dermatologists to treat visible signs of aging. It also contains hyaluronic acid and niacinamide cream to help brighten and hydrate skin.
Rory’s Nightly Defense Cream
Rory’s Nightly Defense Cream works similarly to Musely’s Night Cream. The biggest difference? Rory’s Nightly Defense Cream contains several active ingredients in one product (without the need to use other products in tandem). It calms skin and reverses the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles.
The one downside is that you’ll still need to purchase a daytime moisturizer to protect your skin from sun damage and to hydrate your dermis throughout the day.
It also contains niacinamide to help fight free radicals, azelaic acid to break up pigmentation, ceramides to hydrate the skin, tranexamic acid to brighten and lighten skin, and hyaluronic acid to help skin retain moisture.
Musely’s Neck and Chest Cream
Musely’s neck and chest cream contains tretinoin cream to help smoothen crepey skin, treat acne, and break up dark pigmentation. It can also help keep skin moisturized. This cream is specially formulated to be used on the delicate skin of the neck and chest.
Other active ingredients in this cream include:
Niacinamide fights free radicals and creates a lipid barrier. It encourages skin cell turnover, treats acne, and even smooths the skin tone.
Hydroquinone aids in breaking down melanosomes in pigment to banish dark spots.
Hyaluronic Acid smooths fine lines and wrinkles while hydrating skin.
If you suffer from acne, dark spots, wrinkles, fine lines, or sun-damaged skin, we recommend contacting a dermatologist to see if a tretinoin cream prescription can reverse your signs of aging.