What is tretinoin?
Tretinoin is a type of retinoid, a vitamin A derivative, that comes in the form of a prescription-strength topical cream or gel. It is a synthetic form of vitamin A used to treat sun damage, acne and age-related signs.
Also known as retinoic acid, tretinoin is sold under different brand names, one of the popular ones being Retin-A. Tretinoin works by irritating the skin and thus, speeding up the life cycle of new cells. It accelerates the rate at which new cells divide and die so that healthier and newer skin cells can replace the old ones.
How does it work?
Tretinoin neutralizes the free radicals in the skin while blocking the release of mediators causing inflammation. It also boosts collagen production in your skin, helping with age-related signs because collagen is responsible for making your skin look younger and more elastic.
As your skin cell turnover increases, the appearance of wrinkles, age spots and pigmentation go down. Tretinoin also promotes the production of blood capillaries in your skin apart from collagen and elastin.
Are tretinoin and retinol different?
Retinoid is the broad umbrella used to describe a group of vitamin A derivatives. Tretinoin and retinol are both retinoids, but they are not quite the same.
- A naturally-derived form of vitamin A.
- Easily obtained without any prescription.
- A milder version that does not irritate sensitive skin as much.
- Abundantly available in OTC cosmetics and general skincare products.
- A synthetic derivative of vitamin A.
- Available only through a doctor’s prescription.
- Much stronger than retinol and can irritate sensitive skin.
- Only found in prescription creams and gels, and not in OTC skincare products.
Tretinoin for wrinkles and other skin benefits
As your skin’s cellular turnover rate increases, new cells are formed and the skin repairs itself at a much faster rate. Also, coupled with a boost in collagen production, tretinoin works to reduce the appearance of wrinkles and fine lines.
But, apart from wrinkles, tretinoin also has a couple of other benefits related to the skin:
- It improves the skin texture by making your skin smooth.
- It makes your skin more hydrated.
- Tretinoin evens out your skin tone and fixes discolouration.
- It can help in reducing age spots and hyperpigmentation.
- It can help treat both inflammatory acne and noninflammatory acne (like blackheads and whiteheads) and lessen acne scarring.
- Tretinoin can exfoliate the skin to remove the buildup of dead skin and debris.
- It can treat sun damage and make skin look less inflamed.
How should you go about using Retin-A or other tretinoin products?
Tretinoin is extremely easy to use since it’s in the form of a topical gel, cream or solution. You should apply a small amount of it on your face by following these simple instructions:
- Wash your face - You should first wash your face and hands with warm water and a gentle cleanser that’s free of strong ingredients like benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid. This can cause skin irritation and react adversely on your skin in combination with tretinoin.
- Pat your face dry - Let your face dry properly as you gently pat on it to avoid irritation. Make sure that your skin is completely dry before going on with the application of tretinoin.
- Apply a small amount of it - Make sure that you take only a small amount of tretinoin because it is a very strong ingredient. Only a pea-sized amount is enough to apply all over your face to get the desired results.
- Avoid sensitive areas - You should always avoid applying tretinoin on sensitive areas like on and around your lips, nostrils and eyes. When applying around the eyes, be very careful not to apply it too close to the eyes or the eyelids.
- Leave your skin be - Tretinoin requires time to be absorbed into your skin, which is why you need to let it sit on your skin for about 20 minutes before applying any other skincare product. During this time, avoid touching your face and let it penetrate your skin completely.
Wait before applying other skincare products - After 20 minutes have passed, you can move on to applying a moisturizer to prevent your skin from becoming very dry, which is a common side effect with retinoids.
How long before you see results?
Tretinoin requires time and consistency to show results and so, you should apply it every day for about 6 months before you can start seeing results. Anti-ageing benefits can even take up to a year to take effect and even after that, you need to continue using it to maintain the benefits.
Are there any side effects of tretinoin?
Tretinoin is a strong ingredient that comes with its share of side effects including:
- Mild irritation to the skin including itching, redness, stinging or scaling.
- Sun damage from prolonged exposure to the sun, especially when stepping out without SPF.
- Visible lightening or darkening of the skin tone, which is different from your normal skin colour.
- If used on dark skin, it can lighten the areas that are treated with tretinoin.
- Excessive dryness or a warm sensation on the skin.
Further, you should avoid using tretinoin with products that contain benzoyl peroxide, salicylic acid, alcohol, lime, spices, sulphur or resorcinol as the combination can leave your skin severely irritated. You should also wear sunscreen with an SPF of 50 and above to avoid sun damage.
It’s better to avoid tretinoin if you are pregnant or breastfeeding. Speak with your doctor for better advice regarding using the ingredient at this time.
Make the most of tretinoin
Even though tretinoin is an effective ingredient on its own, you can take a few steps that can help increase its efficiency and give you better results:
- Be consistent - Tretinoin takes at least several months to start showing any results, which makes it important for you to be consistent and patient so that you can start seeing positive changes to your skin texture and appearance.
- Use SPF - Since tretinoin increases your skin’s photosensitivity, you should refrain from prolonged sun exposure, especially during peak hours. Also, to further minimize sun damage, use a broad-spectrum sunscreen to protect your skin from UV-related damage.
Stay hydrated - Since tretinoin can make your skin dry, it is important to maintain your hydration levels so that your skin can remain healthy while getting repaired.
The bottom line
Tretinoin is a safe and effective wrinkle treatment solution. It can also aid in the reduction of acne, fine lines and dark spots caused by sun exposure. While it may irritate the skin at first, and benefits may take months to appear, it is a very effective skincare ingredient.
Tretinoin can aid in the promotion of smoother, healthier skin if used correctly. So, find out if it’s right for you by speaking with your dermatologist and getting it prescribed if it happens to be the right fit for you.