Do you know the difference between Retin-A and tretinoin?

This article compares Retin-A with Tretinoin and explains why one can be used in place of the other. It also discusses how other acne treatments with similar names compare to tretinoin.

Medication names can be confusing. So it’s confusing when your doctor or dermatologist recommends Retin-A yet the pharmacist offers you a tube of tretinoin. This is because Tretinoin and Retin-A are actually the same thing and both can be used to treat various skin conditions. Tretinoin is another name for all-trans retinoic acid. It is a generic medicine of which Retin-A is a product in which Tretinoin is the active ingredient. Simply put, Retin-A is a brand name for Tretinoin. There are various Tretinoin products available that have different names because several businesses produce topical tretinoin medicines.

Tretinoin Advantages

There are various benefits of using tretinoin, whether you get it in the form of a generic or brand version such as Retin-A.

The main benefit of tretinoin is that it is a medication that has shown to improve both inflammatory and non-inflammatory acne. It treats severe acne by reducing inflammation, lowering oil production (sebum), and unclogging pores.

Tretinoin has been shown to reduce areas of darker or mottled (spotty) “hyperpigmentation.” It achieves this by promoting skin cell turnover in the affected area. This can also treat skin with acne patches, helping your skin appear brighter.

Tretinoin’s anti-ageing properties include the reduction of wrinkles and fine lines caused by ultraviolet (UV) radiation exposure. It prevents the breakdown of cell proteins and collagen that occurs when your skin is exposed to UV rays, often known as sun damage. Studies have shown that when medications that contain tretinoin are used as part of a skincare routine, they increase collagen production, elasticity (tightness), and the appearance of sun-damaged skin—tretinoin aids to keep skin appearing young and smooth.

What exactly are retinoids?

Retinoids are a class of fat-soluble chemical compounds generated from vitamin A; vitamin A is involved in numerous bodily processes such as reproduction, growth, inflammation, eyesight, and skin health. Retinoids are used to treat acne, and skin irritation.

Tretinoin is one of the numerous natural retinoids used in skincare. There are already four generations of retinoids created from synthetic forms of tretinoin, which are frequently used in conjunction with skin care products to improve skin.

Retin-A Micro, retinol, and isotretinoin.

Also commonly used are other topical retinoids including, Tazorac (tazarotene) and Differin (adapalene). Differin is more accurately classified as a retinoid-like chemical, but it can be used and work in the same way.

Micro Retinol: Tretinion vs Retin-A Micro + Retin-A

There is a difference between these two is how the tretinoin is delivered to your skin. Retin-A Micro is milder and gently releases the drug over time, making it less irritating than Retin-A.


Retinol is not a prescribed medication and can be purchased at your local pharmacy whereas tretinoin is a prescribed medication. Retinol is a topical retinoid. It’s made from vitamin A. It aids in the softening of fine wrinkles and the brightening of the skin. It does not operate as quickly as prescription retinoids or on the deeper layers of the skin. Many over-the-counter anti-aging skincare products contain retinol.


Tretinoin and isotretinoin are both prescription acne treatments. Both are made up of vitamin A. That’s where their parallels end.

Tretinoin is a topical acne treatment. Isotretinoin, formerly known as Accutane, is an oral medicine used to treat severe inflammatory acne. Tretinoin and isotretinoin cannot be used interchangeably.

Can I purchase Tretinoin?

Tretinoin is a prescription medication. If you want to use Tretinoin to treat acne or skin aging, you should consult with a doctor.

Side effects of Tretinoin

Retin-A, pure tretinoin and tretinoin-containing medications can cause adverse effects, including: 

  • Skin that is irritated, red, or scaly
  • Skin darkening or lightening that is unusual 
  • Sensation of stinging or burning
  • Dehydrated skin
  • Pain in the application zones
  • Crusty, puffy, or blistering skin in the application zones
  • Sensitive skin and in particular sunlight sensitivity and increased risk of sunburn

Another negative effect to be aware of is that tretinoin and retinol products may cause skin irritation and subsequently your skin to peel. This is due to the turnover of skin cells. Basically, your dead skin cells will flake and make your skin look dry. Please note that this effect is not dependent on skin type, it is just a result of tretinoin use. However, let your skin do this as it is only temporary and your skin structure will be improved in no time. 

It’s is important that you apply tretinoin cream or retinol products carefully to the areas that require it as where it has been applied it will make your skin more sensitive to sunlight.

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