October 2010
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Retin-A: The Truth About Tretinoin

Tretinoin, retin a

Tretinoin ( retinoic acid) is the acid form of vitamin A and is available as a cream or gel (brand names Retin-A, Renova, Aberela, Airol, Atralin, Avita, or Stieva-A). Tretinoin was FDA approved as a topical medication in 1971. Tretinoin treats acne, minimizes pores and reduces oiliness. The anti-aging benefits of tretinoin include, reducing appearance of fine lines and skin discoloration.

Tretinoin promotes detachment of cornified cells and the enhanced shedding of corneocytes from the follicle. Tretinoin also increases the turnover rate of thin, loosely-adherent corneocytes. By making keratin softer and more gelatinous, the stratum corneum becomes soft and compact. Tretinoin suppresses the melanocytes, this is why it is often used when treating skin discoloration.

Tretinoin stimulating fibroblast.
It is believed that tretinoin stimulates the fibroblast. Some studies suggest that tretinoin can help firm the skin by stimulating fibroblast activity. Fibroblasts produce collagen, elastic fibers, and the ground substance of the dermis. With age fibroblasts become smaller and less active.

Tretinoin enhances the skin healing process.
Studies show that topical use of tretinoin before chemical peels, enhanced healing. There is more epidermal regeneration and collagen regeneration appears to be faster when skin was pre treated with tretinoin.

Tretinoin makes my skin peel and it feels tight and dry.
Initially, tretinoin dehydrates the skin the outer surface of the skin ( stratum corneum ), causing a rapid exfoliation. The good news is, tretinoin repairs the damaged keratinocytes, increases mitosis, and restores proper hydration. With time your skin builds up tolerance and reactions subside.

Does tretinoin thin the skin?
I have heard people say, “don’t use tretinoin it thins the skin”. I think there is some confusion, about what part of the skin is thinning and if that is a good or bad thing.

Tretinoin works by thinning the outermost layer of the skin (stratum corneum), while cells in the epidermis are stimulated to produce a thicker epidermis layer. Collagen production and cellular growth in the dermis layer also increases. Although it is true that tretinoin does thin the stratum corneum, it actually makes other layers of the skin thicker. Thinning the stratum corneum isn’t exactly a bad thing. With age the statum corneum can become thick and dehydrated causing the appearance of fine lines and rough, sallow skin.
epidermis, skin layer
Epidermis Stratum corneum, outermost layer with dead keratinocytes being exfoliated off.

Is retinol the same as Retin-A ( tretinoin)?
Many people confuse retinol with Retin-A (tretinoin). Retinol and retinoic acid (tretinoin) are related but distinctly different. Retinol, retinal and retinyl palmitate, do not have the same effect on the skin as tretinoin/ retinoic acid. They first need to be converted by special enzymes into the active metabolite, retinoic acid. Unfortunately , the conversion rate is low and varies among individuals. The other problem is that when retinols are exposed to air, they can become oxidized and degraded. There are some companies that have produced retinol formulas that are more stabilized.

Tretinoin vs AHA’s
Tretinoin causes a rapid coarse exfoliation, which is the shedding of attached group of cells. AHA’s cause shedding of individual cells. The action of AHA’s is extracellular, compared to the intracellular action of tretinoin. The intracellular action of tretinoin works goes into the dermis and stimulates the fibroblast. The effects of tretinoin can last up to four months even after product has been discontinued, in contrast to the short lasting smoothing effects of AHAs.

Tretinoin is a drug.
Tretinoin is a drug and should be used only as prescribed. There are certain contraindications for using Tretinoin, including pregnancy and nursing. You should not wax skin that has been treated with tretinoin and some skin treatments are not recommended while using tretinoin. Be sure to discuss possible contraindications with your skin professional.
*You should never purchase Tretinoin or any other prescribed drug on line.

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10:30 pm - Posted by Kristy

25 Responses to “Retin-A: The Truth About Tretinoin”

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  3. […] a medium or deep peel, you should precondition in advance. Preconditioning usually involves using Tretinoin (Retin-A) and hydroquinone. The Obagi Nu-Derm system is ideal for preconditioning skin for a […]

  4. […] system, with a 1/2 gram of Clear (4% hydroquinone) AM and PM. Initially I used a 1/2 gram of a .1% tretinoin ( Retin-A) every night, however I am now on a maintenance protocol and only use tretinoin occasionally. I also […]

  5. […] with Levulan, cryotherapy, cauterization and electro desiccation with a hyfracator. Using a topical tretinoin (Retin-A), can also be useful, although it will not remove the lesion. Isotretinoin (Accutane) is also used […]

  6. ashfa says:


    i am 32 years old, have mild acne scars on my face so a friend adviced i use Quinoderm, Acne soap and Retin A, is this a good idea i cant afford to see a skin specialist at the moment.

