Tretinoin for Acne Treatment

Tretinoin, sold under brand name Stieva-A in Australia, is a type of retinoid acne treatment. It can be highly effective in managing mild to severe acne in women and men of all ages. It can also help improve the appearance of wrinkles, fine lines and dark spots. 

Because Tretinoin and its brand name counterparts are only available via prescription in Australia, it’s important to understand how it works and how to best use it for your particular needs.

What is Tretinoin?

Tretinoin is a topical retinoid, a common type of treatment for acne. It is a prescription-strength topical cream or gel that is primarily used to treat acne, sun-damaged skin and fine wrinkles. Tretinoin is the chemical that can be found in brand name prescription acne treatments like Stieva-A. It can come in three different strengths: 0.025% (0.25 mg), 0.05% (0.5 mg) or 0.1% (1 mg). Your doctor or dermatologist will prescribe an appropriate strength for your symptoms and medical history.

What are retinoids?

Retinoids are a class of chemical compounds derived from vitamin A. They increase the rate of skin cell turnover, which is why they are a particularly effective method of treating acne. Acne is caused by a variety of factors, including when your pores become clogged with dead skin cells, dirt, bacteria and sebum. Retinoids like Tretinoin increase your skin cell turnover, thus reducing the chances of your pores getting clogged. They also can help with swelling and inflammation. 

How does Tretinoin work?

Because Tretinoin is a retinoid, it increases the rate at which old skin cells are shed while simultaneously stimulating new skin cell growth. It also works to reduce sebum production, the naturally-occuring oily substance that your sebaceous glands produce to keep your skin and hair soft and moist. When your glands produce too much sebum, it allows the oil to get trapped in your pores and evolve into whiteheads, blackheads and acne. 

Tretinoin also helps with swelling and inflammation, which is particularly helpful in managing breakouts of papules and pustules on your skin.

In addition to being an effective acne treatment, Tretinoin has been shown to help improve the appearance of fine lines, wrinkles and dark spots, particularly in sun and UV-damaged skin. This happens with the increase in skin cell turnover, as well as an increase in collagen synthesis, a key part of healthy skin production. 

How do you use Tretinoin?

Tretinoin and Stieva-A come as a gel or a cream. You apply it directly to the affected area of your skin to help remove acne. 

It’s helpful to adopt a regular skincare routine when using Tretinoin to maximise results. Make sure your face and any other parts of your body that you are treating are clean and dry. By waiting a few minutes to ensure your skin is completely dry before applying Tretinoin, you can reduce the risk of skin irritation. 

Always use Tretinoin exactly as prescribed and follow your doctor’s instructions in terms of quantity, frequency and routine. Typically, you will use a pea-sized amount of the cream or gel to lightly cover the affected area. Wash your hands thoroughly when you are done.

How does Tretinoin compare to other acne treatments?

Because Tretinoin is only available by prescription in Australia, it is a stronger and more effective method of treating acne than over-the-counter solutions. Studies have shown a significant improvement in mild to moderate acne when used once daily for 12 weeks.

How long does Tretinoin take to work?

Everyone’s skin is different and your doctor or dermatologist will prescribe you a personalised treatment plan based on your needs and medical history. As with any acne treatment, it takes time to work. It’s important to use Tretinoin exactly as prescribed for best results. 

Many patients will start to see results within the first 12 weeks. However, to manage persistent acne, it’s important to continually use it as prescribed. It’s possible for acne to get worse before it gets better (also known as the “Tretinoin purge”). Common side effects include mild to moderate redness and skin irritation, dryness, peeling or itchiness. If you experience severe side effects, report them to your doctor. 

Is Tretinoin safe?

Tretinoin is generally safe for most people to use. However, topical retinoids are not advised for women who are pregnant, breastfeeding or planning pregnancy as the medication is absorbed through the skin and can affect the baby. 

If over-the-counter options aren’t working for you, you can be prescribed a personalised acne treatment plan online via Rosemary. Start your online visit today.


CUTIS (March 2009) - A combined analysis of 2 randomized clinical studies of tretinoin gel 0.05% for the treatment of acne
International journal of applied & basic medical research (May 2015) - A comparative study to evaluate the efficacy and safety of combination topical preparations in acne vulgaris
Dermatology and therapy (September 2017) - Why Topical Retinoids Are Mainstay of Therapy for Acne
The Australasian College of Dermatologists - Retinoids

ARTG Registered Medications:

Product STIEVA-A 0.025% 0.25mg/g cream tube is registered in the ARTG, AUST R, Product STIEVA-A 0.05% 0.5mg/g cream tube is registered in the ARTG, AUST R

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