POSTED: 10 Dec 2023

How Long Does it Take for Tretinoin to Work? Here’s A Week-by-Week Guide on What to Expect

Tretinoin is one of the best known topical skincare medicines throughout the world. This prescription-only-medicine is one of the most powerful treatments that we have for tackling acne, skin ageing, texture and evening out skin tone. The internet and social media are full of testimonies of transformative skincare journeys with Tretinoin. Each one extolling its ability to give clearer, brighter and more youthful skin. However, what’s less spoken about is the process and timeline needed to achieve these gains. In this article we answer one of the most common and least well answered questions in skincacre; how long does Tretinoin take to work? We’ll walk through the typical Tretinoin timeline and provide a week by week guide yo what to expect when starting Tretinoin.

What is Tretinoin?

Tretinoin, also known as all-trans retinoic acid or retin-A, is a derivative of Vitamin A and available by prescription only in countries like the UK. It belongs to the family of retinoids which include over the counter ingredients like Retinol and Retinal as well as prescription products like Adapalene, Tazarotene and Isotretinoin. Tretinoin is renowned for it’s ability to promote skin cell turnover and boost collagen production. Through these actions, it can treat acne and fine lines and wrinkles. Tretinoin is also effective in evening out skin tone and improving skin texture. Tretinoin is more potent than over the counter retinoids and as such is more effective and works more quickly than Retinol.

How Long Does It Take For Tretinoin To Work?

The time it takes for Tretinoin to work depends on your individual skin type, concern you’re trying to treat and the concentration of the Tretinoin you’re using as well as the rest of your skincare routine. That’s why it’s crucial to enter this journey with realistic expectations and a commitment to consistent use. This is because it takes time to see the benefits of Tretinoin which start gradually and build on with longer term use. Although each Tretinoin journey is as unique as the person on it, there are common milestones:

Initial Adaptation:

The first 2-6 weeks of using Tretinoin generally involve your skin getting used to it. During this time, it’s common to experience some skin irritation, purging, dryness and peeling. Although these are signs that the Tretinoin is starting to work not everyone gets them. Also, if they are excessive then you should contact your doctor as they may need to amend your protocol.

Visible Changes:

For acne treatment, some users may begin to see improvements in as little as 2-3 weeks. However, most people will see noticeable results after at least 6-12 weeks of consistent use. In terms of anti-aging benefits, such as reducing fine lines and improving skin texture or smoothing pores, the results usually take longer. You may need to use it for at least 3-6 months before you start to see visible changes. This is because Tretinoin triggers your skin cells to make more collagen which takes at least 6-8 weeks. The time it takes to start fading hyperpigmentation varies depending on severity and whether you’re using Tretinoin alongside Hydroquinone. Noticeable improvements in skin tone may start after as little as 6-8 weeks or as much as 3-6 months of regular use.

Full Benefits:

In general, the more you use tretinoin the more you will see the benefits. As a general rule, you may start to see peak effects after 6-12 months of consistent use. At this point, you may need to consider increasing the dose if appropriate. However, the good news is that you don’t become resistent to Tretinoin. Continuous use contributes to ongoing improvements in skin texture, ageing and tone no matter how long you use it for. It’s just that the rate and amount of improvement slows down.

Week-by-Week Guide of What to Expect on Your Tretinoin Journey

Starting your Tretinoin journey is exciting, however everyone’s experience is different. To make the most out of this treatment, you will need plenty of patience and persistence. However, the potential rewards are absolutely worth the wait! You can increase your chances of following through with Tretinoin treatment by knowing what to expect. Here’s a week-by-week guide:

  • Preparation: The best way to start your Tretinoin journey is with a consultation with a doctor. They will assess your skin and design a personalised Tretinoin protocol to work for your needs.
  • Adjustment Phase (Weeks 1-2): In the initial weeks, your skin will be getting used to Tretinoin. Even at a low dose or frequency, you might still experience some redness, dryness or peeling. It’s crucial to maintain a gentle skincare routine during this phase and let your doctor know if there is any irritation or other concern.
  • Purge & Progress (Weeks 2-8): This period can see an uptick in breakouts as Tretinoin accelerates cell turnover. While disheartening, this is temporary and normal. Your doctor can help you get through this by adjusting your protocol.
  • Weeks 6-8: Early Improvements Many users start to see some noticeable changes at this point. However, this does vary from person to person.
  • Weeks 9-24: Assessing & Advancing Most users often report a noticeable reduction in acne and an improvement in skin texture as well as quality at this point. This is a good time to connect with your doctor so they can assess your progress and see if they need to make any changes to your protocol.
  • Long-Term Results & Maintenance (From 24 weeks onwards): Tretinoin’s benefits continue to build up with with time. It is generally safe to use long-term provided you’re healthy, tolerating it well and not pregnant or breastfeeding. Consistency remains key to maintain and build on results.

Tips for Success & Reducing How Long Tretinoin Takes to Work

At the heart of using Tretinoin effectively is personalising the treatment to your needs and skin response. Whilst Tretinoin does take time to work (there’s no getting around this I’m afraid!), there are a few things that can speed up how long this takes. Below are some of our top tips for using Tretinoin properly:

  • Factors Influencing Effectiveness: Although higher concentrations may yield faster results but also come with a greater likelihood of side effects. These side effects can damage the skin or set you back significantly. As such, the best strength and frequency to start on are the ones that your skin can tolerate without problems. This is why most people are better off on a low dose and slow frequency to get their skin quickly used to it. After that, it’s generally easier and faster to build up both the strength and how often you used it.
  • Patience & Consistency: It’s important to stay patient and use Tretinoin regularly. Skipping applications or discontinuing use without good reason can delay or reduce its effectiveness and increase how long it takes to work.
  • Get Expert Help: As with any prescription treatment, it’s really important to consult with a doctor for a personalised treatment protocol. They should also provide ongoing advice and aftercare to help you get the most out of your treatment.

Starting on a Tretinoin journey can be exciting and expectations are usually high! However, it is important to remember that this treatment needs commitment and patience. Also, individual experiences can vary, as can how long it takes for Tretinoin to work. This depends on your individual skin type, skin concern and how severe it is. You can maximise your chances of success by consulting with a healthcare professional for personalised advice.

At City Skin Clinic, we are passionate about personalised skincare. Our doctors offer safe effective treatments like Tretinoin and Hydroquinone through our online skin clinic. We treat a range of skin conditions including  acnehyperpigmentationmelasma and skin ageing. To start your personalised skincare plan, book a virtual video consultation or use our online consultation form. The journey towards great skin starts here.

Authored by:

Dr Amel Ibrahim
Aesthetic Doctor & Medical Director
Founder City Skin Clinic
Member of the Royal College of Surgeons of England
Associate Member of British Association of Body Sculpting GMC Registered - 7049611

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