A gentle dab of topical tretinoin can help remove all those impurities on your skin to reveal that picture-perfect, youthful glow. Check out some of these tretinoin before and after pictures to see how it does its magic. 

What Is Tretinoin?

Tretinoin is a prescription-strength topical cream or gel used to treat acne, sun-damaged skin, and fine wrinkles. It can significantly decrease the number and severity of acne pimples and promote quick healing of those that do form.

Tretinoin is considered a retinoid, a type of medication that derives from vitamin A. They have many uses in cosmetics to help reduce wrinkles and signs of aging on the face. It works by affecting the growth of skin cells. Tretinoin is sold under many different brand names. Retin-A is one of those brand names which shouldn’t be confused with retinol.

How Tretinoin Works

Tretinoin affects skin cell growth, which may sound counterintuitive, but this process can speed up the life cycle of skin cells, making them divide and die faster, so newer and healthier cells can take their place.

This medication works best in a skin care program that protects the treated skin from the sun. However, it does not completely or permanently erase these skin problems like fine lines and dark spots or significantly improves more obvious changes in the skin, such as deep wrinkles caused by the sun or the natural aging process.

Tretinoin Before And After Photos & Videos

Here’s what people have to say about their experience with tretinoin.

Emily Schmuckal (@aesthetician.emily)

Results may vary in some people; sometimes, it yields faster; other times, it takes a little longer, which was the case for Emily, a medical aesthetician who struggled with acne and used topical tretinoin for about a year and a half. 

She started applying tretinoin 2-3x a week but gradually made it into a nightly ritual. One positive thing she says is that she only experienced mild purging*, which only lasted a few weeks. 

(*The extent of purging depends on the person and the percentage/amount of tretinoin they use)

Tretinoin Before And After
Before & After

Shan (@kreeshan_)

Shan’s acne breakouts often got in the way of her self-confidence, so she decided to consult a dermatologist who prescribed her topical tretinoin to fix the matter. 

She made it part of her nightly routine and consistently applied sunscreen daily. After 4 months of continuous usage, her skin has become noticeably smoother and clearer. 

Tretinoin Before And After 4 months
Before & After

Abbey Yung (@abbeyyung)

Abbey’s skin had gone a long way since she started using tretinoin — her skin looked dull and further beaten by acne breakouts and dry spots. The first few months with the medication weren’t that easy either, since a few side effects like drying and soreness manifested themselves quite often. 

After proper and consistent use, Abbey says her skin has never been smoother, and she’s definitely rocking it. 

Tretinoin Before And After image
Before & After

How To Use Tretinoin

Use tretinoin only as directed by your doctor. Avoid using more of it or for a longer time than what your doctor prescribed since it may irritate the skin. Tretinoin medications often come with a patient information leaflet, which you should read before using the product. 

Before applying tretinoin, wash the skin with a mild soap or cleanser and warm water by using the tips of your fingers. Then gently pat dry. Do not scrub your face with a sponge or washcloth. Applying tretinoin to wet skin can irritate it, so it’s advisable to wait 20 to 30 minutes before applying to ensure the skin is completely dry. 

If you’re using the cream, gel, or lotion form of tretinoin:

  • Apply a pea-sized amount to cover the affected areas very lightly, and rub gently. This amount would be enough to cover the entire face.
  • Using moisturizer while you are using the lotion is recommendable.

For the liquid solution form:

  • Apply enough tretinoin solution to cover the affected areas using your fingertips. (You can also use a gauze pad or a cotton ball/swab). To avoid the solution from running across the face or becoming messy, opt for a cotton swab/ball. 

Once done, wash your hands to remove any residue to prevent irritation.

Don’t apply this medication to sunburned skin or on/near open wounds. Avoid using it on or around the eyes, lips, or inside of the nose, and make sure to spread it away from these places. If it accidentally gets on these areas, wash it off immediately with water.

Side Effects

Using tretinoin for acne can cause a few side effects among certain users. The most commonly reported include:

  • Burning or itching sensations
  • Redness
  • Dryness 
  • Blistering/crusting
  • Swelling
  • Temporary change in skin pigmentation

Purging, drying, and soreness are normal side effects and signs of the medication’s efficacy. They can last for weeks or months at a time. 

When using tretinoin, avoid excessive exposure to the sun as much as possible and apply sunscreen. Due to skin cell turnover and decreased sebum, the skin becomes sensitive to heat and sunlight for the first few weeks or longer, making it vulnerable to sun damage.

If the side effects don’t subside past their normal period, or if something more severe comes up,  consult your dermatologist immediately.


Tretinoin can be a safe, effective treatment option for acne and reduce the appearance of surface wrinkles and dark spots. While it can irritate the skin initially and may take time to see results, it can help effectively bring out smoother, healthier skin.

If you’re experiencing continuous negative side effects from tretinoin, stop using it and seek immediate medical attention. 

Disclaimer: this article does not constitute or replace medical advice. If you have an emergency or a serious medical question, please contact a medical professional or call 911 immediately. To see our full medical disclaimer, visit our Terms of Use page.

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