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Tretinoin: Side Effects and Alternatives | The Must-Read Guide

by Finola Fegan |

Retinoids, the answer to all skin problems. But are these chemical exfoliants with their anti-ageing, skin-perfecting properties really all they crack up to be? Is this really the miracle cure for rosacea?

Maybe you should think again.

Why? Well, in this guide we aim to answer some of your most pressing questions:

  • What are the potential side effects of retinoids like Tretinoin?
  • Is it safe for you to take them?
  • Could there be viable and effective alternatives to Tretinoin?

Read on and find out all you need to know if starting on Tretinoin or another form of retinoid medication.

"Considering retinoids? Maybe you should think again..."

What is Tretinoin?

Tretinoin is a prescription topical cream used primarily to treat acne and acne rosacea (type 2), although in recent times has also been used as an anti-aging cream. Tretinoin is classed as a retinoid, a derivative of vitamin A, and works by increasing cell turnover.

Retinoids are also found to stimulate collagen, giving your skin a plumper, smoother feel as well as being able to balance out contrasting pigmentation.

It is also a chemical exfoliant, clearing clogged pores and reducing the appearance of fine lines.

Sounds great? What’s not to love?

Tretinoin has become a hot topic in skin-care and anti-aging treatment, but did you know about its many potential side effects?

Looking for a chemical-free alternative?

Worried About Chemical Cream

Side Effects of Tretinoin and Other Retinoids

Despite Tretinoin being commonly used as a treatment for rosacea, its effect on any skin-type, let alone sensitive types, can cause some really unpleasant reactions.

When applied to the skin, these side effects commonly include:

  • Burning
  • Stinging,
  • Peeling,
  • Redness,
  • Dryness,
  • Irritation,
  • Adverse changes in pigmentation.

Quite a collection, don’t you think? Especially when you’re somebody already with an underlying skin condition like rosacea.

 Worried About Retinoids?

What’s more, Tretinoin tends to take a while for your skin to get used to…

A. Very. Long. While.

WebMD cites Tretinoin as taking between 8-12 weeks to generate any noticeable improvement in the condition of your skin.

In fact, it also states that it may make your condition worse in the first few weeks of using it. This is because it is working on pimples forming underneath the skin.

 Tired of waiting?


Wow, that’s a lot of cons…

It is! And what’s more, it is very very important that you do not apply too much Tretinoin to your skin. This is likely to result in you experiencing any number of the potential side effects listed above, along with more severe side effects such as swelling and severe blistering of the skin.  

What about other retinoids?

Other retinoids can be equally as hazardous to use. Orally-take retinoids, such as Isotretinoin, are usually more potent and as such are reserved on prescription for only the most severe bouts of acne – they are closely regulated.

If used while pregnant, these medications can cause birth defects and, as such, female patients must enrol in the FDA's iPledge program. This requires them to be on two separate forms of birth control for a month before starting the treatment and a month after discontinuing their prescription.


Further complications through taking Isotretinoin include:

  • Potential links with depression, anxiety, and inflammatory bowel disease.
  • Increased levels of triglycerides (a type of fat or lipid in the blood) can increase the risk of heart disease.
  • Drinking alcohol may increase the risk of side effects.
  • Reports of joint pain when using isotretinoin.

It is important to be aware that Isotretionin is sold under several different brand names, including Amnesteem, Claravis, Sotret, Myorisan, Absorica and Zenatane.

What Are The Alternatives?

You may be pleased to hear that, for rosacea sufferers, there are a number of alternatives to using retinoids.

And guess what? No side-effects, unless you count your skin feeling cleansed and refreshed…

I’m convinced? Where can I find these alternatives!?

We at Finca have developed a collection of all-natural products, specifically formulated to tackle even the most severe rosacea symptoms. What’s more, our acne rosacea treatments are some of the most celebrated products across our store.

You can find our full range of acne rosacea treatments by clicking the link below.

Acne Rosacea Treatment


Tretinoin is a risk.

It can cause a plethora of unpleasant side effects and should only really be used as a last resort when other less abrasive treatments have been explored.

Having said that, Tretinoin has helped treat acne and acne rosacea very effectively and can work for some people.

It is worth remembering though, that for every good review of Tretinoin there is a bad one. In considering trying Tretinoin or another retinoid, there are two things you have to ask yourself:

  • Have I explored other, natural treatments less likely to damage my skin?
  • Is it worth the risk?

If the answer is yes to both then proceed with caution.

Otherwise, why not take a look at our comprehensive collection of rosacea products, proven to be effective at dealing with acne rosacea, and all with natural products formulated specifically to be kind to sensitive skin?

Finola Fegan

CEO of Finca Skin Organics

Discover Finola's Story

Finol Fegan, Finca CEO and Founder