Tretinoin is the generic name of retinoic acid, the active ingredient in the popular anti aging skin care product Retin-A. Tretinoin is also used to treat acne, eczema, sun damage and similar skin disorders. This potent and irritating vitamin-A based compound has been surpassed recently by more soothing compounds including retinol and retinyl palmitate, all of which share the same basic function.
What is tretinoin?
Tretinoin is a form of Vitamin A (also known as retinoic acid). Tretinoin is a fairly common component of many anti wrinkle skin care products. It is one of the first successful anti wrinkle ingredients and was widely used for its anti wrinkle activity. Unfortunately, tretinoin can cause serious side effects in therapeutic concentrations.
Gel preparations tend to be stronger than cream preparations, because tretinoin penetrates the skin better in a gel form.
What does tretinoin do?
Tretinoin's main activity is twofold. First, tretinoin serves as an exfoliant, literally dissolving the upper dead layers of the skin to reveal the living, youthful cells below. This resurfacing process is very similar to that of alpha hydroxy acids, which are frequently used (in high concentrations) in chemical peels.
The second main activity of tretinoin is a little harder to understand. When retinoic acid is absorbed by the skin cells, it is converted into retinol (Vitamin A) which is both an antioxidant and a nutrient useful to the cells.
High concentrations of tretinoin, or leaving the preparation on the skin too long, can lead to irritation, redness, swelling, peeling and other unpleasant side effects. In addition, tretinoin creates extreme sensitivity to sunlight on areas of the skin where it is applied. Therefore great care must be taken by those using tretinoin to stay out of direct sunlight - this is a serious issue, as scarring can result from sun exposure.
Is tretinoin an effective anti wrinkle ingredient?
Yes. Tretinoin has been tested by time and is still an effective anti wrinkle ingredient. Tretinoin would be far more popular if not for the side effects.
Recently, other vitamin A-based compounds have been tested and found to be almost as effective as tretinoin, but without the irritation or sensitivity issues. We recommend products containing retinol or retinyl palmitate instead.
Anti wrinkle products that contain tretinoin
Looking for a wrinkle cream that works? We've reviewed the leading the anti-wrinkle creams and compiled all the information for you.