    • Kristy says:

      I would love to help. I assume you are still treating active acne as Quinoderm contains two active ingredients, benzoyl peroxide and potassium hydroxyquinoline sulphate and they would work to help fight P-acne bacteria. Be mindful that using this along with retina-a may cause extra irritation, plus what ever may be in your acne cleanser. I am not sure if you are using an actual prescription strength Retin-A (tretinoin) or a retinol. Please tell me exactly what your retin-a product is and strenght (0.25%, 0.05%, .1%) cream or gel? Also… Can you give me more information about your scars? Are the flat, raised or depressed (like pitting). Are the hyper pigmented (meaning dark in color). I can better help if I know what your current acne flare ups are like, do you get cyst, nodules, little pimple? Are your acne scars, skin color and are you male or female.

    • Kristy says:

      When you say you have acne scars, what to they look like. Flat and discolored or Depressed (like craters or ice pick scars), do you still have acne. More info will help. If you have depressed scars, products will not improve them, you will need a deep leveling procedure such as fractional resurfacing, however retina-A can prep your skin for treatments you may do in future.
      I would for sure say yes to retina-a as long as you are not pregnant or nursing, do not wax or use depilatories to remove hair. Let any skin professional know you use retina-A before any treatment. It will also make you sensitive to UV rays so use a good sunblock. Retin-A (tretinoin) is a prescription drug that is obtained from a doctor, but I know people sometimes get it in mexico. Quinoderm is more for active acne than scars, the active ingredient is benzoyl peroxide which works to kill acne causing bacteria but will not improve scars. Benzoyl peroxide can make your skin sensitive so use with caution if you are also using other actives tike Retin-A, you may get very irritated. (however you could also be totally fine too), so just be careful and pay attention to how your skin responds. You should also know that benzoyl peroxide can cause pigmentation in darker skin types. Stop benzoyl peroxide before any chemical peels.

  7. Ana says:

    I am using 0.05% Tretinoin cream together with laser therapy and Witch Hazel astringent to ease my moderate to severe acne. In less than a week my severe acne lessened and my skin feels more tight and moisturized even without me using any moisturizer.

    • Kristy says:

      I love that you said “even without moisturizer”, because most people do not know that tretinoin can actually help normalize skin moisture because it up- regulates something in the skin called GAGs, such as hyaluronic acid. This binds to water and helps with skin moisture, not to be confused with oil production.

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  9. Sandra St Hilaire says:

    I would like to buy one,hoq can I?

    • patty says:

      I buy it since 1 year now in a little online shop owned by an ex ebay seller, it is not a big company and customer service is great. also I can pay with paypal so I don’t need to give my credit card detais to anyone.

      • Kristy says:

        Retin-A (Tretinoin) is a drug and requirers a prescription. I warn you not to purchase drugs online, as they are usually counterfeit aka knock-offs, fakes. You also risk getting products that have been compromised and at best or less effective at worst they are dangerous, harmful to your health.

        • patty says:

          Kristy, I’m sorry to tell you that, but what you say is totaly wrong …Few years ago, I had to travel a lot for my job, and the fact is that drugs are incredibly expensive in USA.. How can you explain this please ? Foe example, In Thailand, Retin A 20g is $5, ventolin is $6 … same brand, same manufacturer ?? Don’t you think our government and the health industry are playing a deadly game with us to make huge profits ??

          • Kristy says:

            Im not sure how this is relevant to the post?

          • Kristy says:

            Actually, I agree with you. Drugs in the United States are much more expensive and I think that is a problem, but I’m not going to get in to politics. I can’t explain to you why that is, I’m a skin care professional, I do not work for drug companies or write policy. With that said, I also warn for buyers to beware of counterfeit drugs, go to a reputable pharmacy and stick with things that are approved by the FDA.

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  11. breeb says:

    Combining glycolic acid and Retin-A or Vitamin A works great. I agree. When used together, glycolic acid and Vitamin A has very dramatically improves the appearance of my stretch marks. I use the Lady Soma Berry Glycolic Mask, because it has VERY strong glycolic acid and the Vitamin A. If you are using it for the first time, only leave it on for 5 minutes! It will burn you if you leave longer but it does work!

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  13. Blaine says:

    It’s really interesting to read about how tretinoin actually works. I have definitely heard the rumor that it “thins the skin”, and I’m glad to hear this is false. I have been using it for about a week now and am annoyed about the peeling that has been taking place. It’s very hard to get concealer to look good when your whole face is flaking off. I get my tretinoin online from an online dermatologist. I’m going to keep using it and see if my skin really does get used to it like this article suggests. I have seen so many really good results, and I have really high hopes for this medication! :)

  14. Name Mardini says:

    How kan i get this cream Retin A cream 0.1%
    Where kan i buy it from and How much i kost?

    • Kristy says:

      It is a prescription, you will need to get it from your doctor. It is also known as tretinoin and retinoid acid, it is NOT the same as retinol. The price will depend on where you live and who supplies it. In Arizona a doctor can dispense drugs like tretinoin out of the office and it is about $100, depending on strength and size of tube ( how many grams)

    • Kristy says:

      It is a prescription product, you will need your doctor to prescribe for you.

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