Tretinoin (Retin-A) Cream, Gel

  • Generic name: Tretinoin, Retinoic Acid
  • Brand names: Retin-A, Retin-A Micro, Renova, Ativa
  • Strengths: Cream 0.025%, 0.05%, 0.1%;
    Gel 0.025%, 0.01%;
    Microsphere 0.04%, 0.1%
  • Pregnancy Category: C (topical formulation)

What is Retin-A used for?

  • Acne - decreases the number and severity of acne and promotes quick healing.
  • Wrinkles, aging skin, dark spots (melasma) - helps the skin to renew itself more quickly and therefore improves the appearance and texture of skin. Noticeably improves, or even erases, fine to medium-depth wrinkles and pigmentation.
  • Stretch marks - reduces the appearance of stretch marks by increasing collagen production in the dermis.
  • Keratosis follicularis (skin disorder of small, red bumps).
  • Verruca plana (flat warts).

Gel vs Cream: which is better?

Is Retin-A cream better than the gel? Which retinoic acid product to choose for purchase?

The gel contains more alcohol and is more drying and irritating than the cream. So the gel is useful for acne-prone and oily skin. The cream is more gentle and a bit more moisturizing. So it is better for aging and sensitive skin.


Tretinoin is the active ingredient in both formulations. The difference is the vehicle.

The cream contains tretinoin in a hydrophilic vehicle of stearic acid, isopropyl myristate, polyoxyl 40 stearate, stearyl alcohol, xanthan gum, sorbic acid, butylated hydroxytoluene, and purified water1.

The gel contains tretinoin in a vehicle of butylated hydroxytoluene, cellulose, and ethanol1.

Retin-A Micro® microsphere is a new prescription formulation containing tretinoin in round microscopic particles (Microsponge systems). The microsphere technology helps to minimize skin irritation without affecting the efficacy.


  • 1. TRETINOIN cream, gel prescribing Information. Available at DailyMed

Last updated: September 28, 2013

Good to know
best tretinoin cream
  • Tretinoin may be called a Beauty Rx. The retinoid stimulates collagen production and strengthens connective tissue.
  • Tretinoin, all-trans retinoic acid, is a naturally occurring retinoid.
  • Retin-A decreases the inevitable effects of sunlight and aging by increasing the speed with which the surface cells are replaced.
  • If used over a period of years, tretinoin will continue to reverse aging of the skin and can continue improve the skin's appearance even several years after starting the treatment.