Select a treatment to
get started

How To Apply Tretinoin The Right Way & Avoid Angry Peeling Skin

Our how to apply Tretinoin guide is easy, simple, and written from experience. Learn how to apply tretinoin correctly to avoid irritation and improve results.

Read on

How to apply tretinoin: pro tips and step-by-step instructions.

You might be drawn to tretinoin with goals of smoothing over wrinkles or squelching acne. And you’d be right to assume tretinoin can help you reach your #skingoals.

In order to sail through your tretinoin adjustment period, proper product use is absolutely essential. If tretinoin is misused, the side effects can be pretty uncomfortable.

If you’re looking for details on exactly how to apply tretinoin, and avoid as much irritation as possible -- this article is for you.

How to apply Tretinoin like a pro: 6 tips

While some mild initial irritation is to be expected with tretinoin, it’s not always necessary to go through severe Tretinoin side effects.

Most users will experience an adjustment period (the first 3-6 weeks). During which you might experience sensitivity, redness, new blemishes, irritation, and peeling.

But, there are numerous ways to reduce irritation through proper use. These are 6 tips everyone must know when applying tretinoin.

1. Start small and increase strength slowly

Tretinoin is powerful, there are no two ways about it. Using high strength (0.1%) tretinoin right out of the gate can cause some irritation issues. Because of this, it’s a great idea to start slow.

Go with a lower concentration first (0.025% or 0.05%)  and allow your skin to get used to the product.

It’s also wise to ease in (even with lower concentrations) instead of immediately using it every day. Easing in allows you to acclimate far easier and with fewer side effects.

Think of it as going to the gym. You can’t effortlessly go from being a couch potato to running 10 miles a day.

You have to incrementally work up to that level of intensity.

Slow and steady wins the (tretinoin) race.

2. If your skin is irritated, buffer with moisturizer

Using a moisturizer before applying tretinoin can reduce the intensity of the product.

This is great news when it comes to giving your skin a little breathing room. If your skin is irritated, try using a simple moisturizer before applying tretinoin. The moisturizer will act as a buffer for your skin.

The tretinoin can still do its thing, but it lowers the volume. This is also a great hack for skin acclimation (recommended in step 1).

3. Wait 20-30 minutes after you cleanse before applying Tretinoin

A lesser-known (but vital) tretinoin tip is waiting in between skincare steps.

After you cleanse your face, wait for your skin to completely dry. Applying tretinoin on a wet or damp face can increase absorption and easily irritate the skin.

Only apply tretinoin to clean, completely dry skin. Then, let tretinoin sink in and wait another 20 minutes before moisturizing.

4. Stop using other harsh products

Tretinoin is a powerful exfoliating acid. When you’re using it, consider it to be the main character, the protagonist, the star.

That means when using tretinoin, the rest of your skincare should be gentle and focused on hydration.

So, if you haven’t yet, it’s time to nix all other harsh products.

When using tretinoin you should stop using other exfoliating acids, salicylic acid, benzoyl peroxide, alcohol-based astringents, and products containing fragrance. (Unless directed otherwise by your doctor or dermatologist.)

Using these harsh products alongside tretinoin can cause over-exfoliation which ultimately damages the skin, causing irritation, redness, and peeling.

Let tretinoin shine, and keep the rest of the skincare routine simple and hydrating.

5. Only use a pea-sized amount

A little tretinoin goes a long way. When applying tretinoin only use a pea-sized amount.

This is enough to cover your entire face in a thin layer.

Using more than is recommended can irritate the skin. Less is more, my friends.

6. Commit to daily sun protection

After you’ve washed off your bedtime tretinoin treatment in the AM, always apply an SPF 30 or higher.

It’s also recommended to reapply the sunscreen throughout the day as it loses its effectiveness.

While using tretinoin it’s best to avoid direct sun exposure when you can.

This is especially important if you’re trying to correct skin discoloration or hyperpigmentation.

Tretinoin increases photosensitivity and can increase the risk for sunburn.

How to apply Tretinoin step-by-step

Let’s bring all these tips together in a handy step-by-step.

  1. Starting with clean hands, gently wash your face with a mild cleanser and lukewarm water.
  2. Dab (don’t rub) your face semi-dry with a towel.
  3. Wait 20-30 minutes before the next step. *Alexa set my tretinoin timer.*
  4. Pump or squeeze a pea-sized amount of tretinoin onto your fingers.
  5. Smooth this in a thin layer across your face, initially avoiding under eyes, lips, and corners of the mouth.
  6. Wait 20-30 minutes for this to sink into your skin before using any moisturizers. *Alexa set my tretinoin timer.*
  7. Follow up with a peptide-rich moisturizer, avoiding under eyes, lips, and corners of the mouth.
  8. If you’re feeling dry later, pat on a small amount of jojoba oil.

tl;dr: Cleanse, wait, pea-sized amount, apply, wait, moisturize.

At first, it will feel like a lot but soon it will become second nature.

Avoid these common Tretinoin application mistakes

When people experience really harsh tretinoin side effects, sometimes, it’s due to user error. But it’s entirely possible to course correct.

Make sure you’re not making these mistakes:

  • Using a concentration that is too high
  • Using daily tretinoin without an acclimation period
  • Using it on wet or damp skin
  • Using too much product
  • Not using proper daily sun protection
  • Over exfoliating with other harsh products
  • Not using enough moisturizer
  • Using harsh facial cleansers

How to apply Tretinoin the right way: Bottom Line

We hope this tretinoin how-to serves you well as you learn how to apply tretinoin like a pro.

Common mistakes can easily exacerbate side effects; tretinoin itself is not always the one to blame.

If you want to buy prescription tretinoin online for acne, scars, or anti-aging, complete a questionnaire-based online doctor's consultation to see if our treatments are right for you.

If our doctors find this is a good fit for you, we’ll ship your prescription to your doorstep from a U.S. compounding pharmacy with free shipping.

Free shipping
Free follow-up care
Cancel anytime, no fees
Free online MD visit

Related posts