When it comes to prescription acne treatments, Tretinoin is one of the most popular and commonly prescribed by doctors and dermatologists worldwide. Sold under brand name Stieva-A in Australia, Tretinoin is a topical retinoid that can be highly effective in treating acne and hyperpigmentation.
Whether you get the occasional zit or find yourself struggling with pimples or cystic acne on a regular basis, you may turn to Dr Google to discover the best treatments for acne. While there are plenty of over-the-counter options and at-home skincare routines to adopt, sometimes you just might need prescription-strength medication to help clear your skin.
If you’re interested in trying Tretinoin for your skin, it’s important to understand how it works and the effects it can have. Here are 5 things you should know before using Tretinoin.
1. Your skin might get worse before it gets better due to the Tretinoin Purge
The word “purge” sounds terrifying when it comes to your skin, but in this context, the Tretinoin Purge is actually a positive thing. It refers to the initial stages of your treatment, when your skin is purging and clearing out old skin cells in order for fresh ones to surface and reveal clearer, younger-looking skin. Skin purging is a common rite of passage when starting acne treatment and can last anywhere from 4 to 6 weeks after starting treatment.
What does skin purging look like? It can cause side effects like redness, swelling, dryness, itchiness and possibly more pimples than when you started. This is because Tretinoin boosts the rate of skin cell turnover to help prevent your pores from getting clogged and turning into acne. While it’s working to surface the new, fresh skin cells, everything in between has to come to the surface first, such as dead skin cells, excess sebum, dirt and bacteria. But once you get through the Tretinoin Purge, you’ll see fresh, healthy skin.
2. It can take a few months to see results from Tretinoin
Tretinoin starts working as soon as you apply it to the affected area of your skin. However, it can still take a few months before you start to see noticeable results. That’s because you’ll typically go through the purge first and then your skin will begin to improve. Studies show significant improvement in acne after using Tretinoin once daily over 12 weeks.
So if you’re just starting with Tretinoin, keep at it! Once you get through the purge, the new fresh skin cells should reveal clearer, younger-looking skin.
3. Tretinoin can make your skin more sensitive to sunlight
Wearing sunscreen is an important step of any good skincare routine, but it becomes even more important when you use Tretinoin or any topical retinoid for acne treatment. That’s because topical retinoids have a side effect called photosensitization, where skin is more susceptible to being damaged by ultraviolet light.
Studies have found that photosensitization is common at the beginning of treatment, but after a few months, the skin’s response to UV radiation returns to normal. However, it’s still good practice to use sunscreen as part of your daily skincare routine, especially if you are trying to get rid of your acne.
4. It’s most effective when you apply Tretinoin before bed
Because Tretinoin degrades in sunlight, it isn’t as effective when you use it in the morning and are starting your day compared to when you use it at night. Instead, it’s better to use it before bed when your skin has time to absorb it fully. After you wash and dry your face and other affected areas of your skin, apply a thin layer of Tretinoin to the spots and gently massage it into your skin. This gives the Tretinoin cream or gel plenty of sunlight-free time to soak in and allow the active ingredients to work.
5. Tretinoin is an effective long-term acne treatment
The journey to clear skin is a long-term commitment, but it’s important to stick with it even through the first few months of skin purging and increased sensitivity to sunlight. The temporary side effects of dryness, breaking out, irritation, redness and itchiness are just that - temporary. There have been many studies that have shown that Tretinoin is an effective acne treatment when used consistently and as prescribed in the long run. We know it can be discouraging when your skin gets worse before it gets better, but the potential long term benefits are worthwhile. If you ever feel like your side effects are getting worse, contact your doctor who can help advise you on whether you should keep going or try a different treatment.
Acne treatment online with Rosemary Health
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- CUTIS (March 2009) - A combined analysis of 2 randomized clinical studies of tretinoin gel 0.05% for the treatment of acne
- Clinical Interventions in Aging (December 2006) - Retinoids in the treatment of skin aging: an overview of clinical efficacy and safety
- Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology (February 2013) - Tretinoin Photostability