Tretinoin is a powerful skin medication that’s used to treat a wide range of issues, including acne, fine wrinkles and discoloration caused by sun damage. Derived from vitamin A, tretinoin helps to regulate the skin’s natural process of creating new skin cells. It also resurfaces the outer layer of existing cells, reducing signs of aging and improving appearance of fine lines and rough patches. Typically prescribed by a doctor, tretinoin cream is a more potent formulation than over-the-counter versions. As such, it’s more likely to cause irritation or side effects. To reduce this risk, it’s important to use the medication exactly as directed by your physician.

The primary way that tretinoin works is by stimulating the cell division process. As a result, old skin cells are removed more quickly and newer cells are brought to the surface. This is a critical part of the body’s normal cellular turnover, and it’s what makes tretinoin so effective in treating acne and anti-aging symptoms.

Despite this, it can take some time for your skin to adjust to tretinoin’s active ingredients. As a result, it’s common to experience red, flaky and dry skin for the first 7 to 10 days that you use the medication. It’s important to continue using the cream, though, as these initial symptoms should subside. If they persist or become severe, talk to your doctor. They may advise you to reduce the frequency of application, change the strength or type of tretinoin, or switch to a different treatment option altogether.

Because tretinoin is so powerful, it can make your skin more sensitive to sunlight. This is why you should always wear sunscreen when using tretinoin. You should avoid direct sunlight and use a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher. It’s also best to avoid tanning beds and excessive sun exposure while on tretinoin, as these can trigger sunburn or promote premature aging.

Some people find that it takes a few months for their skin to adjust to the benefits of tretinoin. This is why many doctors recommend starting with a less-potent over-the-counter product like retinol before moving up to the prescription version. It’s a great way to get your skin accustomed to the medication before experiencing some of its more serious side effects.

Apply a thin layer of tretinoin cream to the face at night as a part of your skincare routine. A small amount goes a long way, and you’ll only need a pea-sized dab for your entire face. Dab the cream into the areas of your face that are affected by acne or anti-aging and gently massage it in. Avoid applying the cream to the eyes, lips or angles of your nose.

It’s important to use a moisturizer in the morning after applying tretinoin. This will help to offset the drying effects of this medication and make it more comfortable for you to use. Be sure to use a water-based moisturizer, as opposed to an oily one, as the latter can make your face more susceptible to breakouts and other issues.