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Retin-A is a form of vitamin A used cosmetically as a skin renewal treatment. Initially introduced as a treatment for acne, Retin-A (brand name for tretinoin) has since been FDA-approved as a topical cosmetic treatment. (Avita and Renova are other brand name versions of tretinoin.) It is a popular anti-aging treatment for a variety of skin issues.

The once-daily ointment is applied topically to a dry face after washing the treatment area thoroughly using an alcohol-free cleanser. Your doctor will likely recommend applying Retin-A in the evening and stress protecting yourself from the sun during treatment by applying sunscreen every morning.

How it Works

Think of Retin-A as a very mild form of chemical peel that is conducted over a longer period of time rather than in one sitting. The daily application of Retin-A helps to treat imperfections on the surface layer of skin (epidermis) by slowly thinning it and revealing newer, healthier skin underneath. In fact, Retin-A actually stimulates the underlying skin and promotes collagen production to improve its appearance. Results vary, but you should expect to begin seeing a change after a couple months of daily treatment. (Be warned that things may get worse before they get better, but that’s all part of the process.)

Like most skin resurfacing procedures, the results are not permanent and a care regimen must be maintained.

What Does Retin-A Treatment Correct?

Retin-A can be used to treat a variety of skin conditions including:

Acne: Retin-A was introduced to help to control acne breakouts while also helping to promote the fast healing of blackheads by releasing blockages in the pours that lead to pimples.

Improved Skin Texture: The topical application of Retin-A helps to smooth the skin and treat things like sun damage and wrinkles.

Hyperpigmentation: The darker, brown blotches of skin associated with hyperpigmentation can be controlled using Retin-A. Severe discoloration may require additional treatments, but Retin-A is effective in treating mild-to-moderate hyperpigmentation.

In addition to the treatments above, Retin-A is also used on occasion as a pre-treatment supplement to prepare patients for other skin procedures (think laser resurfacing). Similarly, the topical cream may be suggested as a post-treatment recovery aid by your doctor or dermatologist.

Retin-A Side Effects

As with any medication, there are certain side effects and risks associated with using Retin-A; though these are mild and most people have a positive experience. Retin-A side effects may include:

  • Warm, burning or stinging sensation after application
  • Reddening of the skin
  • Dry, itchy skin
  • Scaling of the skin
  • Worsening of acne

These side effects may occur in the initial stages of treatment but should fade. (For instance your acne breakouts could worsen for several weeks before improving.)

If you are considering Retin-A treatment but are concerned about any potential side effects or risks associated with its use, speak with a qualified doctor or dermatologist. He/she can help allay your concerns or suggest an alternative treatment you are more comfortable with.

How Much Does Retin-A Cost?

As with all cosmetic treatments, the cost of Retin-A can fluctuate significantly from case to case, provider to provider. You may also consider a generic form of tretinoin rather than a brand name option like Retin-A which could help to reduce the cost.

In general, a six-month supply of Retin-A (45-gram tube) costs $90 on average. Check with your insurance company to see if any part of the cost is covered.