What Is the Difference between Retin-A and…

Updated December 15, 2014.

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com’s Medical Review Board.

Question: What Is the Difference between Retin-A and Retin-A Micro?

Are Retin-A and Retin-A Micro the same medication? Is there a difference between Retin-A and Retin-A Micro?


Retin-A and Retin-A Micro have nearly identical names, so a lot of people wonder if they are really the same medication. Despite the incredibly similar names, Retin-A and Retin-A Micro aren’t exactly alike. There are some big differences between the two products.

Let’s take a look at the similarities, the differences, and discuss how both medications work.

The Similarities

Retin-A and Retin-A Micro are both used to treat mild to moderately severe acne vulgaris . They contain the same active ingredient — tretinoin .

Tretinoin is a topical retinoid (a medication that is derived from vitamin A). It works by speeding up cell turnover. Basically, the medication makes the dead skin cells shed off quickly and more effectively than they would on their own.

Tretinoin also helps the plugs of dead skin cells and oil become less sticky. When all of that “gunk” isn’t hanging around blocking your pores anymore, you won’t get as many breakouts. Trentinoin products help reduce non-inflamed breakouts, like blackheads, as well as inflamed pimples.

Retin-A and Retin-A Micro aren’t the only medications that contain tretinoin. Many other topical medications use tretinoin as the active ingredient too. Avita, Altinac, Tretin-X, Renova (mainly prescribed as an anti-wrinkle medication) and Ziana all contain tretinoin. You can even get generic tretinoin. All of these medications work similarly to Retin-A and Retin-A Micro, because they have the same active ingredient.

Topical retinoids like Retin-A and Retin-A Micro are used to treat acne in tweens, teens, and adults. In fact, many adults without acne use Retin-A because it’s great for softening lines and wrinkles, and giving the skin an overall younger look.

The Differences

Retin-A and Retin-A Micro are basically different versions of the same medication. They work in the same way, they’re used to treat the same skin problems, and they contain the same active ingredient.

So, what is the difference between the two? The main difference between Retin-A Micro and Retin-A is how they are formulated.

Retin-A comes in a cream, gel, and liquid form. When Retin-A is applied to the skin, the medication is delivered all at once.

Retin-A Micro only comes in gel form. And when you apply it, the medication is released more slowly, over time. Because of this, it can be less irritating than Retin-A.

Here’s another difference — you have to wait 20 to 30 minutes after cleansing before applying Retin-A. With Retin-A Micro, it’s not an issue. You can use it immediately after washing your face.

You can get generic versions of Retin-A (and since name brand Retin-A is slowly being phased out, you’ll most likely be prescribed a generic.) But, as of yet, there is no generic version of Retin-A Micro.

Choosing Between the Two

There are benefits and drawbacks to both products, so choosing between the two can seem overwhelming. But remember, your dermatologist is there to help!

You’ll need to see your dermatologist anyway, because you can only get Retin-A and Retin-A Micro by prescription. So, during your appointment, your dermatologist will take a look at your skin and your medical history. Then, your derm can help you develop an effective acne treatment plan.

If you’re interested in trying either Retin-A or Retin-A Micro, ask your dermatologist about them. Your derm will help you choose between the two, or will let you know if another acne treatment is more appropriate.

Next Steps:

Learn More about Retin-A

Learn More about Retin-A Micro

What’s the Difference between Retin-A and Tretinoin?

What to Expect from Your Retin-A/Retin-A Micro Treatments


Retin-A Micro Prescribing Information. Ortho Dermatologics.

“Tretinoin Topical.” Medline Plus. US National Library of Medicine and National Institute of Health, 01 Aug 2010. Web. 24 Jun 2013.