When retinol burst onto the beauty scene, it became the Marmite of skincare: some adored its powerful, effective results and were willing to endure the’retinol uglies’ that came with it (the period of red, flaking skin that is currently trending on TikTok), while others couldn’t deal. The good news is that retinol’s big sister, tretinoin, is a game changer for anyone who struggles with acne, hyperpigmentation or fine lines.
‘Think of it as a fast-forward button for your skin, speeding up the turnover of cells, and allowing your fresher, younger cells to replace older ones,’ explains dermatologist Dr Elif Benar. This is how it helps treat acne, reduces fine lines and fades discolouration. It also stimulates collagen production, increases blood supply to the skin, and is a great treatment for sun-damaged skin.
However, it’s important to note that tretinoin is a prescription-only drug in the UK. While it can be bought from online pharmacies, it must only be applied under a doctor’s guidance, so always ask your doctor for a script before you try to buy it. ‘Also, avoid applying it to windburned or sunburned skin and around the mouth and eyes,’ says Dr Benar. If you apply it to your face and get a dry, itchy sensation, you should stop using it immediately and see your doctor as you may be suffering from an allergic reaction.
It’s worth noting that no retinol, no matter how potent, can completely reverse melasma or hyperpigmentation or erase major wrinkles, but it can help limit the appearance of them for a longer period of time. It’s also recommended that you use an SPF of at least 30 every day while on tretinoin, as it makes the skin more sensitive to UV rays.
Before you start to use tretinoin, your doctor will design a personalised treatment plan that includes how often and how much to use it. They will advise you to use it a few times a week to start with and only increase frequency as your skin gets used to it. It’s also important to note that the higher concentration of tretinoin and how often you apply it can cause very dry skin, so it’s best to use it in conjunction with a moisturiser.
‘Make sure to use a cream with hyaluronic acid, vitamin C and vitamin E, to prevent your skin from drying out too much while you’re on it. Also, try to use a serum that is gentler on your skin than retinol-based products,’ says medical aesthetician at River Aesthetics Charlotte Woodward. tretinoin uk