Tretinoin can treat acne effectively, but it can have severe adverse effects and is not suitable during pregnancy. Retinol is a milder alternative that may benefit people with sensitive skin. Adapalene is a newer drug with a better safety profile.
This article looks at what tretinoin is, its uses, benefits, effectiveness, side effects, how it compares to retinol and adapalene, and what to discuss with doctors before taking this medication.
Tretinoin is a derivative of vitamin A, known as a retinoid. It is a common ingredient in prescription-strength acne treatments.
In addition to fighting acne, it may also help improve fine lines and dark spots resulting from sun damage.
Tretinoin is the generic name for several synthetic forms of vitamin A, such as:
Tretinoin comes in topical forms, such as gels and creams, or as an oral medication called isotretinoin.
The FDA also approves the use of oral tretinoin, or isotretinoin, to treat severe nodular acne.
Tretinoin may provide the following benefits:
- reducing the appearance of fine lines and dark spots
- improving skin texture
- reducing the frequency and severity of acne outbreaks
- clearing up existing acne
Retinoids, such as tretinoin, stimulate the generation of skin cells, meaning they grow and divide quicker. This accelerates the removal of dead skin cells and keeps the pores clear of bacteria and other irritants.
Scientists have widely studied tretinoin for treating acne and sun-damaged skin.
According to a
Tretinoin also appears to be effective when used alone or in combination with other acne treatments, such as
- azelaic acid
- benzoyl peroxide
Despite its effectiveness, tretinoin can have side effects, such as:
- red, dry, or peeling skin
- burning or itching near the application site
- skin that feels warm to the touch
- lightening of the skin at the application site
Tretinoin and other retinoids can also thin the skin’s outer layer, leaving it more vulnerable to sun damage.
Healthcare professionals recommend people using retinoids wear sunscreen whenever they go outside.
Oral tretinoin may cause the following
- bone pain
- changes in weight
- chest discomfort
- symptoms of depression
- arrhythmia, or an irregular heartbeat
Oral tretinoin can also lead to congenital disabilities. As a result, doctors do not recommend this medication for those planning on becoming pregnant or people who are currently pregnant or breastfeeding.
Tretinoin is one of many retinoids. Two other well-known retinoids that promote skin cell and collagen production are retinol and adapalene.
Unlike tretinoin, a synthetic retinoid, retinol is a natural derivative of vitamin A. It is also gentler and less irritating than tretinoin. As a result, retinol may be better suited for people with sensitive skin.
- uneven pigmentation
- sun-damaged skin
However, fewer participants in the retinol treatment group reported adverse side effects than those using tretinoin.
Adapalene is a third-generation retinoid used in topical acne treatments.
According to the National Library of Medicine, this medication is equally as effective as tretinoin. However, adapalene has a better safety profile.
Adapalene is available as an over-the-counter (OTC) gel called
Tretinoin-based acne treatments may require a doctor’s prescription.
People can talk with a healthcare professional or dermatologist about the benefits and risks of this medication.
Individuals also need to consider discussing the following with their doctor before using tretinoin:
- whether they are currently pregnant or plan on becoming pregnant
- if they are currently breastfeeding
- if they are out in the sun for extended periods
- any medications they currently take, including skin care products
- if they have any allergies to medications
Tretinoin is a synthetic retinoid derived from vitamin A. People commonly use it to treat acne, reduce wrinkles, and improve the skin’s texture and appearance.
The medication is available as a topical cream or gel, as well as an oral tablet. Tretinoin-based acne treatments also require a doctor’s prescription.
While clinical studies show that tretinoin is an effective treatment for acne and sun-damaged skin, it can trigger side effects, including:
- skin irritation
- digestive issues
However, people can discuss the risks and benefits of the medication with their doctors.
Retinol and adapalene are two milder OTC retinoids that are available. These medications may be better suited for people with sensitive skin or those who have had adverse reactions to tretinoin.