Great question and the most commonly asked by derm-grade retinoid users (and soon-to-be users :))! Read below to find out how long it takes for tretinoin to work.
Most people start to see the benefit of daily derm-grade retinoid use around 6 weeks. If used every 2-3 days, then it would take around 10 weeks to see. If only used once weekly, it may take up to 3 months to start seeing results.
First 2 – 4 weeks
For the first 2-4 weeks of retinoid use, your skin is undergoing many changes. Dry, rough skin cells are being exfoliated, oil glands are shrinking, collagen is remodeling. A whole host of skin proteins and enzymes are being activated. You may experience mild dryness or flaking or even a slight uptick in acne, all of which resolve quickly with continued use of the product. Patience is the name of the game here and great results take time as the skin acclimates to the retinoid.
After 4 – 6 weeks
After 4-6 weeks, your skin will get used to tretinoin and will begin to be noticeably smoother and more even. A lot of the initial irritation will settle down and true “retinization” of your skin is in full force.
After 12 weeks
A turning point in the process happens around 12 weeks. If you were to put your skin under a microscope, which is actually done in skin studies, you would see a new zone of actively repairing collagen that stretches the skin taut and reduces fine lines. Individual skin cells appear more organized and oil glands and pores are smaller.
After 6 months
At 6 months, your skin continues to improve with new collagen in place and fresh blood vessels to bring in skin nutrients. Looking at your skin, it would appear more smooth and firm.
After one year and beyond
At a year, your skin continues to maintain new collagen and smaller pores, in addition to continued improvement in tone and pigment due to a decrease in melanin synthesis.
Many wonder if the benefits of tretinoin persist long term. The answer is yes, tretinoin use benefits the skin in the long run, but that requires persistent and ongoing tretinoin use. Your skin turns over in about a month, so if tretinoin use is stopped for a month or more, your skin will again take time to acclimate to the product. The benefits of tretinoin will persist for longer than a month, but will not be sustained without continued use.
Tretinoin use is one part of a skin system, but for some who already have had significant sun exposure or other skin conditions, the skin can still develop fine lines and wrinkles. Consistent retinoid use, however, can help slow down this process and promote healthy skin. To read more about tretinoin, read our ultimate guide to Tretinoin.