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Can you use Tretinoin every night?

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An effective skincare routine doesn't have to be extensive. All that matters is choosing products that work and provide the most benefits. And if we're talking about skincare ingredients worth the money, we have to mention tretinoin. 

You've probably heard of tretinoin and its anti-aging and acne-fighting abilities. However, this vitamin A derivative addresses many other skin concerns, such as hyperpigmentation and uneven texture. 

But the key to success with tretinoin is to start slow. Can you use tretinoin every night? In this guide, we answer this question and more.

What is Tretinoin?

Tretinoin is a retinoid that was originally formulated to treat acne. Today, it's sold as a cream, but you might also get it in a liquid, serum, or gel.

You can only get tretinoin with a prescription because of its potency and side effects (we'll get into those a little later). Part of this medicine's power begins working on the skin instantaneously. Conversely, over-the-counter retinol products are weaker and don't work as quickly.

How does tretinoin work?

Like other retinoids, tretinoin improves your skin condition by increasing cell turnover. In addition, it can deeply penetrate your skin and impact cell behavior—for instance, accelerating collagen growth and renewal.

There are various strengths and formulations of tretinoin. Your dermatologist will know the right concentration for your skin and its needs. A professional can also help you determine how often to apply it. 

What are the Benefits of Tretinoin?

The main advantage of using tretinoin is that it helps improve various skin conditions—including acne. Here are some of the other benefits of tretinoin:

Reduces signs of premature aging

Tretinoin is known for its anti-aging abilities. It can help smooth fine lines and wrinkles—resulting in more supple skin. This prescription retinol also boosts cell turnover and collagen production, two actions important for skin elasticity.

In one study, participants who used tretinoin and sunscreen saw a more significant improvement in wrinkles than those who did not use tretinoin.

Fights Acne

Tretinoin reduces acne by unclogging pores and easing inflammation. Research has shown that this retinol treatment is effective in easing inflammatory and non-inflammatory acne. It's believed that tretinoin exfoliates dead skin that clogs pores and leads to breakouts.

In addition, tretinoin is also known to control the production of sebum—or the oil responsible for pimples.

Decreases hyperpigmentation

If you're experiencing dark marks from shaving, tretinoin may help even your skin tone. As we know, tretinoin exfoliates dead skin, which gets rid of dark patches. It can also reduce the appearance of scars that acne leaves behind.

Improves the look of sun-damaged skin

Sun damage happens to the best of us. So if you have a few sunspots, tretinoin may help improve their appearance. It can also build your skin's barrier and prevent further damage. Of course, it is worth noting that sunscreen is the best defense against sunspots.

What are the Risks of Tretinoin?

You're probably ready to get your hands on a prescription of tretinoin, but wait—this retinoid comes with a few caveats.

First, tretinoin is unsuitable for those with rosacea, as it could worsen redness, dryness, and irritation. So, if you have other sensitive skin conditions, such as eczema, tretinoin isn't the best choice for you.

What about those with normal or non-reactive skin? You may still experience a few side effects. 

Some side effects of tretinoin include:

  • Dryness
  • Peeling
  • Slight burning
  • Mild scaling
  • Itchiness

The good news is that these side effects typically go away after long-term use. Many minor reactions can be mitigated by using a moisturizer or other skincare product that eases dryness. You can also use calming ingredients like aloe vera, green tea, chamomile, allantoin, and rose water.

Also, tretinoin can make acne worse before getting better—also known as the "tretinoin purge." But don't worry, the "purge" is temporary.

More serious reactions from tretinoin include facial swelling, burning, conjunctivitis, skin discoloration, and blisters. If you experience any of these symptoms, discontinue tretinoin and consult your primary physician immediately. These symptoms could signal a tretinoin allergy.

Allergic reactions to tretinoin include:

  • Severe itching
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Dizziness
  • Hives
  • Skin discoloration

However, for the most part, severe reactions to tretinoin are rare. 

How Often Do You Use Tretinoin? 

When you first start out using tretinoin, it's best to start slow. Therefore, apply it every two to three nights to prevent irritation. 

After about two weeks of this schedule, increase your frequency to every night. Pay attention to your skin and go at your own pace when starting tretinoin. And if you experience persistent or intense irritation, discontinue use.

Tip: Use a moisturizer 20 minutes after applying your dose of tretinoin. Also, apply a moisturizer or hydrating facial spray throughout the day to combat dryness.

Things to Consider When Using Tretinoin

Tretinoin should be used with special care. Below are some things to think about before starting adding this product to your skincare routine:

Tretinoin increases sun sensitivity

Tretinoin can make your skin more sensitive to the sun and more prone to burning. So be sure to use sunscreen with your tretinoin. Or, to avoid sun sensitivity, you can only apply it at night.

Tip: Opt for at least 30 SPF—this ensures that your skin is protected against harmful sun rays.

It doesn't work well with other skin treatments

When used with exfoliants such as glycolic acid and benzoyl peroxide, tretinoin can cause irritation and worsen your skin. The only product that works well with tretinoin is a moisturizer without any active ingredients.

It takes time to see results from tretinoin

Although tretinoin starts working as soon as you apply it to your skin, it takes a while to see a noticeable difference. Studies show that, on average, it takes about three months for tretinoin users to see an improvement in their skin. 

Additionally, research shows that after 12 months of continual use of tretinoin drastically improved the appearance of wrinkles and eased severe acne.

Discover the Benefits of Tretinoin for Yourself

If you have acne-prone or aging skin, tretinoin can make a huge difference. It can reduce breakouts, exfoliate dead skin, and smooth fine lines. 

However, since it's a prescription-strength medicine, it does come with some side effects. But for the most part, the advantages outweigh the caveats. Plus, you can mitigate irritation and dryness with a moisturizer or calming skincare product.

Think tretinoin is right for you? Schedule a consultation with your dermatologist.

This blog post is for educational purposes only and does not constitute medical or other professional advice. Your specific circumstances should be discussed with a healthcare provider. All statements of opinion represent the writers' judgement at the time of publication and are subject to change. Phoenix and its affiliates provide no express or implied endorsements of third parties or their advice, opinions, information, products, or services.

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