Topical Retinoid
1969 Reviews
Topical Retinoid
Based on All Available Studies
Strength of Evidence
Topical Retinoid
Side Effects
Topical Retinoid’s Real World Take
Works about the same as the other two topical retinoids, tazarotene and adapalene, and lands in the middle of those two when it comes to side effects. Should provide partial clearing, but comes with sensitivity when you first start using it. It probably won’t be a total game changer but it should help reduce acne.
Topical Retinoid
How to Get It
Have a dermatologist? Make an appointment to get this medication. Don't have a dermatologist? See The American Academy of Dermatology Physician Database to find one.
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September 21, 2023
Seriously do your research and consider other options before using a prescription retinoid.
No. No no. I started this with pretty clear skin but would get 1-2 deep pimples a month that I wanted to deal with. Plus anti-aging benefits. I knew there was a purging period and that I would need to stick with it for at least 3 months. Within the first 1-2 weeks, I already started purging. It started along my jaw line, then moved up to my cheeks. It lasted around 12 weeks. They were the worst breakouts I had ever encountered in my life. It started to fade, but then I was left with TONS of hyperpigmentation, despite my use of sunscreen. BTW, this stuff makes you super sensitive to the sun. 10 minutes outside would leave my face really red. The breakouts continued (but at a faster rate and were minimal compared to the purge), but I couldn't take it anymore. I lasted about 5-6 months, and left healing all the damage this has caused. The only thing I liked, is that it made my surrounding skin (i.e., areas now covered in acne), look glowy. I wish so badly that I could go back 6 months in time, and never touch this stuff. BTW - I did start slowly (2x a week for 3 months, then up to 3x a week).
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July 30, 2023
Product used:
Been using tret for almost a year, has controlled a lot of my acne. Still getting the odd spot here and there but my skin is a lot better with tret.
January 8, 2023
Great acne product
Been using it for 2 weeks and so far minimal side effects. Only thing I’ve noticed is my skin feeling dry.
May 23, 2020
8 WEEKS going strong

Dealt with acne for 12+ years, on and off. Some years are worse than others. Last two years acne has really settled in lower cheeks and jawline so probably hormonal. Went on spiro around the time I started retin A, however I cut that about 3 weeks ago because it just left me with absolutely no energy and constant headaches- i know my progress is from retin a though because spiro usually takes 3-6 months to work. Anyways, Retin A. I started with every second day but that was making my skin oily and irritated so now I do a   | o | o o |   pattern ( | is retin A usage nights). The first two weeks are not pretty. I don't know about anyone else but I hated how shiny my skin looked/ weird texture and look but it passes once you get into 3/4th week. Alright, the purge is a thing if you have acne under the skin, and don't let this freak you out because retin A literally exfoliates and declogs the skin at a rapid pace. Thus, a lot of people will notice the purge side effect because everything that would normally come up over the next few months is coming up all at once. Yes it sucks but keep your head on the end goal. Bigger breakouts happened around week 3 and lasted until week 7 for me. Now, I am just nearing week 8 and my skin is very very smooth. Right now I'm down to 2 pimples and some hyperpigmentation but a whole lot better than it was when I started. I will absolutely keep this going, love the feeling of this stuff you can literally exfoliate dead skin off in the shower with your fingers. One negative side effect is the peeling with this because I do find peeling hard to cover. However, it's not everyday... I only notice that every time I started increasing my usage (like from 2x a week to 3x a week) your skin peels and goes through an adjustment period. I am told this will all pass. It's certainly not the same as how peely it was in the first two weeks of use. Honestly, I've been lucky to be on this during the pandemic during work from home cause I havn't had to be seen in public too much. Everything is worth it though, even the purge I got, I am happy with the results now as I can see that it declogged a whole whack of under the skin bumps I had. Love that this also prevents pre mature wrinkles and aging BUT you absolutely must wear sunscreen or you'll end up doing more damage than if you weren't using this cream. I used to find sunscreens broke me out, but I feel fine using them now that I know the retin A is declogging my pores. I'll do an update again when I've hit 4 months. 

**** UPDATE 7 MONTHS ****

DO I recommend this? Definitely. I have been using this almost every second or third night for 7 months now. I feel like the first three months my skin one through a lot of transition. 7 months in, my skin never peels anymore, and has a very youthful glow. I think the frequent peeling ended around month 4. It certainly works incredible for preventing whiteheads (and healing them up rapidly), and well as keeping skin smooth. I usually use this every third day or so because my skin cannot tolerate this every day- it'll look dry, irritated and overall not attractive so I try to listen to my skin. I'm on the highest strength. Every 2-3 days seems to due the trick. I want to make a statement here though. Has this eradicated my acne? it has NOT when it comes to cystic acne. Hormonal acne will not be treated with this medication in my opinion because it works from outside in. Hormones are an issue from inside- We have to remember, each type of acne is related to different reasons. Hormonal tends to be larger red, inflamed itchy or painful lumps under the skin. This is great for everything I mentioned above though, I never get whiteheads anymore and blackheads non existent. Skin smooth and glowy. Good for anti-aging. However, it has not helped me recently when I had a hormonal outbreak. I am now on spiro and will see how that works. I will continue to use this though because it has made skin feel excellent and it has greatly diminished hyperpigmentation, as well as improving the look and deepness of some more serious deeper scarring. 

