Tretinoin: Best Results for Wrinkles and Acne

Published July 19th, 2021 by Chris Riley
Fact Checked by
Jacqueline Hensler
Medically Reviewed:
Camille Freking

Tretinoin is a prescription topical medication that has been clinically proven to improve acne and wrinkles. It’s tretinoin’s ability to fight both acne and improve overall skin condition that makes it so special. It’s sold as a prescription under brand names such as Retin-A, Renova, and Tretin-X. Tretinoin has been on the market nearly 60 years and its popularity continues to increase as more people learn about tretinoin’s benefits for skin. Find out if it is right for you and to see before and after of the dramatic improvements you can achieve with tretinoin.

What is tretinoin?

Tretinoin is a type of medicine that is used to treat acne and wrinkles. Tretinoin belongs to the family of medications called retinoids. Retinoids are derived from vitamin A which is why tretinoin is also known as all-trans-retinoic acid or ATRA. Tretinoin is a man-made form of vitamin A that can help not only with your skin, but it also has uses in treating a certain form of leukemia. It's important to know that tretinoin can be especially effective for people who have sensitive skin or those who want to avoid prescription tetracycline antibiotics.

How does tretinoin work on acne?

People often ask if tretinoin is good for oily skin or dry skin? The answer is yes. The benefits are not limited to one type of skin type but all types can be helped. 

Tretinoin can be especially beneficial to people with oily skin because it slows down the production of sebum, which is the oil made in your sebaceous glands next to your hair follicles. By reducing the production of sebum and stimulating cell turnover in the outer barrier of your skin, or the layer of skin known as the epidermis, tretinoin prevents clogged pores from forming microcomedone, the beginnings of all acne. Tretinoin also breaks down the oil that accumulates in pores to keep them open and clear so they don't get clogged with sebum or dead cells as easily. 

Tretinoin also has anti-inflammatory properties which help with inflammatory acne breakouts. To top it all off, tretinoin may also help other topical medications penetrate deeper into your skin which makes them more effective. It is not uncommon for a doctor to prescribe tretinoin while recommending over-the-counter medications like salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide. So not only is this drug working on reducing your acne itself, but it is also working with other medications to help control your breakouts, too. 

How does tretinoin work on wrinkles?

Tretinoin works on acne, but it packs a dual punch of helping with wrinkles and other signs of aging on your face. But how does it do this? It achieves younger looking skin by helping skin that has aged prematurely due to photoaging, which is when your skin ages after prolonged exposure to the sun. Signs of photoaging include:

  • Fine and coarse wrinkles 
  • Change in skin pigmentation 
  • Loss of elasticity

Tretinoin helps combat these symptoms by increasing skin cell turnover rate, which in turn improves the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles as well as other signs of aging. It’s exfoliating properties also help remove dead skin cells on the surface of the skin, revealing a brighter and more even skin tone. Topical retinoids like tretinoin help with collagen production, which is the most abundant protein in the body and is used in a variety of ways including helping with wrinkles. It also induces epidermal hyperplasia which means that more skin cells fill the same space which further reduces signs of photoaging. Lastly, retinoids like tretinoin also decrease atypia in skin cells. Atypia is when skin cells are not normal but are not cancerous either. Over time, atypia cells can turn into cancer but that is not always the case. 

How long does it take tretinoin to work?

Several months of use are recommended to start seeing progress. Some people have been using tretinoin for years and it can be taken long term. Tretinoin’s effects typically take about six weeks to show visible results. If you have any concerns or questions regarding how long to continue the treatment then we advise you to talk to your doctor or pharmacist. 

Can I see results from people who have taken tretinoin?

Yes. Instead of explaining more of how tretinoin works let's see it in action with several before and after pictures.

Before and after (for aging). - SECRETS TO AGING BACKWARDS. 10 year results of using Retin A / Tretinoin

Tretinoin Aging Before and After

Before and after (for acne) - Tretinoin Before and After | My Experience & Tips

tretinoin acne before and after

As you can see it truly is a wonder drug when it comes to improving your skin.

What are the side effects of taking tretinoin?

In clinical trials, tretinoin was shown to be safe when used at the correct dosage over an extended period of time. Topical tretinoin may have some mild side effects including: 

  • Skin irritation (such as dryness or peeling)
  • Sun sensitivity 
  • Itchiness
  • Rash on areas where tretinoin was applied
  • In rare cases, acne breakouts that are not related to current pimples 

Tretinoin has two common uses as a medicine, first for the skin and second as a treatment for a certain form of leukemia. We are covering the use of topical tretinoin and the side effects associated with it and not the side effects with oral medications taken for cancer, as they vary greatly. With the topical medication, the most common side effects are very mild and usually stop when you stop applying tretinoin to your skin. The oral medication available in pill form has a whole different set of side effects that can range from mild to severe. For these reasons and others, it’s important you talk with your dermatologist about tretinoin before starting.

Who can take tretinoin?

Tretinoin can be taken if you are over the age of 12 and have acne or wrinkles that you want to treat but cannot clear up with topical treatments alone. This drug is not recommended if you are pregnant or breastfeeding, if you are under the age of 12, or if you use tetracycline antibiotics. 

Tretinoin is most widely available in three strengths: tretinoin 0.025% for mild cases of acne and wrinkles, tretinoin 0.05% for moderate cases of acne and deep wrinkles that require stronger tretinoins to clear them up, and tretinoin 0.1% which can only be prescribed if you have severe forms of dermatological conditions, such as ichthyosis vulgaris or keratosis pilaris, also known as chicken bumps. Tretinoin has been shown to work best when taken at night because it works by stimulating cell turnover while you sleep.

Where can I get tretinoin?

Tretinoin is only available as a prescription in the U.S. Please consult your doctor or pharmacist to see if starting tretinoin is right for your condition. If you can't or are unable to see a doctor soon, we can provide links to our partners who offer consultations with medical professionals online or over the phone right from your couch. If you need a prescription, a medical professional can write you one on the spot and have the medication shipped discreetly to your mailbox.

Summary 

We have shown how tretinoin has multiple uses for the skin as both an acne medication and for helping with signs of aging like wrinkles. The before and after pictures highlight how useful this medication can be in achieving the healthy complexion you want. Although it isn't for everyone, tretinoin usually only has mild side effects when using it topically and is available with a prescription for anyone over the age of 12 if your physician deems it necessary. 

Sources: 

Harvard Health Publishing – Do retinoids really reduce wrinkles?

MedlinePlus – Tretinoin Topical 

NIH – Retinoids in the treatment of skin aging: an overview of clinical efficacy and safety

Photoaging - Science Daily

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