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How Effective Is Tretinoin for Wrinkles?

Helen Akers
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Using tretinoin for wrinkles can be effective if the use is consistent. Tretinoin is a form of vitamin A that works by stimulating a quicker turnover of skin cells. It is usually available by prescription and comes in three different strengths. When using tretinoin to reduce wrinkles, it is important to use it for at least six months to a year.

Since tretinoin causes skin cells to turn over at a faster rate, it is also used to treat acne. Side effects, such as excessive redness, irritation and peeling, are usually seen in the first month of use. During this stage, it is vital to continue using the product since short-term use produces little benefit. Depending upon the individual, improvement may not be seen until six months of steady use.

In order to use tretinoin for wrinkles, a prescription will usually need to be obtained from a licensed medical practitioner. A less potent form of the chemical, retinol, is widely available in over-the-counter treatments in some countries. Retinol essentially produces the same effects as tretinoin, but may take longer and will not be as noticeable. Deep set wrinkles may take up to a year to respond to tretinoin or may need additional treatments, such as Botox®.

When using tretinoin for wrinkles, it is vital to comply with the dermatologist's or doctor's instructions. Most patients will start with the lowest available concentration since the medicine can cause severe irritation. A typical regimen instructs the patient to apply a small amount 20 to 30 minutes after cleansing the skin at night. Those with sensitive skin may begin with applications every other night until their tolerance is built up.

Most individuals who use tretinoin for wrinkles will first notice an improvement in fine lines and the skin's texture. Uneven pigmentation may be reduced and the skin may take on a smoother appearance. While sun damage is often reduced or even reversed with the use of tretinoin, it is important to reduce exposure. With treatment, the skin becomes more photosensitive and can burn within minutes.

Tretinoin can become more effective if used alongside other antioxidant treatments, including vitamin C. Before combining treatments or using other over-the-counter creams, it is recommended that the patient check with his doctor. Even certain types of soaps and cleansers can aggravate the side effects of tretinoin. While the medicine also works by stimulating collagen production, it can make the skin more sensitive to scarring from the use of abrasive exfoliants.

Who Should Use Tretinoin

In addition to fighting wrinkles, tretinoin can provide several other benefits for the skin. 

Individuals with a variety of skin types and issues can benefit from tretinoin. Ideal candidates for tretinoin use include:

  • Acne-prone skin, particularly acne vulgaris
  • Rough skin
  • Hyperpigmentation 

Risks of Tretinoin Misuse 

Tretinoin is potentially the strongest type of retinoid, particularly for anti-aging purposes. However, as with any topical or oral medication, there are potential side effects, especially with product misuse. Some of these may include:

To avoid any adverse reactions, always use tretinoin as directed by your physician and as written on the product packaging. The leading cause of side effects is overuse.

What to Pair with Tretinoin to Combat Wrinkles 

Tretinoin is a highly beneficial product to add to your skincare routine, especially when you pair it with the right products. 

Sun exposure is one of the most prevalent factors in skin damage, aging, and wrinkles. So use sunscreen daily to get the most out of your wrinkle-prevention routine.

Find a high-quality moisturizer. Tretinoin can be drying, so using products that lock moisture into the skin is essential. Invest in an effective moisturizer to avoid drying and irritation. 

Use hyaluronic acid. Hyaluronic acid naturally occurs in our bodies and retains moisture in the skin. Using it topically can help maintain moisture on a surface level and keep your skin looking dewy and feeling fresh. 

Active Ingredients and Tretinoin 

Active ingredients in skincare products are usually the dominant ingredients of products. They are the ones designed to target whatever issue the product claims to help. Therefore, you should always pay attention to the actives in your skincare routine because combining specific or too many actives can cause irritation or make the product less effective.

Avoid these products to avoid irritation and ensure tretinoin’s effectiveness. You can still use these products but do not use them back-to-back. Instead, use a retinoid product, like tretinoin, before bed, and save the rest for the morning after cleansing your face. 

An example of an active ingredient that you should be careful with is benzoyl peroxide. This ingredient combats acne. When paired with tretinoin, it can be extremely irritating and drying. 

