You’ve been prescribed Retin A. Now what?

An example of acne on a teenage boy's forehead.
An example of acne on a teenage boy’s forehead.

Retin-A ® or tretinoin is a popularly prescribed medication for acne as well as preventing the signs of skin aging.  For acne, it is particularly effective for “whiteheads” (aka closed comedones) or “blackheads” (aka open comedones).  In terms of skin aging prevention, it can help improve the texture of skin, even out skin tone, and prevent really fine wrinkles from appearing.

However, many people find Retin A difficult to use and will note irritation.  Especially in the beginning of use, the skin often becomes reddish, dry, scaly, and sometimes itchy.  This is because the medication helps regulate the turnover of your skin cells and can speed up this turnover.

Here are some tips that you can stick to to make it easier to stick with your medication and see some really good results.

– Use a pea-sized drop for the whole face.  Squeeze out a little bit on one index finger and dab it on the other. Dot over the areas to treat (e.g. forehead, cheeks, chin) and then rub in.

– Apply at night

– If you’re having problems with irritation:

  • Mix the medication with a gentle face moisturizer (non-comedogenic of course!)
  • Space out use.  Start every other day and work up to every day.
  • Avoid the areas right by your eyes, nose and mouth where the skin is thinner.
  • Avoid any areas of open or damaged skin.
  • Start with a low dose.
  • Ask your physician if there is a gentler formulation of the medication if the above tips don’t help.

– Use sunscreen in the morning.  This is normal recommended practice anyways, but the Retin A can “thin out” your skin and make it easier to get a sunburn. Also, it’s no fun getting a sunburn over already irritated areas!

Another important point is that if you are thinking about getting pregnant or are pregnant, stop the medication and let your doctor know.

Tips for avoiding irritation from your topical retinoid

Retinoids are often used to treat blackheads (open comedones), pictured above. They are also used for wrinkle prevention and other forms of acne.
Are you on a topical retinoid for blackheads, whiteheads, other types of acne, or for wrinkle prevention? If so, this post might be helpful for you.

There are many different types of topical retinoids, e.g. tretinoin (brand names: Retin-A, Retin-A Micro, Renova), tazarotene (brand names: Tazorac, Avage) or adapalene (brand name: Differin).

When you first start the medication, you can develop redness, dryness, flaking, itching or other irritation since your skin isn’t used to the medication yet. Here are some tips that can help reduce the irritation:

– Use the medication at night.
– Start with application every third or every other night. Work your way up to every night.
– Mix the medication with some face lotion to dilute it, or apply face lotion after applying the medication.
– Use a small pea-sized amount for the whole face. All you need is a thin layer.
– Creams are less drying than gels or solutions.

If these tips don’t work, let your doctor know. It may be time to change to a different formulation or medication!