March 18, 2019
You need a full year to TRULY know!

Been using retin-A cream for mild but stubborn acne that I still struggle with after accutane (accutane completely got rid of my moderate to severe level of acne, and since then I only get mild but stubborn whiteheads/blackheads that are small but persistent). Best advice I have is STICK with it to AT LEAST the 6-month mark - yes, 6 months!

BE patient and give your skin time. Slow and steady. IF you're dealing with beyond mild acne and have moderate to severe, I HIGHLY recommend accutane FIRST to get rid of the severe acne, because nothing beats accutane. 

For Retin-A I have JUST reached the 6-month mark and have been using it nightly for the entire time. After the intial purge, I go through consistent cycles of breakouts and then they clear - but over the 6 months I CAN confirm that EACH cycle is less severe and heals FASTER.

I know a lot of people use the 8 to 12-week rule of thumb for topicals but honestly that is NOT enough time to tell. If by 6-months you see ZERO improvement in severity then of course revist your derm/doctor. But do not expect clear skin in 8-12 weeks. Everyone's skin and acne are different so please be patient.

At 6 months I STILL get the same cycle of breakouts and then it clears but like I said, each cycle has been less severe AND heals faster. If you think about it, I'm still only HALFWAY until I reach 1-year of every day use, so I can't wait to see how it progresses.

Be VERY patient. For me, the lowest possible dose (0.01) has worked best - I'd rather slow and steady and avoided the initial irritation of redness/flaking/peeling nightmare etc. 

*My derm prescribed me the lowest dose 0.01 and said try to stick with it for a full YEAR to really tell if I can rely on this topical to maintain clear skin and get rid of the mild/stubborn acne

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March 8, 2019
The only thing that's helped me through my teen to early twenty years

I did a review of retin-a five years ago when I was 15 years old. I didn't know a thing about skin care - barely washed my face once a day up until i started breaking out in cysts and clusters one summer. A dermatologist prescribed me retin a cream 0.05% and clindamycin for a initial 6 weeks - and to say the least the first couple weeks were pure hell. Breakout after breakout, more redness, more embarrassment, and my self esteem was at an all time low. However, I stayed with it by reading this forum and got clear by week 15. I was so clear that my doctor slowly got me off topicals that I ended up stop using it totally by the next summer. I stayed clear all the way until I turned 18 and started college, probably because my horrible lifestyle - eating crappy foods, partying all weekend, and stressing over exams. My breakout in college really was my worst ever during finals week, and I had to visit my dermatologist again. This time he gave me Differin gel, which only made my skin worse over a course of 12 weeks. I was breaking out in cysts everywhere, my nose, chin, cheeks, and eyebrows. I realized differin wasn't for me and took a tube of retin-a i had from a refill a couple years ago. 

I knew what I was getting myself into by starting Retin-A again, and was desperate to clear my skin because my self-esteem and confidence was so low. I couldn't go out to see my friends, always stayed in my room, and couldn't even look anyone in the eye fearing of them judging my pepperoni pizza-like skin. I started in September 2018, and by December 2018 I was much clearer. It wasn't all rainbows of course, I still had the purging phase, redness, and flakiness period that is normal with Retin-a. I've been on the 0.05% cream for about 6 months now and still breakout, but my acne is very much at bay now. All I can say is that Retin-a is a miracle in a bottle. I understand how tough it is to have acne and depressing it can be to know that there are people walking around without a blemish, while people like you have to worry about what others are thinking of your zits. If you're struggling to find that one product that will clear you up, give Retin-A a try. It truly has saved my life and self esteem. And if you end up trying it, stay strong and push through, I promise it gets better ^_^

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February 5, 2019
Wish I'd used it sooner

Until I started using tetinoin creams my face was horrible, and I wonder why no doctor recommended to me sooner. I've been on antibiotics and I've used so many over the counter treatments but tretinoin really did it for me. I still have acne, but it took it from severe to moderate and now I can chip away at it with other tools. I used this brand and it was great, however they have stopped making it and went I needed a refill I got given a differently branded one, which I mean really it acts in the same way just doesn't feel as nice. 

