Your Complete Guide to Treating Acne with Retin-A (Tretinoin)

Hispanic girl putting on acne cream
Retin-A for Acne. KidStock / Getty Images

If you have acne, there's a good chance that at some point you will be prescribed tretinoin, also known as Retin-A.  Whether you're new to this medication or have been using it for a while, here's everything you need to know to get the best results from your Retin-A treatment.

What Is Retin-A?

Retin-A is a topical retinoid commonly used to treat acne. It works as a comedolytic, so it keeps pore blockages from forming.

And when your pores aren't clogged, pimples can't develop.

Retin-A isn't only used as an acne treatment. Tretinoin medications are also used quite often as an anti-aging treatment. People with adult acne often love tretinoin because of this added benefit.

Another nice feature of tretinoin treatment is that it can help reduce post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation. If pimples often leave dark discolorations on your skin, even after they have healed, Retin-A may be able to help fade these marks.

Retin-A is a prescription medication, so you can only get it from your doctor. There is no over-the-counter option.

What's the Difference Between Retin-A and Tretinoin?

You could say there is no difference between Retin-A and tretinoin. 

Tretinoin is the name of the medication. It's sold under many brand names, like Avita, Renova and yes, Retin-A. Generic tretinoin is also available.

What is the Difference between Retin-A and Retin-A Micro?


Retin-A a isn't your only tretinoin option.

Your dermatologist may prescribe Retin-A Micro instead.

Just like Retin-A, Retin-A Micro is a tretinoin medication. It's difference is in the formulation.

Retin-A Micro releases its medication more slowly. Because of this, it can be less irritating and less drying than traditional Retin-A.

What is the Difference Between Tretinoin and Isotretinoin?

Here are two more sound-alike medications: tretinoin and isotretinoin.

But these medications couldn't be more different.

Tretinoin, as you know, is the topical retinoid that is the active ingredient in Retin-A and Retin-A Micro. Isotretinoin, on the other hand, is better known as Accutane.

Isotretinoin is taken in pill form, rather than a topical cream. It's a powerful medication that's reserved for severe inflammatory acne.

Help! Retin-A is Making Me Peel

Most people who use Retin-A will experience dryness and peeling to some extent. But with a little extra care on your part, you can limit irritation and reduce discomfort.

Make sure you are using your medication as directed (more is not better!) Use gentle, non-medicated cleansers. A moisturizer will go a long way in soothing tight, dry skin too.

Is Retin-A Safe to Use During Pregnancy?

Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding should not use Retin-A. It hasn't been extensively studied in pregnant women.

There are better acne treatment options for pregnant women that have a proven track record.

What Should I Expect from my Retin-A (Tretinoin) Treatments?

Like any acne medication, Retin-A takes time to work. Waiting for improvement is hard, but it can take six weeks (or longer) to see a noticeable difference.

Your skin may actually seem to get worse for a period of time.


After your skin has cleared up, you will probably have to continue to use your Retin-A treatment -- although less frequently -- to keep breakouts from returning.

Of course, like any medication, it can cause side effects. Dryness, redness, skin irritation, and peeling are the most common.

Retin-A can also cause sun sensitivity, which means you'll need to wear sunscreen every day.

You'll need a prescription from your doctor to get Retin-A. During your appointment, your doctor will explain more about how Retin-A works, its side effects and how to use the medication correctly.

Your dermatologist is a great resource, so if you have any questions about your Retin-A treatment, don't be afraid to ask.

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