Your Complete Guide to Retin-A Acne Medication

Updated December 29, 2014.

What Is Retin-A?

Retin-A (tretinoin) is a topical retinoid commonly used to treat acne. It is applied to all areas affected by breakouts and helps reduce the formation of pore blockages.

Other tretinoin medications work similarly to Retin-A and are sold under the brand names Retin-A Micro, Avita, Renova. Generic tretinoin is also available.

What Are the Side Effects of Retin-A?

Retin-A has been used safely by many people. Of course, like any medication, it can cause side effects. Dryness, redness, skin irritation and peeling are the most common.


can also cause sun sensitivity, which means you’ll need to wear sunscreen every day.

What Else Is Retin-A Used For?

Retin-A isn’t only used as an acne treatment. Tretinoin medications are also used quite often as an anti-aging treatment. People with adult acne often love tretinoin because of this added benefit.

Another nice feature of tretinoin treatment is that it can help reduce post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation. If pimples often leave dark discolorations on your skin, even after they have healed, Retin-A may be able to help fade these marks.

Who Should Not Use Retin-A?

Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding should not use Retin-A, unless otherwise advised by a doctor.

Those with eczema might want to forgo this medication, too. Applying Retin-A over eczema-affected skin can cause severe irritation.

There may be other instances in which Retin-A is not advisable. In that case, your dermatologist can offer other treatment options that

will be a better fit for you.

Help! Retin-A is Making Me Peel!

Most people who use Retin-A will experience dryness and peeling to some extent. But with a little extra care on your part, you can limit irritation and reduce discomfort.

Make sure you are using your medication as directed (more is not better!) Use gentle, non-medicated cleansers. A moisturizer will go a long way in soothing tight, dry skin too.

How Long Will It Take to See Results?

Like any acne medication, Retin-A takes time to work. Waiting for improvement is hard, but it can take six weeks (or longer) to see a noticeable difference. Your skin may actually seem to get worse for a period of time.

After your skin has cleared up, you will probably have to continue to use your Retin-A treatment — although less frequently — to keep breakouts from returning.

How Can I Get Retin-A?

You’ll need a prescription from your doctor to get Retin-A. During your appointment, your doctor will explain more about how Retin-A works, its side effects and how to use the medication correctly.