How to Get the Most Out of Tretinoin Use

  • Start slow. When adding tretinoin into your skincare routine, you should start by using it once a week or every other night and gradually increase. 
  • Don’t wash your face after using tretinoin. It is best to use tretinoin at night, after cleansing, and before moisturizing. Wait about fifteen minutes after applying tretinoin to apply your moisturizer. 
  • Use sun protection. Although tretinoin can help combat wrinkles and sun damage, it should be a part of a routine, including wearing sunscreen and avoiding excessive sun exposure. In addition, wear protective clothing like hats.

Conclusion: How to Combat Wrinkles with Tretinoin

Your skin becomes more prone to hyperpigmentation, dullness, and wrinkles as you grow older. Tretinoin, a strong type of retinoid, has several benefits that can combat the effects of aging on the skin.

Tretinoin can be drying and irritating with user error. Start gradually and listen to your physician’s instructions for usage to avoid adverse side effects.

Pair tretinoin with the right products, like sunscreen and moisturizer, to maximize the products’ benefits. Unfortunately, topical tretinoin use can make your skin more sensitive to UV rays, leaving you more prone to getting sunburnt. Using sunscreen is always important but is especially crucial for tretinoin users. 

Avoid using products like benzoyl peroxide directly before or after tretinoin. It is best to use tretinoin at night and other actives in the morning after cleansing your face.

When used correctly and paired with the right products, tretinoin is a staple product in any skincare routine.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Helen Akers
By Helen Akers , Former Writer
Helen Akers, a talented writer with a passion for making a difference, brings a unique perspective to her work. With a background in creative writing, she crafts compelling stories and content to inspire and challenge readers, showcasing her commitment to qualitative impact and service to others.

Discussion Comments

By burcinc — On Feb 04, 2012

My sister hates this product. Apparently, it does increase collagen production and a lot of women have reported that they saw a reduction in their wrinkles. But it's just not for anyone.

My sister used it for two years and all it did was giver her acne breakouts. I don't know if she was allergic to it or if one of the other ingredients in the cream was irritating her skin, but it didn't work for her at all. She used to have clear and acne-free skin before, just a lot of wrinkles. But when she was using tretinoin, she would get pimples, blackheads and clogged pores.

It was not fun for her and even though she kept using it with the hope that it would get better, it just didn't. I personally think that tretinoin is not a bad product. I have never tried it but I have several friends who speak very highly of it. Everyone's skin is different though so it might help some people but not others. You won't really know unless you try I guess.

By ddljohn — On Feb 03, 2012

@turquoise-- Yes, I do know what you're talking about! I had the same happen to me when I was using tretinoin and I rushed to my doctor because it appeared to me as if I aged by 15 years overnight.

He said that it's probably due to over-dryness and suggested that I reduce the dose of tretinoin and also use a moisturizing lotion. I was using 0.1% tretinoin at that time. I reduced it to 0.025% and the new wrinkles went away in several weeks.

I think you must also be using a high dose. I suggest that you take it slowly and use 0.025% until you feel that your skin has gotten more used to tretinoin. Then you can slowly increase the dose back up to 0.1% if your doctor says so.

I used tretinoin for a little more than six months and it treated about half of my wrinkles really well. I think it healed my skin too because my skin feels more hydrated now.

But tretinoin is for medical use, not for cosmetic use, so I would recommend that you speak to you doctor before making any changes.

By turquoise — On Feb 02, 2012

I've been using tretinoin cream (Retin-A) cream for two months. In the first month, I did see an improvement with my wrinkles and fine lines appeared to go away altogether. Several more weeks later though, I saw more wrinkles showing up under my eyes and they are still there now. I have not stopped using tretinoin because I know it takes some time to work but these new wrinkles are scaring me!

I don't know if this is just how the cream works and I need to stick with it to see the long-term results or if I'm doing something wrong. Isn't it okay to apply tretinoin under the eyes?

By the way, I am using a strong sunblock and not going out around noon-time so I don't think it's from sunlight.

Does anyone know what I'm talking about? Should I be worried about this?

Helen Akers

Helen Akers

Former Writer

Helen Akers, a talented writer with a passion for making a difference, brings a unique perspective to her work. With a...
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