NZ Formulary

Tretinoin (cream)


What does it do?

Tretinoin cream is used to treat acne.

Before you start

  • Tell your doctor if you are pregnant, planning to become pregnant, or breastfeeding.

How should you use it?

Clean and dry the affected skin. Apply a thin layer of the cream as directed, usually at bedtime. Wash your hands afterwards.

Start treatment slowly to help reduce skin reactions:
Night 1: Apply cream and wash off after 5 minutes.
Night 2: Apply cream and wash off after 10 minutes.
Night 3: Apply cream and wash off after 30 minutes.
Night 4: Apply cream and wash off after 1 hour.
Night 5: Apply cream and wash off after 1 and a half hours.
Night 6: Apply cream and wash off after 2 hours.
Night 7 onwards: If you do not have any skin reactions, apply cream and wash off the next morning.

What if you forget a dose?

If it is nearly time for your next dose, skip the missed dose and apply your next dose at the usual time. Otherwise, apply the missed dose as soon as you remember. Do not apply two doses at the same time.

Can you take other medicines?

Tell your pharmacist or doctor about all medicines or treatments that you may be taking, including vitamins, herbal products or recreational drugs.

Important information continues on next page.

What side effects might you notice?

Side EffectsRecommended action

Dry, peeling, red, burning or itchy skin

Common when treatment begins - if side effects continue or are severe, tell your doctor.

More sensitive to sunlight (sunburn or rash)

Tell your doctor if troublesome

If you notice any other effects, discuss them with your doctor or pharmacist.

Other information:

  • Protect yourself from too much sunlight while being treated with tretinoin. Always cover up and apply a thick layer of broad spectrum sunscreen (at least SPF 30) when outside. Do not use sunbeds.
  • It may take several weeks for your acne to start getting better.