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Tretinoin Gel vs Cream

Tretinoin Gel vs Cream

Tretinoin Gel versus Cream

Tretinoin, also known as all-trans retinoic acid is a vitamin-A derivative that is prescribed to treat various skin conditions like acne vulgaris, stretch marks, and other unfortunate signs of premature skin aging. Not only that, but it is also getting popular for its use to treat melasma, skin cancer, and leukemia.

Tretinoin got approval from the U.S food and drug administration and was declared to be a safe and effective treatment for acne conditions in 1971. The medication was reported to be the third favorite choice of dermatologists for acne treatment in children aged seven to eleven years old.

Tretinoin is available in cream and gel dermal formulations. You can buy the tretinoin cream at amazon. This article covers in detail the difference between the gel and cream formulations with the goal of helping you decide which one is better for you. Let’s have a brief review of its mechanism of action, and its characteristics first.

How Does Tretinoin Work?

When used as a topical formulation, tretinoin:

  • Unclog pores in the skin to reduce inflammation
  • Acts as an exfoliator and removes dry dead skin cells to replace them with new ones
  • Stimulates collagen production
  • Breaks up melanin granules in the skin thus lightening skin tone and treating hyperpigmentation
  • Prevents the formation of acne, prevents acne scars, removes the appearance of fine lines, wrinkles and gives the skin a smooth younger look

How safe Tretinoin is?

As a popular topical treatment for cystic acne, tretinoin is considered safe for most people. Following are a few conditions where its use is not recommended. For people allergic to its use, who may develop rash, inflammation, or redness after its use:

  • If you are pregnant, are trying to conceive or, are breastfeeding
  • Have allergic eczema or other chronic skin conditions especially on the face.
  • If you are sensitive to UV lights of the sun
  • If you are taking photosynthesizing drugs such as tetracycline or fluoroquinolones

How to Use Tretinoin?

Tretinoin gel and cream both have the same general mechanism. They unblock the clogged follicles that cause cystic acne. The treatment involves a combination of tretinoin with antibiotics. As the tretinoin opens up clogged follicles, the antibiotics also enter and fight acne-causing bacteria.

Tretinoin is usually applied in a thin layer on the skin that’s affected by acne once daily at bedtime for as long as the acne breakout lasts. Before you use tretinoin, wash your face with mild soap and gently pat it dry. Wait for 20 to 30 minutes before applying the medication.

Types and Formulations available

Tretinoin is available in cream, gel, and lotion formulations.

  1. Creams are concentrated formulations having a higher concentration of the medication. However, they work slowly and noticeable results take time. Creams cause less irritation.
  2. Gels contain a lower concentration of medication than the cream formulation. Gels start working quickly and don’t irritate the skin too much.
  3. Lotions have a lower concentration of the active ingredient and have more water. They are the most easily absorbed formulation.

So which is better Tretinoin? Cream or Gel

Now that you have understood all the context, let us discuss the point for which you have been reading this article. Is Tretinoin gel better or does the cream gets preference? Mostly, tretinoin is prescribed in the form of a topical gel or a cream and they come in a concentration ranging from 0.01% to 0.25%.

The most important thing is that the difference between both forms doesn’t lie in the concentration of their active ingredients, but in the ingredients themselves and their effects on skin irritation and dryness.

The gel formulation where the tretinoin is packed in microspheres (contained in the porous reservoir) was formulated with the aim to reduce irritation to the skin. For example, Retin-A is the most commonly used brand of tretinoin. Retin- A gel contains a blend of butylated hydroxytoluene, hydroxypropyl cellulose, and alcohol alongside the active ingredient of tretinoin.

The cream formulation contains stearic acid, isopropyl myristate, polyoxyl 40 stearate, stearyl alcohol, xanthan gum, sorbic acid, butylated hydroxytoluene, and purified water alongside tretinoin. Although all the tretinoin formulations don’t have the same combination of additives, and they may vary from gel to gel and cream to cream, Retin-A is still a good example.

The gel formulation contains more alcohol than the cream which may make the skin dry and parched. This is designed to benefit acne-prone skin, aging skin needs more moisture. For this, the cream formulation is the gentle option.

Individuals with oily skin are more likely to prefer gel formulations. A study conducted in 2000, to compare the difference between cream and gel formulations showed the gel to be more effective in reducing facial shine and oiliness than the cream at both three hours and six hours after application.

For those with dry skin, cream formulation might be the best option as the stearyl alcohol in the cream imparts moisturizing effects to the skin. Before deciding on a tretinoin formulation for your skin, ask your dermatologist to suggest what is best for you, and keep in mind that it may take you some time to find the best formula for your skin. Most dermatologists find the cream useful in winter and the gel in summer. Many dermatologists recommend applying a moisturizer an hour after the tretinoin to reduce the drug-drying effect.

The final conclusion on Tretinoin Gel vs Cream

To say the truth, there is no hard and fast rule to decide which one is best. It all depends upon your skin’s requirements and what is best for it. Both the gel and cream could be best for you if you apply them following your dermatologist’s instructions. It may take you a few weeks to see and feel the results. Don’t rush. Just give the treatment some time and take good care of your skin. If it suits you, buy tretinoin cream at amazon.


  1. Davis, S. A., Sandoval, L. F., Gustafson, C. J., Feldman, S. R., & Cordoro, K. M. (2013). Treatment of preadolescent acne in the United States: an analysis of nationally representative data. Pediatric dermatology, 30(6), 689–694. Retrieved from
  2. Yoham, A. L., & Casadesus, D. (2020). Tretinoin. In StatPearls. StatPearls Publishing. Retrieved from
  3. American Academy of Dermatology Association. (2021). Stretch marks: why they appear and how to get rid of them. Retrieved from