Written by Pandia Health’s Editorial Team.

TLDR: 8 weeks. Sick of seeing acne when you look in the mirror? Acne can affect your self-esteem and, over time, may cause permanent physical scarring. Tretinoin is one the most effective acne treatments. Tretinoin has retinol, a type of retinoid and retin a, that works by opening up your pores, making your skin cells less sticky. Here is everything you need to know about Tretinoin.

What is Tretinoin?

Tretinoin is the generic name for retin a, an acne medication also known as retinoid acid, derived from vitamin A used to treat acne and wrinkles. Retinoid and retinol are derived from vitamin A, but they are lower strength and are available over the counter. It can’t erase deep wrinkles, but it can treat surface wrinkles, fine lines, and darks spots.

Tretinoin is also known as retinoic acid. It’s sold under many different brand names. Topical Retinoic acid (Retin-A) is one of those brand names, but don’t confuse it with topical retinoid such as retinol. It speeds up the cell turnover to shed the skin cells and replace them with younger cells, prevents acne, and stimulates collagen production.

When using tretinoin within a skincare routine, make sure you use sunblock to protect the treated skin from the sun. Tretinoin makes your skin more sensitive to the sun.

What is Tretinoin used for?

Tretinoin is used to treat acne and other skin diseases. Tretinoin is also used to treat fine wrinkles, dark spots on the face caused by sun damage,

Tretinoin is also used to prepare skin for chemical peel treatments that target anti aging of your skin.

Tretinoin does not completely or permanently erase skin problems such as deep wrinkles, fine lines caused by the sun, or the natural anti aging process.

What does Tretinoin do for acne?

Tretinoin was initially developed as a treatment for acne. It works by

  • making pores smaller,
  • decreasing the stickiness of your cells so they do not block your pores,
  • decreasing the output of sebum.

Using Tretinoin irritates the skin and causes the skin cells to grow (divide) and die more rapidly, increasing the cell turnover. The number of layers of skin cells is reduced. In patients with acne, new cells replace the cells of existing pimples, and the rapid turnover of cells prevents new acne blemishes from forming. Tretinoin can reduce wrinkles, hyperpigmentation (dark spots), and rough areas, all of which occur in sun-damaged skin.

Following application to the skin, a minimal amount of drug is absorbed into the body. Tretinoin works by regulating the speed at which your body replaces old skin cells—a process known as skin cell turnover. By removing dead skin cells from the face and replacing them with new skin with new skin cells, tretinoin cream can improve skin conditions like acne, blemishes, fine lines and prevent anti aging. 

How long does it take tretinoin to work?

You may start noticing results form using tretinoin after 2-3 weeks but it usually takes 6 or more weeks to see the full result. Peer reviewed studies suggest you should consult your doctor if you’re not getting any results by 12 weeks.

In patients with sun-damaged skin, improvements in the skin usually are seen within the first 3 to 4 weeks of treatment. Brown spots begin to fade after six to eight weeks. Wrinkles decrease or disappear after three to six months.

How to apply or use tretinoin cream?

If you’re wondering how to use tretinoin, here are some guidelines that help ensure that you see results.       

  • Apply tretinoin in a thin layer at night in your skincare routine. A small amount goes a long way. Most people only require the size of small pea or 1/3 of pea for their entire face. If you dab in the t-zone and other areas where you usually get acne and then blend and then there is leftover, most likely you used too much.
  • In the morning, wash your face with a mild facial scrub a few times a week or rough washcloth. This will help reduce flaking.
  • After washing, apply a water-based moisturizer. The moisturizer will make the drying effect of the medicine less noticeable.
  • If flaking occurs during the day, use a washcloth to remove it and apply more moisturizer or just apply moisturizer.
  • Try using a moisturizer that also contains sunscreen. If not, apply sunscreen to protect from sun damage while you are using tretinoin. Tretinoin makes you more susceptible to sunburn.

