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Tretinoin Not Working? How Long Until You See Results?

Tretinoin results make take some time. We can help you figure out what kind of a time frame you are looking at.

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Does it seem like tretinoin is not working? Don’t give up. Slow and steady wins this race.

So you’ve started using tretinoin for a bit, and you’re feeling like it’s not working yet. Now, you’re wondering how long it will be before you see any results?

Well, when it comes to tretinoin, the magic really happens when you consistently add one vital ingredient into the mix: TIME. We know, that’s not necessarily the answer you’d like to hear. But tretinoin results come with time and consistency.

Let’s consult some research and find out when you can expect to see results from tretinoin.

The acclimation process is the first hurdle

When you first begin using tretinoin, your skin may likely get worse before it gets better. This is an unpopular side effect to this powerful retinoid. (But don’t worry, it’s worth it.)During the first 1 to 2 weeks, your skin might show some signs of irritation like redness, itchiness, peeling, and new acne blemishes. But don’t let this period of initial acclimation scare you away. This reaction is a sign that old skin is being pushed to the surface and purged.

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

How long it will take to see real results will depend on what you’re trying to improve.

How long does tretinoin take to start working?

The truth is, results are a little different for everyone.

For example: Patient A is dealing with very fine lines, versus patient B who has deeper wrinkles and photodamage. While both are seeking wrinkle improvement, they have varying severity. Because of this, they’ll require different time investments to see results. With that in mind, let’s look at some baseline time frames found in tretinoin research.

Acne treatment results time frame

Most research shows that acne is visibly improved in 12 weeks of treatment. Studies show good results with both 0.05% and 0.1% tretinoin concentrations. Acne might get worse before it starts to improve. This “tretinoin purge” process may initially take anywhere between 2 to 6 weeks. However, some people don’t experience acne worsening at all.

Wrinkle and discoloration treatment results time frame

Studies show that it takes 10 to 16 weeks of treatment to reduce wrinkles and fine lines. However, it might take up to 6 months. Those who are treating wrinkles and discoloration might also experience a purging acclimation process during the first few weeks.

Other factors to consider

  • The frequency of use will affect the speed of results

The result time frame will also depend on how long your skin requires to acclimate to this powerful acid. It’s recommended to ease into retinoid use, and take 3-4 weeks to acclimate your skin. This slow but steady progress will mean it takes longer to see results, but it also means you skipped major peeling, redness, and irritation. Once you’re acclimated to tretinoin, consistent use is recommended for the best results.

  • The severity of your skin complaint affects the results

As mentioned before, the severity of your skin complaints can greatly affect how long it will take for tretinoin to work for you. People with varying levels of acne, for example, will have varying levels of time investments necessary to see improvement.

  • Product concentration will affect your results

Your results will also depend on the concentration you’re using. It’s common to be prescribed 0.05% and 0.1% tretinoin, however, lower concentrations (0.025%) are available for those with sensitive skin. If you have severe acne, for instance, and are using a gentle 0.025% concentration, the low-dose tretinoin might affect the speed of your results. If you’ve been using a certain concentration for a while and your results have slowed, it might be time to increase the strength of your tretinoin prescription. Increasing strength can come with temporarily side effects.

  • How you use the product can affect the effectiveness

Using oils or moisturizers before tretinoin might reduce its effectiveness. This is a good trick for when you’re trying to acclimate your skin, but it goes to show, some skincare can reduce how well tretinoin works. It’s NOT recommended to use harsh soaps, other chemically exfoliating acids, benzoyl peroxide, salicylic acid, astringents, or products with alcohol or fragrance while using tretinoin.   Using these products with tretinoin might affect how well tretinoin works for you or increase your irritation levels.

  • Some people are more sensitive to retinoic acid than others

Some people see much faster results than others because of a genetic sensitivity to retinoids. This very random happenstance might affect your results.

You’re playing the long game, my friend

There is no such thing as overnight improvement. With tretinoin, the changes take time to become noticeable and tretinoin requires continued (and proper) use to maintain those results. It’s common that people who try tretinoin or other retinoids, don’t see immediate improvement, (perhaps things even begin to worsen) so they stop using it. But, consistency is key here. Small improvements will slowly accumulate, and that’s when you will see results.


Often, positive results are seen within 12 weeks of daily tretinoin treatment. However, this might take longer depending on your personal situation and considering an acclimation period. If you don’t feel tretinoin is working, make sure you aren’t making common tretinoin mistakes.

Learn more: How To Apply Tretinoin The Right Way

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