Before Using Tretinoin, Here are 6 Things to Consider

Follow my blog with Bloglovin Tretinoin (all-trans retinoic acid) is probably the most studied anti-aging and anti-acne skin care ingredient. I’d be surprised if you’re a skin care addict and you haven’t heard of it. It has 50+ years worth of scientific evidence to back it up.


If you’ve read the positive reviews from long-term tretinoin users, you might get tempted to go to your nearest drugstore and buy a tube. Before you do that, please read this post first. Disclaimer: I am neither a dermatologist nor a cosmetic chemist. I can only share my experience with tretinoin stuff I learned from reading studies and articles through the years.

Why I use tretinoin

I take skin care seriously so I limit myself to products with active ingredients that are proven to really do something.

Tretinoin was initially used as an anti-acne medication and was found out later that it can help in retarding the photoaging process and treating photodamaged skin. This is not one of those products that “reduces the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles” — it actually reduces fine lines and wrinkles. Because it can alter the skin, it is considered a drug and it should be treated as such… even if you can buy it without prescription here in the Philippines.

Save for hydrating the skin, this addresses all of my skincare needs in terms of treating acne, preventing wrinkles, and improving skin texture.

Here are 6 things to consider before using tretinoin:

When this was prescribed to me, I felt like I was not sufficiently informed to the level that I need to be informed. I took to the interwebs to learn about this product. I hope I can cut down your reading time by summarizing what I learned and experienced.

1. This is a drug — an actual medicine like paracetamol.

As with most drugs, doctors prescribe it when they assess that the benefit would exceed the side effects.

Think: chemotherapy.

I know acne and wrinkles are nothing compared to cancer (I hope no one gets offended by this analogy). I just want to demonstrate that chemotherapy has serious side effects but it could be worth going through it ’cause it can treat cancer. It’s similar with this tretinoin. Due to this, I think you should only try it as last resort topical acne product.

2. Tretinoin causes skin irritation and dryness.

Currently, I’m doubtful with the true-ness of the skin purging concept i.e., the supposed process where a product brings out all the acne and “impurities” developing under the skin.

But what I do know is, when you use tretinoin, you’re going to experience some sort of irritation. The irritation can look like a full-blown break out. In my case, it was severe redness, dryness, and raw skin.

Some people are more unlucky. Some end up looking worse, with more acne and hyperpigmentation than they had before treatment.

This goes away when the skin develops tolerance but it can leave some serious literal and emotional scars.

3. Tretinoin can cause skin flaking

The derm told me that tretinoin can cause flaking. But s/he said it so nonchalantly that I imagined it would only look like dry patches or microflakes. It was so bad that I couldn’t wear dark shirts. The flakes were falling off of my face like dandruff.

The flaking stops when your skin develops tolerance to the drug (same with irritation in #2). I went through this phase for 2 weeks. On some people, it can last for months. If you can’t handle that, tretinoin is not for you.

4. Tretinoin is NOT for short-term use

Tretinoin is not a spot treatment-type of product to be used only when you get a pimple. You have to apply it all over your face.

You can only see visible effects after a few months in. From what I gathered, it can take up to 3 months before you can see any significant change. This is true for me and for most articles and reviews I’ve read online.

Now, imagine yourself experiencing skin care hell for the first few weeks (or months) and not seeing light at the end of the tunnel until the third month.

3 months is a long time.

If you’re the type of person who wants to see results and prefers to see it ASAP, tretinoin is NOT for you.

5. Tretinoin only works while you’re using it.

Tretinoin is NOT a cure for acne.

One of the causes of acne is the inability of the skin to shed properly and regularly. Tretinoin helps with that as long as you are using it. Incidentally, because of this, many report reduced fine lines and a more refined skin texture. But when you stop, your skin goes back to its version of normal. Think of it like a moisturizer. Moisturizers can only moisturize the skin when you use it. If you can stick with applying moisturizer every day, you can probably stick with tretinoin, too.

If this is disconcerting to you, avoid this product. It’s like getting married. You should be in it for the long haul.

6. Tretinoin requires commitment to sunscreen.

Aside from committing to tretinoin itself, you should also be committed to using sunblock EVERY DAY. Tretinoin increases sensitivity to the sun. Do not use tretinoin if you’re not willing to use sunblock or do any form of sun avoidance, like staying in the shade or using an umbrella.

The derm prescribed me sunblock but she didn’t emphasize why it is VERY important that I use it. I usually don’t do stuff as I’m told until I understand why I have to do it. Fortunately, I was already aware of how damaging the sun is on exfoliated skin. Some people aren’t as aware and I find that many local dermatologists don’t stress this enough.

I hope this was helpful.

Edit: This post was originallyk published in April 2014.



  1. Hi, where did you buy the cream?


    1. Hi Nica, if you’re based in the Philippines, you can get OTC from pharmacies.


      1. Thanks! I inquired with Watsons and was told they discontinued selling this. I will try with Mercury Drug. Thanks a lot 🙂


        1. I checked, and true enough, they only have retin a. I just remembered — the mercury drug I went to 2 months ago also only had retin a, but it was a smaller store.


        2. I see! So from which shop in particular did you get the Galderma one?


        3. Oh, I recently moved to a new domain. This post was originally published in 2014. At the time, Retacnyl is still available at Watsons and Mercury Drug.


  2. Great post Rae! SO informative. I’ll share it via my FB Beauty Bee page if you don’t mind? 🙂

    Btw – you can get this stuff in the Phillapines without a prescription?!? What the! All strengths? I have to admit that I would LOVE that. On the one hand, it could be misused (as with everything) but on the other, non-skincare fanatics probably don’t know about it’s existance or that it can work SO much better than (actually repairing photo damage and wrinkles) high priced department store creams 😉


    1. Sure, please feel free to share. Yeah, it’s OTC here. Some in toner form are not even OTC they’re off-the-shelf. Sigh. At least with OTC, they’re not among other toners.


      1. Toner form huh??? I’ve never heard of that before! I wonder if the delivery system differs greatly between the cream and toner form?


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