Topical retinoids work by unplugging
clogged pores, allowing other topical medicines such as antibiotics to enter
the hair shaft and fight underlying infection. You often use a topical
antibiotic along with a topical retinoid, an oral antibiotic, and benzoyl
Topical retinoids come in cream, gel, and liquid forms.
You apply the medicine to your skin once a day, usually at night, about 20 to
30 minutes after washing your face.
Topical retinoids also work to
reduce outbreaks by preventing dead cells from clogging pores.
Why It Is Used
You typically use topical retinoids
for moderate to severe
acne that has not responded to other
How Well It Works
Topical retinoids work very well to
clear pores and to reduce the frequency and severity of acne outbreaks. The use of a retinoid along with topical antibiotic or
benzoyl peroxide may work better than either medicine alone.
Side effects of topical retinoids
Sensitivity to sunlight.
acute redness and peeling of the skin.
Tazarotene is sometimes more irritating than tretinoin or
See Drug Reference for a full list of side effects.
(Drug Reference is not available in all systems.)
What To Think About
At first, topical retinoids may
make acne worse. You may notice redness and peeling of your skin when you first
use topical retinoids.
Topical retinoids, especially tazarotene,
are not recommended during pregnancy. Talk to your doctor before using topical
retinoids if you are pregnant or think you could become pregnant. Also, if you
are breast-feeding, talk with your doctor before using topical
Tretinoin works best if you start with a lower strength
and change to a higher strength as needed. Doing this may reduce redness and
peeling of your skin. If your skin becomes very red and peels, try using
topical retinoids every other night or every third night instead of every
How this information was developed to help you make better health decisions.