Canada Pharmacy Depot

Retin-A Cream: Uses, How it Works, and Effectiveness

Friday 31 May 2024
6 minute(s) read

Table of Contents

I. What is Retin-A Cream Used For?

II. What is Tretinoin Cream?

III. What Does Tretinoin Do?

IV. How Does Tretinoin Work?

V. Is Retin-A Effective?

VI. How Long Does Retin-A Cream Take To Work?

VII. Conclusion

If you've been battling acne or dark spots, your dermatologist likely recommended Retin-A cream (tretinoin) as a solution. Retin-A cream is a prescription retinoid that dermatologists have trusted for decades to help improve skin health and appearance. [1]

In this article, we'll walk through everything you need to know about Retin-A cream. We'll look at what tretinoin is used for, how it works on a cellular level, the skin concerns it can address, and when you're likely to see results.

What is Retin-A Cream Used For?

a woman with facial acne

Retin-A cream is a prescription topical treatment that was originally used to target acne in the 1970s. However, researchers soon discovered that this cream had additional benefits for the skin. [1] Today, Retin-A cream is used to improve various skin conditions such as:

  • Acne
  • Fine lines and wrinkles
  • Rough skin
  • Hyperpigmentation [2]

Retin-A cream contains the active ingredient tretinoin, [3] which comes in three strengths:

  • 025%
  • 05%
  • 1% [3]

What is Tretinoin Cream?

Tretinoin cream is the generic version of the brand-name medication Retin-A. Tretinoin cream contains the same active ingredient as Retin-A cream and treats the same skin conditions. [3] While Retin-A can be expensive, tretinoin cream offers patients a more affordable treatment option that is just as safe and effective. [4]

Generic drugs like tretinoin cream undergo a rigorous approval process to ensure they meet the same standards as their brand-name counterparts. The availability of generics increases competition in the pharmaceutical industry, making treatment more accessible and affordable for a wider range of patients. In the U.S., nearly 90% of all prescriptions are filled with generic medications. [4]

For those using Retin-A for its anti-aging and acne-fighting benefits, tretinoin cream can provide the same benefits at a fraction of the cost.

What Does Tretinoin Do?

Tretinoin, a topical retinoid, has become a popular treatment for improving overall skin health and appearance. [2] It works in several ways to rejuvenate skin and treat common concerns like acne, fine lines, wrinkles, rough texture, and hyperpigmentation.

  • Treating acne: Acne often happens when skin cells stick together and clog pores. Tretinoin prevents this by ensuring that dead skin cells shed properly, reducing the likelihood of pore blockages.
  • Treating hyperpigmentation and rough skin: Tretinoin helps improve skin tone and texture by speeding up the natural process of skin renewal. Old skin cells are sloughed off more rapidly and replaced with fresh new cells, leaving skin looking smoother and brighter.
  • Treating fine lines and wrinkles: Tretinoin stimulates collagen production, which is essential for reducing fine lines and wrinkles. Collagen provides strength and elasticity to the skin. But our bodies produce less of it as we age, leading to wrinkles and sagging. By promoting collagen synthesis in the skin, tretinoin can help diminish the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. [2]

How Does Tretinoin Work?

arrows on a woman

The exact way that tretinoin works isn't fully understood, but ongoing research points to several ways in which it enhances skin cell renewal and collagen production.

  • Tretinoin increases the rate of skin cell turnover: Normally, the outer layer of skin cells regenerates every 40 to 56 days. [5] Tretinoin speeds up this cycle, prompting your body to shed old skin cells more quickly and replace them with new cells. This accelerated cell renewal helps keep pores clear by removing excess oil, dirt, and bacteria that can lead to acne breakouts. [2]
  • Tretinoin stimulates collagen production: When tretinoin binds to certain receptors in the body called retinoic acid receptors (RARs) and retinoid X receptors (RXRs), it boosts the production of a protein called procollagen. This protein then helps increase collagen in the skin, which can reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. [2]

Is Retin-A Effective?

Tretinoin is the gold standard for topical retinoids in the field of anti-aging treatments. It is the most potent and well-studied retinoid available, with numerous clinical studies confirming its effectiveness in treating various skin conditions. [6]

  • A two-year study involving 204 participants who used tretinoin 0.05% on sun-damaged skin showed significant improvement in skin texture and appearance. The participants reported a reduction in fine and coarse wrinkles, hyperpigmentation, and liver spots. [7]
  • A 40-week study on 38 women with melasma showed that tretinoin reduced melasma by 36%, while non-users experienced a 50% increase in melasma. [8]
  • A 40-week study on 54 participants with hyperpigmentation due to acne scarring found that tretinoin 0.1% lightened the scarring by 40%. [9]
  • A 12-week study involving 15 participants with microcomedones showed that 80% of acne was reduced by using 0.1% tretinoin cream. [10]
  • A 12-week study on participants aged ten and older with acne showed a significant reduction in acne by the end of the study when using tretinoin 0.05%. {{11}}

How Long Does Retin-A Cream Take To Work?

Retin-A cream takes time to provide noticeable results. Most people do not see improvements until six to twelve weeks after starting treatment. [3]

  • Early stages of treatment: In the early weeks of treatment, you may experience some discomfort, peeling, and redness. These side effects are normal and usually subside within two to four weeks. However, if they become bothersome, consult your dermatologist.
  • Three to six weeks of treatment: You may notice new blemishes on your skin. This occurs because tretinoin accelerates the rate of skin cell turnover. As a result, any dead skin and build up in your pores are brought to the surface. Fortunately, this stage is temporary.
  • Six to twelve weeks of treatment: You should start to notice an improvement in your skin. Once you begin to see positive changes, keep using Retin-A unless otherwise advised by your doctor. [3]

While it may be tempting to apply more cream or use it more frequently, that will not make Retin-A work any faster. In fact, using too much can irritate your skin. Be patient and stick to the dosage prescribed by your doctor. [3]


If you are struggling with acne or fine lines, Retin-A cream could help. By speeding up skin cell turnover and boosting collagen production, Retin-A has been shown to effectively reduce fine lines and wrinkles, fade hyperpigmentation, and clear up acne. The results may not be instant, but Retin-A can promote healthier skin with regular use.

However, Retin-A is not for everyone. It is a prescription medication, so you need to consult your dermatologist to see if it may be helpful for your skin issues. They will evaluate your symptoms, medical history, and skin type to determine if Retin-A is a good fit.

The content provided in this article is based on thorough research and in some cases, reviewed by a medical professional. Our goal for the information is to provide helpful, general health informational. It is not intended as a substitute for professional medical advice.