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Tretinoin Purge- How to tackle that?

Yeah, that skin-purging phase sucks! But you know what, most of the time it means the ingredient is working, so bear with it for the greater end results

What are the most common ingredients that make your skin purge?

Active ingredients that exfoliate & go deep into the layers of your skin & change the cell turnover at a rapid speed, and cause purging. These ingredients shorten the cell turnover from a 28-day cycle to half, a 14-day cycle in young adults.

Retinoid Family Retinol, Tretinoin, Tazarotene, Retinal Palmitate, Adapalene, Retinal, Isotretinoin  
AHA’s Glycolic acid, Mandelic acid, Lactic acid, Citric acid, Malic acid, Tartaric acid
BHA’s Salicylic acid
Vitamin C L- ascorbic acid
Benzoyl Peroxide
Azelaic Acid Neither an AHA nor a BHA works similarly to one.
Common ingredients that cause purging

What is a Tretinoin purge?

Tretinoin purge means, when you are incorporating tretinoin in your skincare routine for the first time, your skin temporarily reacts to it by either breaking out, peeling, or drying. A range of black/white heads & red papules may also appear.

What does the Tretinoin purge look like?

Tretinoin purging phase

Tretinoin purging phase of a girl in the picture

Tretinoin purging phase of a girl in a picture

How does Tretinoin purge make the skin better?

By the process of exfoliation & rapid skin cell turnover rate, it kicks out the impurities, excess sebum, dead skin cells & dirt to the surface of the skin making the skin clean from the inside & activating young skin cells by increasing collagen production. Tretinoin is also prescribed for treating severe cystic acne.

How long does a Tretinoin skin purging last?

Some people have such strong skin built up; they don’t even have purges. So, the purge time period depends on person to person, but generally, your skin adjusts & starts to look healthier after 4-5 weeks of usage.

How can you tell if your skin is purging & not having some allergic reaction to the product?

If your skin feels a sensation of ‘itching’ or ‘burning’, that’s probably an allergic reaction & not purging.

How to survive the Tretinoin purge?

It is hard to completely prevent the purge, but you can always follow these tricks to avoid any harsh effects of the ingredient & survive the purge phase with much ease

  • Use a ‘sandwich method’ when applying Tretinoin. First, a layer of moisturizer then tretinoin, end with again a layer of moisturizer.
  • Apply Vaseline under your eyes & mouth before applying tretinoin.
  • Always use just a pea-sized amount of tretinoin.
  • 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 of tretinoin, 0.01%
  • To comp for any dryness, never forget to layer it with a non-comedogenic moisturizer with niacinamide/ceramides/hyaluronic acid in it.
  • Take pictures of your face every week from the first week only, it will be very motivating when you see it getting better & better.
  • If you are a newbie, cut all other activities like AHA’s & BHA’s from your beauty routine. Tretinoin itself is enough for you.
  • Apply only at nighttime.

How to know if it’s a tretinoin purge or acne breakouts?

Purge Breakout
Subsides within 4-6 weeks Can last for months & even reoccur
Dry, flaky, peeled skin Nodules & cysts
Tender on touch Painful & swollen on touch
Appears after starting a new product Appears randomly as hormones fluctuate, after using comedogenic products, overproduction of oil, and lack of exfoliation.
Doesn’t leave scars Can leave scars
Appears altogether at once Appears as they wish to, randomly or one by one
Healthy skin afterward The Skin might leave scars or discoloration or even acne recurrence
Purge vs breakout

What is Tretinoin?

Diagram of a Tretinoin family tree

  • Tretinoin is a gold-standard topical Retinoid (Vitamin A) with a long history of skin benefits. It’s a total bomb ingredient that is used to treat all mature skin issues & treat acne.
  • It is also known by the name, Retinoic acid & Retin-A. It is from the Retinoid family & is one of the 7 kinds of Retinoids.
  • You can only get it by prescription & the recommended percentage is- 0.01-0.1%

How does Tretinoin treatment work on your skin?

  • When we start agingour cells don’t regenerate as quickly as they did when we were young.
  • Using tretinoin treats all aging-related issues since tretinoin affects our gene expression, eliminates dead skin cells & allows 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 breakouts by cleaning the pores & eliminating bacterial growth.

When should I stop using tretinoin?

When you get allergic reactions like,

  • A rash or hives
  • Blisters
  • Watery eyes
  • Burning sensation
  • Red itchy skin
  • or when you start trying for pregnancy, stop using tretinoin right away.

Symptoms of the allergic reactions are temporary & are mostly not very severe, in extremely rare cases a person may experience anaphylaxis, a life-threatening allergic reaction that requires emergency medical attention. Call 911

How to treat Tretinoin purge/burns/Skin Irritation?

Tretinoin allergic reaction on the skin of a girl

  • Take cold showers or ice your face (wrapped in a thin cloth). Avoid hot showers at any cost.
  • Avoid using scented cleansers or moisturizers or products with harsh ingredients like polysorbate 20.
  • 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.
  • 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, Glycerin & Aloe vera, are great soothing & calming agents for the skin.
  • Product suggestion- Try Avene- Cicalfate + restorative protective cream
  • Apply sunblock before stepping outside. Remember your skin is already in a vulnerable state. UV rays at this point can make it worse.


The last piece of advice is, to hold on to the purging phase, don’t touch or pick the skin. Let the skin do its job without physical interruptions or by adding harsh chemicals into your skin routine. Rather, do support your skin’s process by providing it with good things like ceramide, hyaluronic acid & niacinamide.

If you can bear with the phase, post-purging is worth the wait for your ideal skin. You’d be surprised to know how science has these not-so-hidden magic ingredients now & how you can treat your problems & transform the skin, but only if you learn how to use the ingredient correctly.

I hope your purging phase ends soon, 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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