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Can Tretinoin Cream Remove Acne Scars?

author image Lisa Finn
Based in Los Angeles, Lisa Finn has been writing professionally for 20 years. Her print and online articles appear in magazines and websites such as "Spa Magazine," "L.A. Parent," "Business," the Famous Footwear blog and many others. She also ghostwrites for mompreneurs and business owners who appear regularly on shows such as Ricki Lake, HGTV, Carson Daly and The Today Show.
Can Tretinoin Cream Remove Acne Scars?
Use a daily moisturizer to counterbalance any dryness from tretinoin. Photo Credit: RyanKing999/iStock/Getty Images

It's always a relief when your pimples finally pop, but there's often the unlucky aftermath of a red spot, pit or scar. These marks can be just as disconcerting as acne itself. An excellent way to get rid of atrophic acne scars and even out your skin's texture is with the topical cream called tretinoin -- more commonly known Retin-A. When applied regularly, studies show that tretinoin can successfully flatten and decrease acne scars.

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What Is Tretinoin

Tretinoin is a natural derivative of vitamin A. Forty years ago it was found as an acne treatment and then later used as a wrinkle remedy, but it can also help shrink acne scarring and correct skin discoloration. Tretinoin can be found under the names Atralin, Avita, Retin-A, Retin-A Micro and Renova, but it's available by prescription only. Visit a board-certified dermatologist to discuss its benefits. While you can find retinoids in over-the-counter creams, the potency is not enough to greatly diminish acne scarring.

How It Works

Tretinoin is available in a liquid, cream or gel. When consistently applied, it flakes a thin layer of dead skin cells off the face. This helps to speed up the skin's cell turnover, even out discoloration and bumps and repair scar texture. As this layer of dead skin sloughs off, new skin reveals itself underneath. This causes more of the skin's collagen to be made and, as a result, the skin plumps up.

Application Process

Use tretinoin once or twice a day after washing with a mild cleanser. Pat your face dry with a clean towel and then wait 20 to 30 minutes to be sure the skin is thoroughly dry. Place a pea-size amount on your fingertips and smooth over your acne scars. Within weeks, you'll notice acne scarring is reduced and any uncomfortable itching has probably subsided. At this point, continue using the medication until otherwise directed by your doctor. Remember that tretinoin is successful at diminishing shallow scars called ice-pick scars, but deeper scaring requires more invasive techniques, like injections, chemical peels, surgery and laser therapy.

Side Effects

Tretinoin may slightly lighten or darken your skin and you might experience some redness, blistering or peeling. If your skin is having a hard time accepting the medication, back off the dosage and use it once a day or every other day to start. Those who still have acne while trying to get rid of scars may notice an increase in breakouts at first, before older acne scars begin to diminish. While using tretinoin, it's also a good idea to steer clear of drying products containing glycolic acid or benzoyl peroxide, advises California-based board-certified dermatologist Jennifer Bailey.

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