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How to Use Retin-A to Reduce Wrinkles

Updated on April 15, 2013
Clear Clinic
Clear Clinic

Retinol cream (retinol creme/retinol a cream)

Retin-A is one of the brand names given to tretinoin and can be used to treat certain types of acne but is also used to reduce the appearance of wrinkles and sun-damaged skin while making rough skin on the face, feel smoother. It is a form of vitamin A and topical, which doesn’t mean in the news, (although it often is!) but that it is applied to the skin.

Amazingly in the world of anti-aging creams and potions, this product has proven again and again to work. That is, to reduce wrinkles and improve the look of the skin.

How Retino a cream works

It works by increasing the growth of cells with the skin. It encourages collagen renewal and also prevents older cells from breaking down. It can’t magically turn back time unfortunately and prevent deep wrinkles but it can keep fine lines from turning into deeper ones.

How to use retinoic acid cream

It is recommended that you put a thin layer on your skin nightly (or every other night) to cover lightly the areas you want treated. First, cleanse your skin gently with mild (not medicated) soap and water then make sure it is thoroughly dry. Then use the Retin-A without rubbing it into the skin if possible. Try not to get it in your eyes, nose or mouth, or near cuts or eczema as it will really hurt.

Different strengths of retinol and retin-a cream

The creams come in a large range of strengths and you can only get this on prescription. Rightly so, as some of the stronger ones like Retin-A can be quite dangerous (see the Warnings section for more information).

There are 3 major types of retinoid. Retin-A is tritinoin and is in the middle of the severity scale. A milder type is Differin which is made from adapalene, while the strongest is something called Tazorac.

Retin-A comes in a variety of strengths and either in cream form or a gel. The creams have different amounts of active ingredient ranging from 0.01% through 0.025% and 0.05% to the strongest at 0.1%. There are also two strengths of gel, 0.01% and 0.025%.

These sound tiny amounts but actually are still quite strong, particularly if you have sensitive skin or are worried about excessive peeling. It might be worth asking your doctor to prescribe the milder Vitamin-A derivative, Differin in this case. If you are fine with this product, then you could gradually work up to the tough stuff. Unless your doctor suggests it, it is usually unadvisable to start off with Tazorac as that is really strong and will make you peel the most.

If you would prefer not to go through a doctor to get a prescription (even though this is the most advisable route) there are retinoid products that are milder than the prescription versions, that you can buy over the counter. Some examples are RoC Retinol Correxion Max Wrinkle Resurfacing System or Neutrogena Rapid Wrinkle Repair Night Moisturizer. Never forget that these are milder than the prescription versions and as such have less serious risks.


If you are considering bypassing the prescription route and ordering on-line be really, really careful as they should be used under a doctor's supervision.


Retinol Cream side effects, warnings and risks

Retinoids can be irritating to the skin as they force the cells to reproduce and regenerate faster. The effect of this is to make your skin red and peel when first used. This can last for a few weeks and often causes people to give up using it. It can be quite scary but it is important to continue if you want it to work.

It will take 2 to 3 weeks for the skin to acclimatize to using the cream and then a few more weeks before you see the benefits. There is more success and less redness and peeling if you start slowly. The temptation is to use loads to cover your skin, but it doesn’t make it work faster or better, it just makes you redder and more sore. You just need a small amount, maybe the size of a pea, to cover your face and neck nightly for the first few weeks. After this time, if you are not experiencing any problems, you can increase the amount used.

If you do suffer from dry and reddened skin while using Retin-A, some dermatologists recommend using extra virgin olive oil on your skin as a moisturizer at night. Apparently, the fatty acids contained in the oil are not dissimilar to those found in skin, so it is quite gentle and soothing.

It is really important to see your doctor as soon as possible if you are experiencing excessively red and swollen, blistered or crusty skin. Also, if you are suffering from a burning pain or itchy skin with a severe irritation.

Other dangers to be aware of when using retinoic acid cream

Another downside is that by using retinoids like Retin-A, you will be far more sensitive to the sun, whether that is outdoors or under a sunlamp. Wind and cold should also be avoided if possible as well. It is very important to apply a sunscreen while you are using Retin-A and don’t forget to keep topping it up during the day or you are at risk of burning. The higher the better is the key when it comes to SPF of your sunscreen but an SPF of at least 15 is recommended.

It is also not advisable to use these creams if you are pregnant, trying to get pregnant, or breastfeeding. Also it isn’t a good idea to use it if you are allergic to tretinoin or any of the other ingredients in the cream. That is quite an obvious statement but it never hurts to say!

As Retin-A makes the skin red and sore, it is not a good idea to also have chemical peels or use scrubs on the skin as they can be a bit too harsh. Gentle cleansers and moisturizers like the olive oil mentioned earlier are much better for you.

Children should not use these creams as there have not been tests to make sure they are safe or effective for them.

The last thing to be aware of is if you are going to remove any hair where you will be applying the cream, for example eyebrow plucking, then try not to do it just before applying Retin-A as it could cause more irritation than normal.

Other uses of retinol cream for acne

As mentioned, retinoids can also help with acne. The skin is encouraged to grow more quickly replacing old skin cells with new ones at a faster rate than normal. Unfortunately, this also can cause spots and pimples to appear with more frequency to start with as well and users report having more acne than normal in the first few weeks. After that though, an improvement should be seen although it can take up to 3 months to see the final results.

In summary

All in all, Retin-A is a very successful wrinkle cream but it really is advisable to consult a doctor before using it. However, as mentioned earlier, don’t forget there are milder retinoids on the market that will do a similar job without the potential side-effects. Here’s to a wrinkle free future!


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