Difference Between Retin-A and Tretinoin

There is no distinction between Retin-A and tretinoin in the eyes of dermatologists, skin care professionals, or patients. Yet, referring to all forms of tretinoin or acne therapy as Retin-A is like to referring to all forms of tissue paper as Kleenex or all forms of chlorine and bleach products as Clorox or all forms of photocopying equipment as Xerox.

Acne patients often receive prescriptions for a type of tretinoin known by its brand name, Retin-A. In and of itself, tretinoin is a pharmacologically active version of retinoic acid, more popularly known as vitamin A. Because of its potent effects, tretinoin is only accessible with a doctor's prescription, whether in the form of Retin-A or another formulation.

Explaining the difference between Retin-A and tretinoin to non-specialists may seem like nitpicking, but it is necessary. First of all, despite the name, Retin-A is not 100% pure tretinoin. To add to that, tretinoin is also prescribed to patients with a particular form of cancer. In the sections that follow, we'll dive deeper into the differences between retin-A and tretinoin.

What is Retin-A?

Retin-A is a branded version of tretinoin with a very particular concentration that dermatologists use to treat acne. The effective concentration for treating acne was discovered by Dr. Albert Kligman and his colleagues via experimentation. In 1971, Johnson & Johnson, which had been granted a licence to commercialize the finding, began selling a product called Retin-A. Dr. Kligman found that the same concentration made the skin of his patients smoother and wrinkles vanish.

Although Retin-A is still predominantly used and sold today as an acne treatment, it has since been utilised as an anti-aging medicine. In addition, Retin-A is now available in a wide range of strengths to accommodate different sensitivities. Hyperpigmentation, or skin darkening, keratosis pilaris, psoriasis, and wrinkles are some of the other conditions that Retin-A is commonly used to treat in addition to acne.

Retin-key A's component, tretinoin, has been shown to be highly effective at accelerating the skin's natural cell renewal process. Retin-A Micro, a gentler and slower acting version of tretinoin, and Renova, an anti-aging treatment marketed primarily for wrinkles, are two more skincare brand names that contain tretinoin as their active component. In addition to tretinoin, the antibiotic clindamycin is occasionally recommended for acne treatment, and this is what Ziana, another brand, consists of.

Side effects from tretinoin are shared by all of these topical treatments. Most people who use this condition report symptoms of skin irritation, including dryness, a stinging or burning sensation, redness, scaling, flaking, or peeling skin.

What is Tretinoin?

Tretinoin, sometimes known as vitamin A, is a pharmacologically active derivative of retinoic acid. Prescription drugs like Retin-A contain it as its active component for treating acne and other skin issues. Acute promyelocytic leukaemia (APL) is a kind of malignancy characterised by an abnormally high number of immature blood cells in the blood and bone marrow, and tretinoin is used to treat this condition. In the case of APL, tretinoin encourages the normal development of the immature blood cells, resulting in a reduction of the cancer's signs and symptoms, similar to its topical use where it speeds up skin cell turnover.

Among the class of compounds known as retinoids, tretinoin stands out as both the most extensively used and most effective. Epithelial cells, which line the surface of numerous internal and external bodily organs including the skin, blood vessels, and digestive tract, are sensitive to retinoids, a class of chemical compounds that controls their proliferation. These compounds have seen most extensive usage in the treatment of skin conditions like acne and in cosmetics, but they have also been used in the treatment of some forms of cancer, such as APL.

Tretinoin has a number of related retinoids, including tazarotene, which is used in a similar fashion and is similarly recommended for comparable skin disorders, and differin, a more recent, over-the-counter option. Tretinoin is not to be taken by women who are pregnant, trying to get pregnant, or can get pregnant since it can cause birth abnormalities, in addition to the negative effects of its topical preparations. Stomach distress and diarrhoea, constipation, heartburn, headaches, nausea, and vomiting are some of the side effects of oral tretinoin.

Differences: Retin-A and Tretinoin

The following table highlights the major differences between Retin A and Tretinoin −





Retin-A is a brand name for a special formulation and specific concentration of tretinoin.

Tretinoin is an active form of retinoic acid, commonly known as vitamin A.

Primary use

Retin-A is a medication primarily prescribed for acne.

Tretinoin is also prescribed not only for acne but other skin ailments.

Other uses

Retin-A is used as an anti-aging product to reduce wrinkles and smoother skin.

Tretinoin is also used to a specific type of cancer.

Side effects

Retin-A can irritates the skin and can cause dry skin, redness, stinging or burning feeling, and scaly, flaky, or peeling skin.

Tretinoin can cause birth defects, stomach pain and diarrhea, constipation, heartburn, headaches, nausea, and vomiting.

Similar products

Products similar to Retin-A are Retin-A Micro, Renova and Ziana, all of which contain different concentrations of tretinoin.

Other retinoids similar to tretinoin are tazarotene and differin.


Retin-A and Tretinoin are both topical medications used to treat various skin conditions. Although they are similar in their effects on the skin, there are several differences between the two, including their concentration, formulation, and cost.

When choosing between Retin-A and Tretinoin, it is important to consider these differences and consult with a dermatologist to determine which medication is best for your skin type and specific skin concerns.

Updated on: 19-Apr-2023


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