Tretinol, the active ingredient in Retin A is irritating to the skin. Retinol, an over-the-counter medication gets absorbed into the skin and then converted into this active compound that works as tretinol. In general, Retinol products are less irritating than tretinol.

The benefits of these products is well known. They reduce fine lines and wrinkles, even out skin tones, and reduce acne. Unfortunately, many suffer from the irritation that they can cause.

How can I avoid the Retinol Burn?

  1. Apply the smallest amount of product possible. For an entire face, a pea-sized amount is all that should be used. The more you use, the more irritation it will cause.
  2. When starting these products, use them only twice a week. Let your skin get acclimated to it and increase slowly over a few weeks to every night.
  3. Only use gentle products when starting these products. Do not use acne cleansers, scrubs, alcohol, mechanical brushes, or any other products that irritate the skin. If you break down the skin’s natural barrier, you are more at risk for irritation.
  4. Moisturize your skin! Keeping your skin barrier well-lubricated will reduce your chances of irritation.

What can I do if I get irritated from Retinol or Retin A?

  1. Stop using the product until all of the irritation resolves.
  2. Moisturize the skin with a thin coat of Vaseline daily until the irritation resolves. You can use a gentle moisturizing cream, but Vaseline is safer and works better. An alternative is Aquaphor Ointment.
  3. You can use 1% hydrocortisone OINTMENT twice day for one week then once a day for one week if needed. Do not use near the eyes. This works great and definitely get the ointment and not the cream.
  4. If recommended or given by your Dermatologist, give them a call and ask for their advice.

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Robert S. Bader, M.D., Dermatologist