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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 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 & mature 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 is used to treat acne, help with dark spots, increase collagen production of the skin, and treat aged & damaged skin with wrinkles & fine lines on the face. It is also said to be very effective in treating melasma & hyperpigmentation.
  • It is also known by the names, Retinoic acid & Retin-A
  • It is a prescription medication because it is 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? 

Tretinoin cream or gel- Post Expiry date doesn’t mean that you can’t touch the ingredient & has to throw it right away. If you use the expired tretinoin for more than 6 months also, it’s going to be fine if you had stored the tretinoin tube properly in a cool, dark & dry place away from sunlight or heat sources.

Tube form packaging of tretinoin

Choose tube form packaging for better expiration dates

Can you use the expired Tretinoin on your skin?

Expired Tretinoin generally does no harm to the skin its post-expiry time. Only it might just lose its effectiveness & not give desired results. Hence, your skin may look the same & see no improvements even after consistent usage. In rare cases, one can develop skin irritation.

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.

Where to find the expiration date on Tretinoin?

To find the expiration date on tretinoin, look for the crimp on the bottom edge of the 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 the 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 works by directly affecting our gene expression, regulating all our age-related issues by eliminating dead cells, speeding skin cell turnover time to double & 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.   

Drawbacks of Tretinoin

  • It increases the photosensitivity of the skin. This means your skin becomes highly sensitive to the UV rays of the sun & can be easily burned if not sunscreen protected.
  • It takes time to build Retinol Tolerance and you might get side effects like redness, skin Irritation, scaliness, extremely dry skin, or sometimes even mild burns when exceeding the quantity.

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 a thin layer of 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 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 compensate for any dryness, never forget to layer it with a non-comedogenic moisturizer with niacinamide/ceramides/hyaluronic acid in it.
  • Cut all other active ingredients like AHAs & BHAs from your skincare routine. 
  • Apply only at nighttime.
  • Never forget to apply sun protection the next day 
  • Storing Tretinoin properly is very important and it should be used 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 sunblock before stepping outside. Remember your skin is already in a vulnerable state. Sun exposure & UV rays at this point can make it worse.


What is Tretinoin’s History?

The Research into Vitamin A usage for skin was the first discovery of Tretinoin. In the 1940s, scientists discovered that Vitamin A helps with photo-damaged skin which led to the testing of all the vitamin A derivatives. In the 1960s, at the University of Pennsylvania, a team led by Dr. Albert M. Kligman studied the effects of vitamin A on acne and eventually developed Tretinoin which they trademarked by the name Retin-A. The discovery of Tretinoin was the result of years of studies into the benefits of vitamin A for the skin. Researchers discovered a wide range of skin conditions from fine lines to severe acne, that were being improved with Tretinoin usage. In 1971, it was first approved for medical use by the FDA (US Food and Drug Administration).

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.
  • If you have highly sensitive skin, there is a chance Tretinoin is not for your skin type.

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

4-12 weeks

How to store Tretinoin properly?

Sometimes, poor storage conditions of the ingredient can make it rancid & ineffective. This is probably because your product was not stored in its ideal condition & has gone bad already. Where to store it then?

Tretinoin loves cool, dark places. Places away from Sunlight, to extend & maintain its shelf life. Hence, your bathroom cabinets work great.

What other ingredients is Tretinoin compatible with?

Niacinamide, Hyaluronic acid, Azelaic acid

Any Tretinoin Alternatives?

Try ‘Bakuchiol’ if Tretinoin doesn’t suit you at all! It’s derived from plants & is popularly known as ‘Vegan Retinol”. It suits even sensitive skin types.

I hope you know about Tretinoin a little better now. And one last tip- people with Ivory skin tend to develop aging signs earlier than those with dark skin tones hence start with the Tretinoin/Retinol journey by your mid-20s.

A few good skincare brand names for Retinoids?

6. Obagi
 Does Tretinoin expire? Conclusion

Yes, Tretinoin has a shelf life and it does expire beyond the given expiration date which is around 2 years. But if stored properly 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 expired tretinoin for the next 6 months post-expiry date. The only catch is, it might lose its effectiveness with time compared to a fresh tube but in most cases, it won’t be harmful to the skin. 

Love ~ Beauty Stroll

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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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