woman is applying tretinoin

How to use tretinoin

“Slow and steady” is the name of the game when getting started with tretinoin. Apply it just two to three nights during the first one to two weeks. Once your skin adjusts, apply every other night for a couple of weeks before upping your use to every night. By the end of five to six weeks, you’ll be using your treatment cream nightly. 

Here’s how to incorporate tretinoin into your skincare routine: 

  • Cleanse. Apply tretinoin to clean the skin. Splash your face with lukewarm water before using a cleanser. Rinse and pat dry with a soft cloth. 
  • Apply. Use at night and apply tretinoin to a fully dry face. Damp skin may absorb tretinoin more quickly. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it can increase sensitivity during the adjustment period. 
  • Moisturize. Allow tretinoin to absorb before applying your moisturizer. Look for hydrating ingredients like hyaluronic acid, glycerin, and shea butter.. 
  • Use sunscreen. When using tretinoin, it’s especially important to apply sunscreen daily. Use broad-spectrum sunscreen with at least SPF 30 each morning and reapply throughout the day. Here are some pro tips for using sunscreen.

If your skin is having a hard time during the adjustment period, use your moisturizer first or dilute your tretinoin cream 50/50 with moisturizer before applying it to your skin. Neither of these tricks will render tretinoin any less effective. 

For optimal results, be sure to read up on these simple waxing recommendations when using tretinoin.

Other ingredients that work well with tretinoin

Tretinoin plays well with others—but you should typically avoid active ingredients such as salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide during the adjustment period. Once your skin adjusts, you may find that tretinoin is all you need to treat your acne and anti-aging concerns. 

Another ingredient to consider stopping during the 5-6 week adjustment period is vitamin C. However, you may choose to include vitamin C once your skin is used to using tretinoin. Vitamin C is one of the best antioxidants to protect against photoaging from the sun. It’s a powerful antioxidant that reduces inflammation, boosts collagen, and improves skin tone.⁸ 

Here are some other ingredients worth considering—they are generally safe to use with tretinoin and, depending on your skin, maybe that extra punch it needs.  

  • Niacinamide has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. It improves hydration, boosts collagen, fades hyperpigmentation, and evens skin tone.⁹ 
  • Hyaluronic acid is a humectant—it draws moisture to the epidermis (outer skin layer) to boost hydration. Hyaluronic acid binds to water molecules to retain moisture.¹⁰
  • Azelaic acid is used to treat rosacea, fade dark spots, and reduce breakouts.¹¹
  • Clindamycin is an antibiotic that prevents the spread of acne-causing bacteria.¹² It also has anti-inflammatory properties to reduce pain and swelling associated with breakouts.¹³


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