Is tretinoin the wonder product every woman needs?

In an exclusive extract from Skintelligent, Dr Natalia Spierings explains the rejuvenating effects of prescription-only vitamin A

My mother turned 70 in 2020. She has beautiful skin, like a plump apple. Her secret? She started using topical tretinoin when she was 30. My mum has never had Botox, fillers or a facelift. She’s never had microneedling, a laser facial or any other intervention. But she does use 0.1 strength tretinoin and a moisturiser from Neutrogena religiously every single night.


So what is tretinoin?

It is a prescription-only form of vitamin A. Many will think of that as taking the form of retinol, found in many over-the-counter creams, but tretinoin is a far more powerful version of biologically active retinoic acid that is the most investigated retinoid in the treatment of ageing skin. In less sciencey words, this is a form of vitamin A that is really effective and backed up by trials. It’s the real deal when it comes to improving the appearance of fine lines.

How does tretinoin work?

Essentially, it helps to boost the production of new collagen in the skin as well as helping to prevent it from being broken down. It encourages the formation of new healthy cells in the epidermis, and helps to clear sun-damaged cells. Studies show it can partly reverse some of the structural damage to skin caused by ageing and the sun. In my view, it’s the best weapon in our anti-ageing arsenal.

Is it true it can irritate skin?

Yes, you can develop red, itchy and flaky skin. I recommend starting on the lowest concentration (0.025%) and using it just three times a week, then gradually building up from there.

How should you apply tretinoin?

Always use it at night (it is degraded by sunlight). Cleanse with an oil cleanser, making sure to remove all make-up, then pat dry. Apply tretinoin as per your doctor’s instructions, then add a greasy moisturiser on top. I suggest keeping your routine this simple for a few weeks.

If your skin becomes excessively dry or irritated, you can apply moisturiser or a bland emollient such as Vaseline before the tretinoin at bedtime. You can also stop using tretinoin until your skin returns to normal, then try again.

When applying be aware that it can collect in the creases around the nose and eyes and cause irritation, so only apply a small amount to those areas – and avoid the eyelids.

How does tretinoin work with the rest of my skincare routine?

Don’t exfoliate with a scrub – retinoids are powerful exfoliators so any more could cause irritation.

Similarly, I’d recommend stopping any acid products at the beginning as these might dry out your skin too much. Steer clear of any hot treatments

such as wax or lasers. If you use vitamin C or serums, use them in the morning.

Should I avoid the sun or stop using it on sunny holidays?

You should always use an SPF50 anyway and wear a hat in the sun. But there’s evidence to suggest that tretinoin not only prevents collagen from sun damage but also repairs already damaged collagen,

so keep using it. There is a risk of burning in the first six months of tretinoin treatment so be extra careful.

How long does it take to see results?

You should notice improvements in the look of fine lines and in softer and smoother skin within a few weeks.

Where can I find tretinoin?

It’s prescription-only, so talk to your GP or your dermatologist. You can also find it on websites such as, but they will call you for a consultation before agreeing whether or not to prescribe it.

Skintelligent is published by Ebury, £16.99

Beauty Director: Edwina Ings-Chambers