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The Tretinoin Purge: It May Get Worse Before It Gets Amazing

Is the fear of the “tretinoin purge” keeping you from trying out a retinol-based acne treatment? Well, you aren’t alone. Learn more about the tretinoin purge.

Read on

Is the fear of the “tretinoin purge” keeping you from trying out a retinol-based acne treatment? Well, you aren’t alone.

Many of us are already familiar with fighting acne breakouts, so it makes sense to feel cautious about a product that might cause the situation to worsen.

However, even though any retinol product may cause a skin purge, once you get through it, it may also have long-lasting positive effects on your skin. Let’s get into the ins and outs of the tretinoin purge, or what the internet has colloquially deemed the “retinol uglies”.

(Spoiler: it’s not as bad as it sounds and we’ve got some tips on how to deal with the tretinoin purge blues.)

Is the tretinoin purge a real thing?

Anecdotally, yes, but it’s important to note that experts don’t call the initial weeks of tretinoin treatment a skin “purge” but rather an “adjustment period”. This alludes to the fact that the initial reaction is just part and parcel of a short term adjustment.  

Tretinoin acne treatments are long-term acne solutions, but the first few weeks of use can feel like a traumatic backslide into acne breakouts. (The adage, “It gets worse before it gets better” comes to mind.) This can be upsetting as no one starts an anti-acne treatment expecting things to get worse for a while, but this is exactly what may happen with retinol-based treatments. The internet offers no shortage of anecdotal evidence of this tretinoin purge period - some users documenting every step of their tretinoin experience (and it often involves an adjustment period).

Why does this skin purge happen?

Dr. Deanne Mraz Robinson, a board-certified dermatologist says “The term ‘skin purging’ refers to a reaction to an active ingredient that is increasing skin cell turnover rate.” As the skin cell turnover rate increases, the skin starts shedding dead skin cells (amongst other things) faster than normal. This is in the pursuit of exposing fresher, brighter, and healthier skin cells underneath. (#skingoals)

As the skin turnover rate increases, working toward revealing beautiful skin, things like excess sebum and skin flakes (the stuff that makes pimples) must rise to the surface too. This can cause an influx of pimples of all kinds. Over the long run though, a faster skin turnover rate can lessen the occurrences of blemishes and acne and reveal clearer, smoother skin. The long term benefits far outweigh the frustrating temporary effects of “the purge”.

How long does this last?

Some people won’t experience a skin purge with retinol products, for some, however, this process can commonly range anywhere from 2 to 6 weeks. Everyone reacts a little differently to retinoids.

How long does it take for tretinoin to work?

If used daily, it could take 6 weeks to see the benefits of tretinoin for acne. But, if you use tretinoin more sparingly to help reduce any adverse effects, it could take 10 weeks to see the skin clearing benefits of tretinoin.  

Tips for surviving the tretinoin purge blues:

It’s understandable to feel a little down in the dumps when a retinol product worsens an already undesirable acne situation. So, we’ve got 6 tips from our retinol pros to help you navigate any potential purge issues. If you’re new to retinol, take notes!

#1 Prepare yourself

It’s good to know what possibly lies ahead. Talk to your doctor about what to expect when it comes to the adjustment period. Remember to ask how to make the adjustment period as smooth as possible (no pun intended).

#2 Accept it

Accept the fact you might get new blemishes and blackheads as a result of using tretinoin. Take it in your stride as you remember beautiful skin is in your future.

#3 Remember things aren’t getting worse, it’s just the process

Your new skincare mantra is “It’s may get worse before it gets amazing.”

#4 You might be tempted to stop using it, but don’t(!)

It’s tempting to assume the purging effects is an adverse reaction. We’ve all had a breakout due to a lotion, or a foundation and then kept away from it like the plague. But, this situation is slightly different. (Refer to your skincare mantra.) There is an expected adjustment period with any retinoid such as Accutane, tretinoin, and OTC retinol. Just try to stick with it.

#5 Keep your skin hydrated

The tretinoin adjustment period may cause the skin to become dryer than usual. Make sure to use a quality moisturizer (and often) to keep your skin hydrated and skin barrier strong.  

#6 Take selfies to track your progress

A good way to track the slow but steady progress that is seen when using retinol products is to take progress selfies. You don’t need to refer to them now, but you’ll want them later. It will show you how far your skin has come with the help of tretinoin or other retinoids.  

Strut Health Treats Acne Online

Don’t let the tretinoin purge scare you away from the skin of your dreams. If you want to improve your acne, prescription tretinoin may help.  StrutYours.com offers free online doctor’s visits with our licensed medical team. If our medical team finds that you’re a good fit for our Strut Acne Formula with Tretinoin, we can quickly deliver your prescription right to your door.

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