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Does Tretinoin expire? Can you use expired Tretinoin?

So, you found this tube of Tretinoin lying in your cabinet for a long time. The tube is past its expiration date & now you are having doubts like can I still use it? Does tretinoin expire? What happens if I use the expired tretinoin? Here’s everything you need to know about tretinoin & its expiration date.

About Tretinoin

Among all the skincare products, Tretinoin/Retin A is my favorite from personal experience! How? Because it has helped me a lot in my acne journey. I was diagnosed with bad hormonal acne, as a side effect of some medicine that was supposed to cure my allergic bronchitis condition & had steroids in it which ultimately triggered a major hormonal imbalance in my body. Anyway, so what I figured in that acne journey was, no other topical ingredient can be as effective to treat moderate to severe, stubborn acne conditions as tretinoin/tazarotene. Basically, it addresses all skin concerns, like acne, photo damaged skin, hyperpigmentation & matured skin issues.

What is Tretinoin?

Diagram of Tretinoin family tree


Tretinoin family tree

  • It is the gold standard topical Retinoid (Derivative of vitamin A), a very solid ingredient with the longest history of skin benefits. It is 20 times more effective than Retinol.
  • Tretinoin works to treat severe acne, dark spots, aged & damaged skin with wrinkles & all sorts of lines on the face. It is also said to be amazing in treating melasma & hyperpigmentation.
  • It is also known by the names, Retinoic acid & Retin-A
  • You only get it by prescription because it is very strong & needs to be used carefully.
  • It is the only Retinoid that is FDA approved for photoaging
  • Recommended Percentage – 0.01-0.1%

Does Tretinoin expire?

The answer is YES. Tretinoin does expire as any other medication or serum. But it has a long shelf life if stored properly. The expiration dates depend on the brand though but the recommended shelf life is mostly 2-3 years from the manufactured date.

What happens if Tretinoin expires? 

Post Expiry date doesn’t mean that you can’t touch the ingredient & has to throw it right away. If you use the expired tube for more than 6 months also, you are fine honestly just on one condition, that your tretinoin has been properly stored in a cool, dark & dry place away from sunlight or heat sources in a tube packaging.

Tube form packaging of tretinoin


Choose tube form packaging for better expiration dates

How long does Tretinoin last once open?

Once opened, Tretinoin can be used for 6-8 months even past the expiration date if it was stored properly in a cool, dark place away from sun & heat in a tube form.

What can an expired Tretinoin do to your skin?

Expired Tretinoin does no harm to the skin post-expiry time. Tretinoin might just lose its effectiveness & not give desired results. So, your skin may look the same & see no improvements even after consistent usage.

Where to find the expiration date on Tretinoin?

To find the expiration date, look for the crimp on the bottom edge of the tretinoin tube.

A picture showing expiration date on Tretinoin Tube

Expiration Date on the tube

A picture showing expiration date on the bottom of bottle

Expiration date at the bottom of bottle

Picture showing expiration date on tube

Expiration date at the bottom

How does Tretinoin work on the skin?

  • When we start aging, our cells don’t regenerate as quickly as they did when we were young.
  • Tretinoin directly affects our gene expression, regulating all our age-related issues by eliminating dead dark cells & allowing fresh, young skin cells to come up to the surface.
  • It goes deep into the layers of the skin & exfoliates it from within. It also clears up acne because it cleans up the pores & eliminates bacterial growth.

Things to remember when using Tretinoin for best results (Newbies pay attention) 

  • Use a ‘sandwich method’ when applying Tretinoin. First a layer of moisturizer then tretinoin cream, and then end with a layer of moisturizer. This will degrade any chance of over-exfoliation or flaking.
  • Apply Vaseline under your eyes & mouth before applying tretinoin cream.
  • Always use just a pea-sized amount of tretinoin for the face & neck.
  • Don’t apply it on damp skin.
  • Start by using it only two times a week, and gradually increase the times when your skin gets used to it.
  • Start with the lowest concentration, .025%
  • To comp for any dryness, never forget to layer it with a non-comedogenic moisturizer with niacinamide/ceramides/hyaluronic acid in it.
  • Cut all other actives like AHAs & BHAs from your skincare routine. 
  • Apply only at nighttime.
  • Never forget to apply sun-protection the next day 
  • Tretinoin cream should be properly stored and try to use it within its shelf life

How to handle Tretinoin burn/purge phase?

tretinoin reaction

  • Take cold showers & avoid hot showers at any cost.
  • Avoid cleansers & moisturizers with fragrance & alcohol in them.
  • Use Thermal spring water to calm the skin (Try from La Roche Posay)
  • Don’t use any exfoliating fancy gadgets to wash your face, simply hands.
  • Give a lot of moisture & hydration to the skin for it to feel better. Apply moisturizers loaded with ceramides (Helps in skin barrier), Hyaluronic acid & Niacinamide.
  • Now, seal the skin with a light layer of Vaseline. It locks in all the goodies we’ve given & lets the skin heal faster.
  • Stop using any other exfoliants, acids, AHAs, BHAs, peroxides, salicylic acid, or chemical peels until you are completely healed.
  • Cica Balms, Shea butter, Glycerin & Aloe vera, are great soothing & calming agents for the skin.
  • Product suggestions: Try Avene – Cicalfate + restorative protective cream
  • Apply sun block before stepping outside. Remember your skin is already in a vulnerable state. UV rays at this point can make it worse.


Who shouldn’t use Tretinoin?

  • If you have open cuts, eczema or rosacea skin condition, avoid Tretinoin.
  • If you are pregnant, nursing or even trying for pregnancy, avoid tretinoin.

How much time does Tretinoin take to work on your skin?

4-12 weeks

What other ingredients is Tretinoin compatible with?

Niacinamide, Hyaluronic acid, Azelaic acid

Does Tretinoin expire? Conclusion

Yes, Tretinoin has a shelf life and it does expire beyond the given expiration date. But if properly stored in a cool dark place e.g., your bathroom cabinets and if your Tretinoin is in the best form, which is the tube form, you don’t need to worry about its integrity. You can use the opened tube for the next 6-8 months post-expiry date. The only catch is it might lose its effectiveness with time compared to a fresh tube but it won’t be harmful to the skin for sure. 

Love ~ Beauty Stroll

By Aayushi S
By Aayushi S
Aayushi is a New York based freelance writer and a content strategist. She is a computer science graduate, a health and skincare fanatic and is also the founder of “Beauty Stroll “. She aims to make science-backed skincare easy to understand for her readers.

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