The People's Perspective on Medicine

Tretinoin

Overview

This acne medication is available in cream, gel and liquid formulations in various strengths.

It is very effective in cases of mild or moderate acne, and that is the only condition for which the FDA has approved its use.

However, doctors also prescribe Retin-A to smooth the fine wrinkling and discoloration of skin that has been damaged by years of sun exposure, and it is under study for use in treating precancerous skin lesions.

It has been used experimentally to treat several kinds of skin cancer as well as certain forms of psoriasis and other rare skin conditions.

Side Effects and Interactions

The most common side effect of Retin-A is skin irritation.

This is made worse by exposure to wind, cold or other irritating chemicals, including abrasive or drying cleansers, products containing alcohol or astringents, and many over-the-counter acne preparations.

Some people have reported temporary changes in skin color where Retin-A was applied. Notify your physician if you develop any unexpected symptoms.

Special Precautions

Although there has been no evidence of danger to the fetus, pregnant women are advised not to use this medication unless a doctor tells them it is necessary.

Retin-A may increase the skin's susceptibility to sunburn, so it is best to avoid sunbathing or tanning lamps.

Many sunscreens can interact with Retin-A to inactivate it, so they should not be applied at the same time.

Putting sunscreen on in the morning if Retin-A was applied at bedtime should not pose a problem.

Taking the Medicine

Retin-A is usually applied to clean, dry skin once a day, at bedtime.

It should be kept away from the eyes, the corners of the mouth, and the angles of the nose.

Putting the medicine on damp skin may cause irritation, so at least 30 minutes should be allowed between washing the face and applying the medication.

If the skin becomes red and starts to flake, hurt or blister, it is prudent to stop using Retin-A for a few days or switch to a lower concentration.

When using Retin-A to treat wrinkles, dermatologists recommend using the highest concentration that can be managed.

After two or three years of daily use, it may be possible to maintain the benefits using Retin-A twice a week.

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About the Author
Joe Graedon is a pharmacologist who has dedicated his career to making drug information understandable to consumers. His best-selling book, The People’s Pharmacy, was published in 1976 and led to a syndicated newspaper column, syndicated public radio show and web site. In 2006, Long Island University awarded him an honorary doctorate as “one of the country's leading drug experts for the consumer.” .
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Over the past few years my 85 year old husband has had many pre-cancerous spots on his forehead, scalp and ears frozen. Also had 3 removed surgically which proved to be cancer. Now the dermatologist wants him to apply Tretinoin cream to his forehead, scalp (he’s bald) and ears. It’s very expensive and the insurance won’t cover it. I’m wondering, since all I can find is that it’s used for to treat acne, if its worth the expense and fuss?
She says it will avoid any more of the pre-cancer lesions from forming. He also has early dementia and it’s all I can do to get him to take his blood pressure & pre-diabetis pills. Your thoughts? Thank you for all you do for us.
Shirley

I really like Retin-A. It stopped my breakouts, and has evened out my skin tone.
I hear that Retin-A is a slow mover. In other words, it takes quite a while to start softening wrinkles.
The only drawback I see, it gives me vivid dreams. I can’t find that ‘side-effect’ anywhere.
Am I alone in noticing these lucid dreams?
I use the 0.05% cream.

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