January 13, 2019

i'm sure this is not better than b.p for sensitive skin

it's so irritating and it makes skin more sensitive


August 23, 2018
Totally cleared up my acne
I'm a 21 year old female and I've had moderate acne on my face, chest and back and have been struggling with it ever since I was 12/13, there aren't any huge cysts but a lot of white heads and under the surface red bumps. I have used almost every acne treatment accept for roaccutane but for some reason never tried a retinoid. Going on the pill did help a little bit with keeping the acne under control but it didn't clear my skin up completely. I started used a 0,05% tretinoin cream on my back half a year ago before summer (as you can't go into the sun with it) and it worked like a miracle. It did make my skin peal a lot in the beginning but cleared it up super fast and also got rid of the scarring which is always a big problem for me. I stopped using it when it was cleared up (after 1,5 month even maybe) and summer started and it hasn't really come back again! I also tried it on my face but stopped really soon as it made my skin peal like crazy and I was really dependent on make up at that time which made my skin look flaky. I have now learned to not wear make up as much and I thought it might be time to try the tretinoin on my face now. When using it on my back I used quite a lot of the cream because the skin on my back is a lot less sensitive, it pealed but didn't get irritated. I also didn't really mind that it looked bad at that time because I could just hide my back with clothes, which I already did anyway because of the acne. With my face I am taking it a bit slower with the dosage and have been using a pea size every other night. In the beginning my skin did peal a little bit but it didn't look too bad if I just applied a lot of moisturizer (I use an aloe vera gel myself) and not wore make up (as this made the dry flakes more obvious). After doing this for three weeks my skin is slowly becoming less flaky and I am able to wear make up again without it looking dry. I am very perfectionistic with my skin but people in my surroundings have commented on how much better my skin looks and I have noticed a difference in the acne (even though it's not gone yet), I definitely have less pimples and I feel like my scars are fading. I do have high hopes for it though as it did clear up by back completely! I would really recommend using this but to be careful and patient.
June 29, 2018
This product is life-changing!
I am a 23 year old female, a year out of college, and I have struggled with acne since my early teen years. I saw a dermatologist and tried many different medications, even went on birth control, and any success I had was always short lived. Within the past year or two I feel that my acne flared up worse than it had in a long time. I'd just started dating someone new and I was embarrassed to be around him without makeup. I would even sleep in foundation- who wants to deal with that?? About 3 months ago I'd had enough and had my PCP prescribe me this product. I won't lie, the first several weeks were ROUGH. The trenitoin purge is real, folks. I was so dried out and even broke out worse than before! But I read the reviews and stuck with it. All of this subsided around week 8, and for another couple weeks, I had minimal progress and was feeling discouraged. It wasn't until around week 12 for me, but one day I looked in the mirror and realized that MY SKIN IS CLEAR! I have gotten so many compliments and feel more confident than I have in many years. I rarely wear makeup anymore, unless I just feel like it, but I don't feel like I NEED it. Not only is my acne essentially gone (still the occasional pimple, but it's gone within about a day), but my skin tone is becoming more even and my skin just all around feels smoother. The process is long, and it will be different for everyone, but I assure you that this product is worth it!
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Finding a Doctor

The right dermatologist can make a big difference to your patient experience and the success of your acne treatment plan. Here are the steps to find a dermatologist who is a good fit:

  1. Use the search feature on the American Academy of Dermatology website to look for board-certified dermatologists in your area, and filter the search results for doctors with a special interest in treating acne.
  2. Read online patient reviews of any dermatologists you are considering and ask people you know whether they have any experience with these dermatologists.
  3. Do your research and go to your first appointment with questions prepared.
  4. Listen to what your gut feeling tells you once you see a dermatologist in person. If you are not completely comfortable, try a different dermatologist.

Finding a Doctor

Only a select few plastic surgeons specialize in acne scar revision surgery. Be certain to find a provider who specializes in acne scar repair and who is passionate and experienced in this area.

Be sure to:

  • Look at before and after photos, the more the better, especially patients with similar scarring to your own.
  • Be realistic about results. Look for improvement, not a cure.

Questions to ask a potential scar revision specialist:

  • Are you board certified? Be certain that they are board certified.
  • How long have you been performing these procedures? Normally, the more experience the better, however, some younger surgeons may be more on top of the latest procedures.
  • Can I speak to some of your other patients? Ask for references for several patients who had similar scarring and speak to them about the process and their satisfaction with results.

Red flags:

  • Their story changes: As you discuss different treatment options, if they tend to change their mind easily, or agree with whatever you say, consider this a red flag. A confident, experienced surgeon will possess strong, unwavering opinions.
  • Your gut tells you "no": Trust your gut. If you just don't feel that the doctor is the right fit, trust that and move on. On the other hand, if you feel they are the perfect specialist for you, trust that feeling.