Skip to Content
Home > Wellness > Health Library > Topical Retinoid Medicines for Acne
Topical retinoids work by unplugging
clogged pores, allowing other topical medicines such as antibiotics to enter
the hair shaft and fight underlying infection. You often use a topical
antibiotic along with a topical retinoid, an oral antibiotic, and benzoyl
Topical retinoids come in cream, gel, and liquid forms.
You apply the medicine to your skin once a day, usually at night, about 20 to
30 minutes after washing your face.
Topical retinoids also work to
reduce outbreaks by preventing dead cells from clogging pores.
You typically use topical retinoids
for moderate to severe
acne that has not responded to other
Topical retinoids work very well to
clear pores and to reduce the frequency and severity of acne outbreaks. The use of a retinoid along with topical antibiotic or
benzoyl peroxide may work better than either medicine alone.
All medicines have side effects. But many people don't feel the side effects, or they are able to deal with them. Ask your pharmacist about the side effects of each medicine you take. Side effects are also listed in the information that comes with your medicine.
Here are some important things to think about:
Call 911 or other emergency services right away if you have:
Call your doctor if you have:
Common side effects of this medicine include:
Some skin irritation (burning, stinging, or itchiness) may happen for the first few weeks you are using this medicine. If the irritation is severe or doesn't go away, talk to your doctor.
See Drug Reference for a full list of side effects.
(Drug Reference is not available in all systems.)
Wash your face gently before applying this medicine. Try to keep it off skin areas that don't have acne. Also, keep it away from the eyes, lips, the creases of your nose, and inside your nose. Wash your hands after using this medicine.
Protect your skin from sunlight and extreme weather while you are using this medicine. If you cannot stay out of the sun, wear protective clothing (such as a hat) and sunscreen.
Some of these medicines are flammable, so avoid fire, open flames, or smoking while applying this medicine or right after applying this medicine.
Medicine is one of the many tools your doctor has to treat a health problem. Taking medicine as your doctor suggests will improve your health and may prevent future problems. If you don't take your medicines properly, you may be putting your health (and perhaps your life) at risk.
There are many reasons why people have trouble taking their medicine. But in most cases, there is something you can do. For suggestions on how to work around common problems, see the topic Taking Medicines as Prescribed.
Do not use this medicine if you are pregnant, breast-feeding, or planning to get pregnant. If you need to use this medicine, talk to your doctor about how you can prevent pregnancy.
Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.
Complete the new medication information form (PDF)new medication information form (PDF)(What is a PDF document?) to help you understand this medication.
January 23, 2013
Kathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine & E. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine
How this information was developed to help you make better health decisions.
To learn more visit Healthwise.org
© 1995-2013 Healthwise, Incorporated. Healthwise, Healthwise for every health decision, and the Healthwise logo are trademarks of Healthwise, Incorporated.
250 Pleasant Street
Concord, NH 03301
Contact Concord Hospital
View Quality Data
© 2014 Concord Hospital