6 Dos and Don’ts of Tretinoin – Dermatologist Dr Dray

The Dos and Don’ts of Tretinoin – Dermatologist Dr Dray


Are you starting tretinoin? Have you been using tretinoin for a while but not seeing results? Are you confused about how to go about it? Don’t worry! Dermatologist Dr Dray has your back. YouTube’s answer to all our skincare queries, dermatologist Dr Dray talks in depth about the dos and don’ts of tretinoin.

I am not a fan of lengthy intros so lets just get into it.

Note: The inserted images from Amazon are for your benefit and mine. They give you a better idea of the products I talk about; and if you use my link to make any purchase, I make a small commission from Amazon as part of their Amazon Affiliates Program.


What To DO When Using Tretinoin


1. Cleanser to Use with Tretinoin

Let’s start at the top. You want to apply your tretinoin to a clean face but it is best to avoid harsh cleansers. Dermatologist Dr Dray recommends using a mild cleanser to clean your face before going ahead with your tretinoin cream or gel.

Some great options to try are Aveeno’s Calm and Restore Cleanser, CeraVe’s Hydrating Facial Cleanser, La Roche Posay’s Lipikar. Take your pick!

dermatologist dr dray

2. Makeup Remover to Use with Tretinoin

The great news is that it is absolutely fine to wear makeup when using tretinoin. However, the mild cleansers recommended above will not be enough to adequately remove all the makeup from your face. Enter makeup removers. Dermatologist Dr Dray recommends investing in a good cleansing balm or a cleansing oil that will help get all the makeup to loosen up. A good makeup remover will also break up your sunscreen and mascara so you can then easily rinse it off with one of the afore mentioned mild cleansers and then go ahead with the tretinoin application.

As always, Dr Dray has some recommendations for some fabulous cleansing balms, creams and oils in the skincare market. I have a post about all the great Cleansing Balms and Cleansing Oils, click here and pick one! 


3. Ointment to Use with Tretinoin

Okay, so now you have a clean dry face. Next up, you want to put the retinoid to your face but you also want to avoid the delicate areas of your skin, like the eyelids, the skin around your nose and around your mouth. The corners of the skin in these areas are super sensitive so it is a good idea to put a little tiny dot of an ointment on them to protect them from tretinoin. A petrolatum Ointment works wonders here, good old Vaseline petroleum jelly will do the trick as well. Here are a few other options recommended by dermatologist Dr Dray.


Once you have put a thin layer of the ointment of your choice, your skin is ready for tretinoin.


4. Sunscreen to Use with Tretinoin

It is a myth that tretinoin makes your skin more sensitive to the Sun. Using retinol or tretinoin will not make your skin more sensitive to the Sun, on the contrary, it helps your skin handle the UV from the Sun better and fight against the damage from the Sun. Your skin in general is going to be sensitive from the tretinoin but it does not make you more likely to burn from the UV. However, that does not mean that you can avoid Sun protection.

Wearing sunscreen is a must, with or without tretinoin. If you already have sensitive skin, using tretinoin could cause SPF to burn and sting more, to help avoid that, here are some fantastic sunscreen recommendations by Dermatologist Dr Dray. If you need more sunscreen options, I have a post about some of Dr Dray’s favorite Sunscreens if you click here.



5. Moisturizer to Use with Tretinoin

When you first start using tretinoin, your skin is going to get quite dry and it is going to peel. This goes on for the first few weeks after starting tretinoin, a majority of people also experience purging, which means all the pimples that are hidden under the surface of your skin that would have come out to the surface within the next few months, will make their existence known all at once. Do not let that frazzle you.

This is normal, and if you stick to it, you will reap the amazing benefits of being consistent with tretinoin. This purging, peeling, drying period typically lasts 3 months. One way to reduce the sensitivity of your skin during this time, is to use a moisturizer. Some people prefer to moisturize before using tretinoin, whereas some people prefer to moisturize after using tretinoin. The order does not matter, as long as you are applying a moisturizer.

Dermatologist Dr Dray has your back with a list of moisturizers that she has used and highly recommends.


