If you’re battling moderate to severe acne that can’t be managed with your usual pharmacy treatment, your GP might prescribe a topical retinoid – a type of skin treatment applied directly to the skin that’s normally only available with a prescription. In the UK, a few different kinds of retinoids can be prescribed, including adapalene (Differin), which is a powerful new generation of the vitamin A-derived ingredient that’s been shown to reduce redness and breakouts caused by inflammation and excess oil production. But the most potent form of retinoid is tretinoin, and while you can find it in prescriptive treatments from brands like Get Harley, Dermatica and Skin + Me, it’s only available by prescription from your GP or dermatologist.
The main thing to know about tretinoin is that it can take weeks or even months for it to work, and that it needs to be used consistently if you want to see results. It’s also worth noting that tretinoin can make your skin sensitive to light and sun, so it’s important to protect your complexion with plenty of suncream when you’re using the product.
Dr Elif Benar, a dermatologist and the founder of beauty e-shop Skin+ Me, explains that tretinoin is a powerful anti-ageing hero that ‘can reduce fine lines and wrinkles, hyperpigmentation, treat sun-damaged skin and increase collagen,’ but that it’s important to approach it with caution, particularly if you’re pregnant or breastfeeding or have very sensitive skin. She also warns that you can experience a phase of ‘retinoid uglies’, when your skin gets flaky, red and itchy.
Before applying tretinoin, you need to wash and dry your face thoroughly, says Dr Elif. Then squeeze a pea-sized amount of gel onto your fingertip and apply it to your skin in the evening, making sure not to get it in your eyes, mouth or corners of your nose. You should apply it to clean skin that’s free from any makeup or other skincare products. It’s best to start with a lower strength – for example, 0.025% – and gradually build up to higher strengths as you become accustomed to the ingredient.
If you do experience any side effects, such as pain in your tummy, bones or chest, speak to your doctor straight away as they may be able to prescribe medicine to help with this. Other potential symptoms include redness and irritation, diarrhoea, bloating and changes to the shape of your face.
There’s a reason why tretinoin has such a high price tag, and it’s because of the strict rules that come with it. If you’re tempted to purchase it from online pharmacies in other countries, you need to be cautious as some of them aren’t legitimate. If you do decide to buy a low-strength tretinoin from an online source, always check it’s legitimate and follow the instructions. Otherwise, you could damage your skin. tretinoin uk