If, like us, you’ve been hearing a lot about tretinoin being the secret to clear and glowing skin, you might also be wondering what on earth it is and, of course, whether or not you need it. Mainly used as an acne treatment, the prescription-only retinoid cream is flooding our social media feeds, with many promising it will leave us with a complexion more youthful than youth itself. And, at a lower price point than many over-the-counter retinoids, it’s easy to be tempted to dip your toes (or face) in. But, do we all really need to be using it? Well, as always, we’re here to help. We’ve even enlisted the help of General Practitioner and Cosmetic Physician, Dr Prasanthi Purusothaman, to give us the 4-1-1 and answer all of the burning questions we have about tretinoin. Here is everything you need to know.
Gritty Pretty (GP): We’re hearing so much about tretinoin. Can you explain what tret is and the skin benefits of using it? Dr Prasanthi Purusothaman (Dr P): Tretinoin is the generic name for one available prescription form of retinoids (umbrella term for vitamin A in skincare). It is chemically in the form of ‘all-trans-retinoic acid’. You might see brand names containing tretinoin like Steiva-A, Retin-A, Retrieve. All trans retinoic acid is the most biologically active form of vitamin A in skincare. It works by binding to retinoic acid receptors found on the outer membrane of cells leading to an increase in collagen production, growth of new cells that induce epidermal (outer skin layer) thickening, skin cell damage repair, an increase in skin cell turnover and treatment of hyperpigmentation. The end result is a reduction in fine lines and wrinkles, less inflammation and lesions in acne through unclogging of pores, softened appearance of acne scars and decreased hyperpigmentation.
GP: We understand it can be quite harsh on the skin. Is it a product everyone should be using? Dr P: Like all things skincare, there is no ‘one size fits all’. Because of the way they work through increasing skin cell turnover you can initially experience irritating side effects using tretinoin. For most people this subsides after approximately 6 weeks as the skin acclimatises to the ingredient. If you are looking to improve the texture and tone of your skin at a cellular level, then tretinoin is considered the gold standard in ‘anti-aging’ skincare. However, it is still a medication at the end of the day, and everyone has different skin concerns and also sensitivities.
GP: What should we be considering before using tretinoin? Dr P: If you have sensitive skin, or skin conditions such as rosacea, perioral dermatitis, eczema, or are pregnant or planning pregnancy, I would not prescribe tretinoin. For most people this will be too harsh for their skin barrier and underlying sensitivity/skin issues, and it is contradicted in pregnancy.