6. Wash Your Hands After Using Tretinoin

Make sure that you wash your hands after applying tretinoin. You do not want the product to get into your eyes or any other sensitive part of your body.


What To AVOID When Using Tretinoin


It is equally important to know what NOT to do when starting tretinoin. Dermatologist Dr Dray talks about skincare products that should definitely not be used when using tretinoin, as using these will cause more harm than good.


1. Do Not Use Scrubs when Starting Tretinoin

It is tempting to exfoliate the flakes that are caused in the beginning of starting tretinoin, but it is not advised to do that. Exfoliating already irritated, dry, flaky skin will only aggravate the problem. Flakes are already exfoliated skin caused by tretinoin usage, so it is not a good idea to exfoliate exfoliated skin.

A body oil will help calm the flakes down. Just gently massage the flaky skin with a body oil in small circular motions and it will help dislodge the flakes. Note that this is just to smoothen out the flakes, not enough to use as a moisturizer.

2. Do Not Use Alpha Hydroxy Acid Products when Starting Tretinoin

While Alpha Hydroxy Acids are great per say, you do not want to use them alongside tretinoin when you are just starting tretinoin and your skin is getting accustomed to the retinoid. Once your skin gets used to the retinoid (this could take 3 to 5 months) and it stops peeling or feeling dry, you can start using an Alpha Hydroxy Acid Product in the morning, if you want to.

3. Do Not Use Other Retinols When Starting Tretinoin

You might think that combining retinols with tretinoin will help your skin get better faster but Dermatologist Dr Dray does not recommend it. I will add that I asked my own dermatologist if I can alternate between retinol and tretinoin and he too does not recommend it. The reason being that combining the two will not add to the benefits in any way, but is more likely to cause your skin to get more irritated.

This is precisely why, even though I finally got my dermatologist to prescribe me tretinoin a month ago, I haven’t started using it yet. I want to use up my retinol before I start tretinoin. I would hate to throw away my expensive retinol!


4. Do Not Use Benzoyl Peroxide and Tretinoin at the Same Time

A lot of people use tretinoin for acne, in fact retinoids were first invented to help with acne, it was discovered much later that they also help with anti-aging. Dermatologist Dr Dray says that tretinoin and Benzoyl Peroxide do not go hand in hand. Not only will the benzoyl peroxide cause more irritation to your skin, but it can also compromise the stability of the tretinoin.

If you find that you still have breakouts, even after using tretinoin, you could incorporate a benzoyl peroxide product in your morning routine. Neutrogena has a good option if you are interested.

Can you use a Benzoyl Peroxide Cleanser Before Tretinoin?

You can, but it depends on what benzoyl peroxide cleanser you are using. If it is too drying, then it will irritate your skin further. Dr Dray does recommend the CeraVe cleanser with benzoyl peroxide that will not contribute to the irritation.


5. Do Not Use Salicylic Acid and Tretinoin at the Same Time

Just like the risk with using a benzoyl peroxide and tretinoin together, tretinoin should not be combined with a salicylic acid product either. If you wish to use one for your acne, it is best to use it in your morning skincare routine. Dermatologist Dr Dray recommends this one for your A.M routine.


6. Do Not Do Waxing When Using Tretinoin

Avoid waxing for hair removal when you are on tretinoin. Using tretinoin smoothens out the top layer of the skin. That top layer is what is pulled out when you get waxing and it is easy to develop skin sores when you combine the two. You have to stop tretinoin if you want to keep waxing.

Shaving unwanted hair is fine, but remember that your skin will be more likely to cuts and burns so just be careful when using a razer. Make sure that it is sharp, use a shaving cream, shave in the direction of the hair growth and be very gentle.


Wrapping Up

When it comes to skincare in general, or even when you’re trying to get all the amazing benefits from using tretinoin, the best practice is to keep it simple. Try not to include too many different products into your routine and protect your skin from the Sun.

If you are experiencing too much irritation from tretinoin, then just cut back and use it twice a week, or every other day first and then you can take it from there.

Cheers to a calmer mind and skin!