Journal / Anti-Aging

Effective Ways to Integrate Skincare Routine with Tretinoin

Nancy L. Belcher

Medically reviewed by Nancy L. Belcher Ph.D, MPA

Written by Winona Editorial Team

Last updated November 25, 2021

Effective Ways to Integrate Skincare Routine with Tretinoin

A skincare routine with tretinoin can help to provide you with the clear skin you deserve with scientifically- backed anti-aging treatment. Tretinoin creams unclog pores, helps turn over the skin, evens the pigment tone and texture. 

Tretinoin can come in treatment options including tretinoin acne cream and tretinoin for anti-aging. Let’s talk about a tretinoin skincare routine and how to start a routine to prevent some of the potential side effects. 

What Does Tretinoin Fix?

Tretinoin can increase the production of collagen in the skin, increase epidermal thickness, and make the outermost layer of your skin more compact, giving you younger-looking, plump, smooth skin. Retinoids are anti-inflammatory, which means that the redness and swelling you might notice from acne or other skin conditions can be calmed down.

As a pharmaceutical form of retinoic acid available only by prescription, Tretinoin is a vitamin A-based retinoid used to treat acne and other skin diseases. It keeps skin pores clear and is used to treat fine wrinkles, acne, dark spots, or rough skin on the face.

It works by lightening the skin, replacing older skin with newer skin, and slowing down the way the body removes skin cells that may have been harmed by the sun.1

What IsTretinoin, Exactly?

Tretinoin, also known as retinoic acid, is an active form of vitamin A. It is one of the most studied categories of skin treatments and works incredibly well to fix various things, including acne, pigmentation, and aging. 

Tretinoin, all-trans-retinoic acid (ATRA), is a prescription form of vitamin A patented in 1957, FDA approved for medicinal use in 1962, and topical use in 1971. It has been used internally for treating acne and its anti-aging benefits. Originally marketed under the brand name Retin-A.* 

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How Does Tretinoin Work?

Tretinoin works in a wide variety of ways. Let’s list them: 

  1. Binding with 2 types of vitamin A receptors found in skin cells. By binding to these skin cell receptors, you will see less “stickiness” and less development of whiteheads (keratinocytes implicated in forming comedones.

  2. Decreasing inflammation can reduce acne breakouts and rosacea.

  3. Improve the effectiveness of other acne medications, likely due to a thinning of the top layer of your skin and improving dry, rough aging skin.

  4. Other benefits include collagen production, thickening of epidermis, and reversal of sun-damaged skin, and pigment cells.

How Long Does It Take to See Skin Improvements?

For acne treatment, improvement is usually seen within 2-3 months of regular use. Anti-aging benefits of tretinoin will require 6 months or more. Any improvement seen requires continual use for maintenance. Assuming the treatment is well tolerated, the only reason to discontinue would be pregnancy. 

What Are the Potential Side Effects?

Potential side-effects of tretinoin include dryness, redness, irritation, and increased sun sensitivity. It should not be used on eyelids, lips, or nostrils due to irritation. Strict sun protection is recommended, including broad-spectrum SPF 30+ sunscreen, hats, and protective clothing if used on the neck, chest, or hands.

Strategies for decreasing irritation include starting with a lower strength topical tretinoin such as 0.025% and a vehicle that includes hyaluronic acid. Hyaluronic acid (HA) is a natural component of the skin matrix. It is a sugar molecule that attracts water and plumps the skin, while also decreasing evaporative loss of water from the epidermis.

Since it is naturally found in our skin, the risk of allergy is extremely low. Irritation from topical tretinoin + HA is due to the retinoid.

How to Integrate Skincare Routine with Tretinoin

The key to success with topical retinoids includes patience and modification of a current skincare regimen. Tretinoin comes in a range of concentrations from 0.01% to 0.1%, and lots of different formulations (time-released, gel, creams, etc.). 

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Here are a couple of doctor-recommended tips:

  1. A pea-sized amount of tretinoin is sufficient for the entire face. 

  2. Use at bedtime, after cleansing with a gentle non-soap cleanser such as Cetaphil or CeraVe. 

  3. It is more readily absorbed by wet skin, so either dry using a blow dryer on a cool setting or wait 20 minutes post-cleansing.

  4. After applying, follow by moisturizing cream.

  5. Avoid products that contain retinol or alpha-hydroxy acids due to irritation.

  6. Begin no more than 2-3 nights/week, ideally non-consecutive.

  7. Very gradually increase to nightly as tolerated.

  8. Expect mild dryness or peeling in the beginning, but discontinue if facial itching or swelling occurs.

  9. In the morning, choose a gentle cleansing method - no scrubs or loofahs! Broad-spectrum SPF 30+ sunscreen and a moisturizer. 

How to Deal with Tretinoin Irritation?

The main drawback to using tretinoin is that it can be irritating and lead to dry, flaky skin that’s more prone to stinging and redness. If you do experience these side effects, you will likely notice them in the first few weeks until your skin gets used to them. It’s best to add the tretinoin into your skincare routine slowly so your skin can adjust. 

If you are experiencing irritation, a few strategies are commonly recommended for helping you build-up to the full leave-on treatment for retinoids.

  1. Using a lower concentration and build-up to a higher concentration. Of course, discuss concentrations with your physician.  

  2. Alternate day application. As mentioned above, Begin no more than 2-3 nights/week, ideally non-consecutive (i.e. Mon/Wed/Fri).

  3. Use mild skincare products. Use gentle cleansers and moisturizers, and avoid active treatments like acid exfoliants while your skin’s getting used to retinoids. 

  4. If the irritation is bad, contact your dermatologists who can prescribe a corticosteroid cream to help your skin recover.

  5. Dot the tretinoin around your skin and then rub it gently (maybe with a roller applicator), so you can make sure it’s applied as evenly as possible.

  6. Sunscreens are a must while on retinoids, so slather up every day.


Skincare routines with tretinoin can be an incredibly powerful tool in your skincare routine, but be sure to take your tretinoin skincare routine seriously to prevent dryness or flakiness. Other potential side-effects of tretinoin include redness, irritation, and increased sun sensitivity. Tretinoin can come in treatment options.

“This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. The information contained herein is not a substitute for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment.”