To start using tretinoin, if you can’t tolerate using it every night, try applying it every other night or every third night for the first few weeks. The flaking and irritation are usually the worst in the first two weeks of application. As your skin adjusts to the medicine, you can apply it more frequently.

What are the side effects of Tretinoin?

Get medical advice if you have allergic reactions and/or side effects like these:

  • Severe burning, stinging, or irritation of treated skin
  • Severe skin dryness
  • Severe redness, swelling, blistering, peeling, or crusting.

Typical side effects of tretinoin (e.g. Retin-A and its generics) include:

  • Redness
  • Burning sensation
  • Warmth
  • Stinging
  • Tingling
  • Itching
  • Dryness
  • Peeling or irritation where the medicine is applied
  • Discoloration

While using tretinoin, your skin may be more sensitive in extreme weather such as cold and wind.

Tretinoin vs Retinol

Tretinoin is Vitamin A and is available by prescription and tends to be a bit more aggressive than retinol. Those who are oily or have tolerant skin are the best candidates for tretinoin. While retinol and retinoids (retin a) are a derivative of vitamin A,  they are more suitable for those with sensitive skin. Retinol products tend to also contain moisturizers or emollients to reduce the possibility of irritation. Retinols are available over the counter – however at very low strengths.


Overall, tretinoin is an effective and first line treatment for acne that has long term results. Tretinoin is used to treat hyperpigmentation, breakouts, and prevent scars from acne. However, it “gets worse” = worsens your acne for a short term while it is cleaning out the coming acne lesions before it gets better and maintains smaller pores, less sticky cells.

Commonly Asked Questions about Tretinoin & Acne

Can you get Tretinoin over the counter?

No, tretinoin is similar to retinoid products that are available over the counter but it is significantly more potent (much stronger). You can only get it with a prescription. 

Is it safe to use it daily?

Yes, it is safe to use it daily only if your doctor prescribed it that way. Follow your health provider’s instructions.

Can you use niacinamide with tretinoin?

Yes, you can use tretinoin and niacinamide together. However, if you are concerned about hyperpigmentation, fine lines, or wrinkles, prescription retinoids (tretinoin) will work better than niacinamide alone.

So sign up now to use Pandia Health to get your acne treated.

What happens if you stop using tretinoin?

If you stop using the medication or are inconsistent with your treatment, any improvements you see most likely will disappear over time.

Does Tretinoin help with acne scars?

Yes, you can use tretinoin to treat acne scars. When 025% tretinoin gel is applied to scars twice a week, you can get rid of scars.

Can tretinoin cause acne?

During the first three weeks of using tretinoin, your skin might get irritated and worsen your acne, but it’s only for a short while. “You have to get through the ugly to get to the pretty.” After 12 weeks of continuous use you should see your acne improve. Rarely does it take more than 12 weeks to show results.

How do you know if tretinoin is working?

It’s also important to know that you have to use it consistently to see real improvement. If you’re using topical tretinoin to reduce fine wrinkles, discoloration, age spots, and rough feeling skin, it can take 3–4 months or up to six months before you see results. Some people experience faster results. If your skin responds well to tretinoin, you might see a noticeable reduction in acne in far less than three months of use.

Should I use Tretinoin every night?

It is okay to use every night, but at the start, you may not want to because side effects can be intense. To avoid extreme skin irritation, redness, it’s essential only to use it as prescribed.

How often should I use it, and can I use tretinoin forever?

Get proper medical help before using it. Initially, the physician recommends you to use pea-sized topic tretinoin for the whole face. Then recommend using tretinoin once every three nights for 2-3 weeks, or once a week if your skin feels uncommon effects. Then jumps to every other night and eventually to every night.

There is a conflict in this. Some research suggests that you can use it forever or others says that long term use of this can cause side effects.

Disclaimer: This article was written for informational purposes only, and all rights reserved to Pandia health are not used for business interest. It should not be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your primary care provider before starting or changing treatment. All data used were medically reviewed. Our editorial team specially collected this health information for our audience knowledge.