What Is the Difference Between Retin-A and Retin-A Micro?

A Guide to Retin-A vs. Retin-A Micro Prescription Acne Medications

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Retin-A and Retin-A Micro are both topical prescription medications that your dermatologist may prescribe you to treat acne. Because they have nearly identical names and are manufactured by the same company, a lot of people wonder if they are really the same medication.

Despite the incredibly similar names, Retin-A and Retin-A Micro aren't exactly alike. There are some big differences between the two products.

Let's take a look at the similarities, the differences, and discuss how both medications work.

Retin-A and Retin-A Micro both Contain the Same Active Ingredient: Tretinoin

Both Retin-A and Retin-A Micro contain the same active ingredient—tretinoin. Tretinoin is a topical retinoid, meaning it's a medication derived from vitamin A.

Retin-A and Retin-A Micro aren't the only medications that contain tretinoin, either. Many other topical medications use tretinoin as the active ingredient too. Avita, Altinac, Tretin-X, Renova (mainly prescribed as an anti-wrinkle medication) and Ziana all contain tretinoin. You can even get generic tretinoin.

Retin-A and Retin-A Micro Work in Essentially the Same Way

Because they have the same active ingredient, Retin-A and Retin-A Micro both work in basically the same way.

Both medications speed up cell turnover rates. Simply put, the medication makes the dead skin cells shed more quickly and effectively than they would on their own.

Tretinoin medications also help the plugs of dead skin cells and oil trapped within the pore become less sticky. When all of that "gunk," technically called comedones, isn't hanging around in your pores anymore, you won't get as many breakouts.

Retin-A and Retin-A Micro are used to treat mild to moderately severe acne vulgaris.

They both help reduce non-inflamed breakouts, like blackheads, as well as inflamed pimples.

Topical retinoids like Retin-A and Retin-A Micro can be used by tweens, teens, and adults. In fact, many adults without acne use Retin-A because it's great for softening lines and wrinkles, and giving the skin an overall younger look.

Retin-A and Retin-A Micro are Formulated Differently

Retin-A and Retin-A Micro are basically different versions of the same medication. They work in the same way, they're used to treat the same skin problems, and they contain the same active ingredient. 

The main difference between Retin-A Micro and Retin-A is how they are formulated.

Retin-A comes in cream, gel, and liquid forms. No matter which form you use, when Retin-A is applied to the skin the medication is delivered immediately and all at once. 

Retin-A Micro only comes in gel form. The "micro" in the name stands for microsphere. That's where Retin-A Micro has an edge on Retin-A.

These microspheres release the medication more slowly, over time. This does two things. One, it allows the medication to be effective on your skin for longer periods of time. Two, the medication is less irritating to the skin than Retin-A because you're not getting more active ingredient than your skin can handle at one time.

Here's another difference between the two medications. You must wait 20 to 30 minutes after cleansing before applying Retin-A. With Retin-A Micro, waiting isn't an issue. You can use it immediately after washing your face.

Which Medication is Right for Your Skin?

Because you can only get Retin-A and Retin-A Micro by prescription, you'll have to consult your dermatologist. During your appointment, your dermatologist will take a look at your skin and your medical history. Then, your dermatologist can help you develop an effective acne treatment plan.

If you're interested in trying either Retin-A or Retin-A Micro, ask your dermatologist about them.

Your derm will help you choose between the two, or will let you know if another acne treatment is more appropriate.

A Word from Verywell

All in all, both Retin-A and Retin-A Micro are good options for treating acne.

Retin-A Micro is going to be less irritating and less drying than Retin-A. And it's probably a bit more effective too, because of it's slow release of medication.

The biggest downside, though, is it's much more expensive than Retin-A itself. this may not make much of a difference in your pocketbook or it could be a huge cost disparity, depending on your insurance, so it's worth it to price out your out-of-pocket costs for each.

There are benefits and drawbacks to both products, so choosing between the two can seem overwhelming. But remember, you don't have to make the decision on your own, your dermatologist is there to help!


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Retin-A Micro Prescribing Information. Ortho Dermatologics.

"Tretinoin Topical." MedlinePlus. 03 April 2000. U.S. National Library of Medicine & National Institutes of Health. Web.

Yeh L, Bonati LM, Silverberg NB. "Topical Retinoids for Acne." Seminars in Cutaneous Medicine and Surgery. 2016 Jun;35(2):50-6.

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