The Tretinoin Purge

The Tretinoin Purge

Chances are you already know a bit about molecule, but tretinoin, also known as retinoic acid, is a prescription medication used to treat acne and improve the appearance of aging skin. It is often applied topically in the form of creams, gels, and lotions as a part of a nighttime skincare routine. Before starting a tretinoin regimen, you should be aware of the benefits but also the drawbacks of tretinoin use, including the well-known "tretinoin purge". 

What is tretinoin?

Similar to retinol, tretinoin is classified under the retinoid family, both derived from Vitamin A. Retinoids were originally used as an acne treatment due to their ability to keep pores unclogged. However, they have become popular in recent years due to their perceived benefit with respect to fine lines and wrinkles as well.  

Retinol vs. Tretinoin

A major distinction between retinol and tretinoin is that retinol is available in many over-the-counter products, whereas tretinoin is prescription-strength. The concentrated nature of tretinoin means that it can have greater positive intended effects, but it can also cause worse reactions and side effects. 

What is the tretinoin purge?

One of the most well-known reactions to starting tretinoin is a “tretinoin purge,” which is a period where the skin begins to look worse while equilibrating to the product. A tretinoin purge can be characterized by worsened acne, dryness, irritation, redness, etc. 

A tretinoin purge is different from side effects because a tretinoin purge is to be expected and will subside with time, whereas side effects are either unintended or do not tend to stop. 

What causes a tretinoin purge?

Tretinoin is a harsh treatment and works by increasing the rate of cell turnover, which means removal of dead cells. In the short term, this can cause the symptoms associated with a tretinoin purge: acne, redness, dryness, etc. 

How long does tretinoin purge last?

Depending on the person, a tretinoin purge could last only a couple of weeks. However, some people could experience a tretinoin purge for up to several months. 

How to avoid tretinoin purge?

There are several ways to avoid a tretinoin purge. 

  1. Make sure that you’re not using any products that are known to negatively interact with tretinoin. For example, some skincare acids (e.g., alpha- and beta-hydroxy acids) will increase your skin sensitivity and may make a tretinoin purge worse. Additionally, any other harsh skincare products that are excessively drying or abrasive (e.g., scrubs, astringents, etc.) will increase the chances of a tretinoin purge. 
  2. It’s important to avoid sun exposure right after using tretinoin, which is why tretinoin is generally recommended for your nighttime skincare routine. In addition to that, applying sunscreen daily is key because tretinoin sensitizes your skin to the sun. 
  3. Finally, for those interested in added precautions, you can gradually increase the potency level and frequency application of tretinoin. This will ease your skin into tretinoin use. However, it’s important to note that tretinoin purges are quite common and are unavoidable in some cases.

What happens if you stop using tretinoin?

Tretinoin isn’t known to create permanent results, meaning if you stop using tretinoin, there’s a good chance your skin will look like it did before starting tretinoin. 

For acne treatment, tretinoin is effective because it can unclog pores. Stopping tretinoin in this case may cause more clogged pores and thus, more acne. Additionally, fine lines and wrinkles may return as well. Tretinoin increases the rate of cell turnover, and without regular use, these positive results will fade over several weeks. 


Retinoids like tretinoin are considered harsh ingredients, and your skin will need time to adjust, which is what causes the tretinoin purge. Although it may be alarming to see worse-looking skin at first, many tretinoin users have been there. Unless you’re experiencing more severe side effects, you should just wait out the tretinoin purge to see your results.

While retinoids like tretinoin have long been considered the gold standard of anti-aging skincare products, gentler products have been introduced to tackle certain overlooked anti-aging problems.

For instance, while tretinoin may improve the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, it doesn’t create very significant results for skin elasticity, which makes the skin look bouncy and firm.

Collagen production declines in our early years, declining at a rate of about 1% per year. This can lead to sagging skin, eye bags, and other undesired effects of lowered collagen production. Fibroquin is a newly discovered molecule that was discovered to tackle just that. Featured in Revela’s Fibroquin Essence, daily use can greatly improve skin elasticity by supporting the collagen biopathway. In a recent clinical study, users showed a 21% increase in skin elasticity over an 8-week period, outperforming retinol by 2x. Read more about the discovery and development of Fibroquin in the complete white paper.
Profile photo for Enzo Benfanti

Reviewed by: Enzo Benfanti, MEng

Enzo is a chemical engineer and data enthusiast with a background in industrial chemicals. His previous experience is in developing catalysts and designing industrial chemical processes to produce the precursors to detergents, polyester fibers, and other specialty materials. He received his bachelor’s degree from the University at Buffalo [Go Bills!] and his master's degree from Columbia University, both in chemical engineering.

Written by: Revela Editorial Team

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