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What Does Tretinoin Do?

by Ella Goodman 06 Jan 2020

It is almost impossible to imagine the sheer volume of skincare products on the market. The skincare and cosmetic industry is one that’s huge on global scale. To give you an idea, it’s expected that by 2024, the global skincare market will be worth $180 billion. As you can imagine, the market is flooded with both products that are beautifully effective and those that don’t quite live up to your expectations. When choosing skincare products, you don’t just want to know what the claims are, you also want to know how they work so you can better determine if they’ll be effective for your skincare needs.

Tretinoin is a skincare product that’s currently only available with a prescription. It’s one of several retinoids on the market, with less potent retinols being available without a prescription. In recent years, tretinoin has been the recipient of some positive press, with claims that it helps improve both acne and signs of aging. Let’s take a closer look at what tretinoin is, and how it works to alleviate such a wide range of skincare woes.

What Is Tretinoin?

Tretinoin is a retinoid, which are compounds that are derivatives of Vitamin A. Of the family of retinoids, tretinoin is one of the strongest available. Tretinoin is available only through a prescription and is known by several brand names, with Retin A being one of the most well recognized.

Tretinoin was first developed to treat acne and was approved by the FDA as a medication for the purpose of treating acne in the early 1970s. In addition to being sold as Retin-A, you might also be prescribed tretinoin under the names of Avita, Tretin-X or Renova. There are also some generic tretinoin products, such as the popular Stieva-A cream.

Tretinoin is available in varying strengths or dosages, and different forms. Depending on why you’re being prescribed tretinoin, and your skin type, you might use tretinoin in the form of cream, or possibly a gel or liquid solution.

While the original intent of tretinoin (and the only purpose it is officially approved for) is to treat acne, it’s often prescribed for rejuvenating the skin, reducing the signs of aging, and preventing premature aging.

How Does Tretinoin Work?

It’s no secret that there are countless skincare products on the market that make incredible claims but then fail to follow through on their promises. It stands to reason that you may be skeptical that tretinoin can deliver on its many promises. If tretinoin is really so effective, how does it work to produce such noticeable results?

We’ll get into the specifics here in a minute but on a very basic level, tretinoin works by irritating the skin. Sounds a little counterproductive, doesn’t it? This irritating effect is why many people experience side effects such as redness, irritation, itchiness, and peeling when first using a tretinoin product.

However, as tretinoin irritates the skin, something transformative is happening deeper in your skin cells. The mild irritation causes skin cells to overreact in a way, to grow and divide (in other words, regenerate), at a faster rate. As cellular turnover increases, damaged cells are replaced with fresh ones, layers of dead skin cells are sloughed off, and your skin cells amp up collagen synthesis as a protective and restorative mechanism. Collagen is key in tretinoin’s anti-aging applications because it’s something that naturally deteriorates as we age - which is how those first fine lines, loss of elasticity, and diminished plumpness occur.

As a treatment for acne, the way tretinoin increases cellular turnover is the primary reason it works so successfully. As tretinoin increases the turnover of cells, you have fewer layers of old, damaged cells hanging around on the surface. This is a good thing because acne is caused by oil, dirt, and dead skin cells getting trapped in pores where they present a breeding ground for bacteria. Tretinoin also helps exfoliate the upper layers of your skin, which delivers a one two punch for clearing out your pores and preventing the development of new acne.

I Tretinoin Safe For My Skin Care Routine?

Should you ask your dermatologist or doctor about using prescription-strength tretinoin to rejuvenate your skin? Well, tretinoin has been shown to be very effective in treating a range of skin conditions from acne to the signs of aging, but that doesn’t mean that it’s the right treatment for everyone. Tretinoin can also produce some side effects, which can be even more severe in people with sensitive skin. It’s also worth mentioning that the product that’s considered the strongest isn’t necessarily the best solution.

A non-prescription retinol product can be exactly the solution you’re looking for. A non-prescription retinoid cream that’s formulated with gentler retinols, along with hydrating, and soothing ingredients like hyaluronic acid, plant stem cells, and organic aloe offers a gentler solution that produces the same results without stressing your skin. At the end of the day, whether you choose prescription tretinoin or a gentler retinol product is a personal decision. What matters is that you feel great in the skin you’re in and have faith and trust in the skincare products you choose.

Discover how to build an effective skin care routine for all skin types with our top selection skin care product bundles.

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