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Tretinoin Side Effects and FAQs: Plus 6 Steps To Avoid the “Retinoid Uglies”

Tretinoin cream has many benefits but also may have some side effects. Learn about tretinoin side effects and other common questions before starting your treatment.

Read on

So you are ready to amp up your skincare routine, or you want to tackle those annoying adult acne outbreaks.

You came to the right place!

But first, let’s go over the frequently asked questions, plus some things to expect from tretinoin treatment, including normal Tretinoin side effects (that actually indicate that the product is working.)

Below, we will cover the potential Tretinoin side effects, how to reduce Tretinoin irritation, review how Tretinoin works, go over how to use Tretinoin, and give you some sources where you can buy Tretinoin (after getting a prescription).

What side effects may occur with Tretinoin?

Due to how the chemical is working on the skin cells, tretinoin is known to cause a few initial side effects - lovingly referred to collectively as the “retinoid uglies.”

This can include redness, dryness, peeling, or worsening of acne.

Tretinoin side effects generally only last during the first 2-4 weeks of treatment - so don’t let them discourage you from the payoff at the end!

Try to power through these first few weeks as opposed to stopping and starting, as this will just drag out and restart the adjustment process.

Think of it as “acclimating” your skin to the retinoid.

However, if severe cracking, blistering, swelling, or a rash occurs, stop the product and go see a doctor as this may be a sign of an allergic reaction.

Also Read: Tretinoin Peeling: 5 Ways to Minimize Ugly Tretinoin Peeling

6 Steps to avoid (or reduce) retinoid irritation:

1. Prepare your skin by moisturizing twice daily for a week or two before you even start Tretinoin therapy.

2. Try easing into Tretinoin therapy by applying every other day for the first few weeks, before jumping into a nightly application.

3. During treatment, apply a moisturizer daily that contains ceramides, hyaluronic acid, or Vitamins C and E. These are all very soothing and help retain moisture.

Pro tip: For very sensitive skin, mix your Tretinoin cream together with your most moisturizing face cream to serve as a gentle barrier for the first few weeks.

4. Avoid using other skin products that may cause additional irritation like strong exfoliants, salicylic acid, or coarse make-up brushes.

5. Apply sunscreen daily with SPF 30+ - In addition to your skin being very sensitive at this time, UV rays cause photoaging - the very thing you are trying to undo!

6. Don’t schedule laser hair removal on your face or face waxing while using tretinoin therapy - Strips of the skin may come off with the wax - ouch! If face waxing is a must, discontinue your therapy for 5-7 days beforehand.

How does Tretinoin work?

Tretinoin works by quickly turning over older skin cells to be replaced by new youthful cells. The longer skin cells stick around, the more they accumulate DNA and protein damage, so it is best to retire those old cells as quickly as possible for a glowing complexion.

In addition to cell turnover, Tretinoin increases the production of collagen, prevents collagen breakdown, and increases skin thickness.

melasma which causes dark patches on the face.

Pretty much any skin condition that could benefit from a fresh top layer of healthy skin cells may benefit from Tretinoin therapy.

Read Related: How Does Tretinoin Cream Improve Your Skin?

How to use Tretinoin

Wash your face with a gentle cleanser and then allow it to dry for 20-30 minutes.

(Excess water on your face may increase irritation from Tretinoin.)

Apply a pea-sized amount of cream to the entire face, avoiding the eye, eyelid, or lip area.

Rub in gently until absorbed, about 30 seconds.

Leave on overnight, and continue your usual face routine in the morning + sunscreen and moisturizer!

Learn More: Should I Use Tretinoin Every Night? How To Schedule Your Tretinoin Application

Where to buy Tretinoin

Tretinoin is only available through a prescription and is not found in over-the-counter products.

While other Retinoids are found OTC, Tretinoin is up to 20X stronger than the OTC products - so it’s for your protection that Tretinoin is prescription only!

You can schedule an appointment with a dermatologist in your area or have an online questionnaire-based consultation with our U.S. licensed doctors to see if our Tretinoin creams are a good fit for you.

We have 4 different creams containing Tretinoin, that are specifically formulated depending on what issue you are hoping to address:

Tretinoin side effects and FAQs: Key takeaways

  • Tretinoin therapy can cause irritation, or the “retinoid uglies”, in the first few weeks: Redness, dryness, peeling.
  • Tretinoin side effects are normal and generally resolve in 2-4 weeks.
  • Apply moisturizer 1-2 times daily, use sunscreen, and only apply gentle products while you are using Tretinoin.
  • To start, you can apply once every other day to ease into it.
  • Tretinoin works by increasing the healthy turnover of skin cells and boosting collagen production.
  • Tretinoin can be used for general anti-aging, acne, scars, or melasma.
  • Apply once daily at night avoiding the lip and eye area.
  • You can buy Tretinoin through prescription only, either by an in-person or online telemedicine visit with a doctor.

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