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Retin-A is a brand of tretinoin cream or gel available by prescription to treat acne. When patients noted their skin looked more radiant, Retin-A became a test subject as an anti-aging tool. Although the drug is over 20 years old, dermatologists still consider it one of the most effective acne treatments. Patients can receive Retin-A in gel or cream form.


Retin-A, a derivative of Vitamin A, speeds the shedding of outer skin cells, and helps skin produce more collagen and a thicker top layer. Initially, skin may become chapped and dry. Acne may appear to worsen in the first few weeks of Retin-A use as cells bring impurities to the surface. Patients may experience burning upon application until the skin adjusts after a few weeks. Both the gel and the cream for work in the same manner.


Dr. John J. Voorhees, chairman of the dermatology department at University of Michigan's School of Medicine published a study in 1988 on Retin-A users with photodamaged skin. Results of the 16-week double-blind study showed that all 30 subjects showed statistically significant improvement in skin texture, reduced wrinkles and brown spots. Retin-A became known as an anti-wrinkle treatment. Nearly 300 retinol-containing cosmetics have appeared since 2003 according to Mintel Global Products Database.

Cream versus Gel

Retin-A gel contains more alcohol than the cream and can be more drying to the skin. While this can be useful for acne-prone skin, aging skin may need more moisture. The cream-based Retin-A can be more gentle. Dermatologists can find the cream useful during the winter months and the gel in the summer. Many dermatologists recommend applying a moisturizer an hour after the Retin-A to reduce the drugs drying effect.


Skin cells contain retinoid receptors that regulate cell function. As you age, your cells act with less regularity. Dermatologist Dr. Min-Wei Christine Lee of Walnut Creek, California told The New York Times, "Consistent use of Retin-A helps normalize the cells." However, you may experience redness and peeling for the first 6 to 12 weeks of Retin-A use as your skin adjusts. Despite the effectiveness of the drug, many people stop using it before the skin shows improvement.


Retin-A users should reduce sun exposure to avoid skin damage. If you have eczema, dermatitis or rosacea, Retin-A can worsen your skin condition. When applying, wash face and wait 20 to 30 minutes before putting Retin-A on your skin to avoid irritation. There has not been sufficient testing to declare Retin-A safe for use during pregnancy or while breastfeeding.