Tretinoin and Acne: Warnings and Uses

Tretinoin is a retinoid. These molecules are involved in numerous processes in the body, such as cell differentiation and proliferation, as well as apoptosis, or programmed cell death, and reproduction.
Tretinoin and Acne: Warnings and Uses

Last update: 23 January, 2021

Dermatologists widely use tretinoin to treat acne vulgaris. It’s also known as transretinoic acid and is the vitamin A active in all body tissues except the retina.

It belongs to the family of retinoids, which have a comedolytic action; that is, they normalize the process of desquamation of the follicular epithelium and reduce the obstruction of the follicle. Don’t worry though, we’ll go into more about its mechanism of action later on.

To apply it, specialists administer it topically, both in adults and in children over 12 years of age. You should apply a thin layer of the cream before going to bed. Dermatologists regulate the frequency of the application according to the efficacy and tolerance of each patient.

Before application, specialists recommend washing the skin with soap and water, in order to promote absorption. An improvement in the condition is usually noted after 2 to 4 weeks. However, the maximum effect is not reached before 6-8 weeks of treatment.

On the market, tretinoin can be found in creams containing 0.025 or 0.05 grams of this active ingredient per 100 grams of product.

What is acne?

Acne on a face.

Although you probably already know quite a bit about acne, we’ll talk a little about the causes that produce it and its general characteristics so we can expand our knowledge and clarify doubts about this condition that’s so common in the general population.

In this sense, acne is a skin disorder that has its origin in the hair follicles. During this disease, these follicles become clogged with oil and dead skin cells. As a result, comedones, blackheads, and pimples often form.

Acne can appear in different parts of the body, but the most common areas are the face, back, chest, and shoulders.

Specialists have established four main causes which are

  • Bacterial infection, such as that produced by Propionibacterium acnes
  • Excessive production of fat
  • Obstruction of the hair follicles by accumulation of fat and dead skin cells, as we’ve already mentioned
  • High hormonal activity, especially of androgens

In addition, there are other factors that favor the appearance of this disease and that aggravate it. For example, stress can worsen this condition, as can diet and certain medications.

As a fun fact, researched conducted a short study to find out if chocolate really worsened the symptoms of acne and the results were positive. However, they need more data to know exactly why.

In any case, specialists often use tretinoin to fight acne. Let’s see how.

How does tretinoin work in the body?

Cream on a finger

Tretinoin is, as we’ve seen, a retinoid. Retinoids are involved in numerous processes in the body, such as cell differentiation and proliferation, as well as apoptosis, or programmed cell death, and reproduction.

This medicine stimulates the mitosis of the skin cells and reduces the intercellular cohesion of the stratum corneum. In addition, it interferes in the abnormal keratinization of the hair follicle, thus preventing the formation of excess keratin and the accumulation of lipids.

Keratin is a protein with a very fibrous structure that constitutes the main component of the outermost layers of the epidermis. This is why tretinoin is so effective in fighting acne.

Furthermore, tretinoin has a comedolytic action, i.e. it manages to normalize the desquamation of the follicular epithelium and thus reduce the obstruction of the follicle. It also has an anti-inflammatory and preventive action to form new micro-comedones, which are commonly called shins.

Tretinoin treatment warnings

It’s important to consider a series of precautions when using a treatment with this retinoid. The following should be taken into account.

  • Not recommended for use on sunburns
  • Photosensitivity reactions
  • Avoid contact of the product with the eyes, eyelids, nose, mouth, and other mucous membranes of the body
  • Elderly people have to be especially careful, as well as children, since a safety profile hasn’t been established in younger people
  • Avoid infections in the affected areas
  • Pregnant women shouldn’t take oral retinoids, such as tretinoin, during pregnancy. Nor should any woman who may become pregnant during treatment take them. Topically, the risk isn’t as high, but should also be avoided.


Tretinoin is a medicine that dermatologists use to treat different skin conditions, but, above all, to fight acne.

It’s important for the patient to be well informed about the administration of this drug, as well as to always follow the doctor’s recommendations. Using this medicine incorrectly can cause serious consequences.

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