What’s Is Retin-A?
Tretinoin or retinoic acid, a derivative of vitamin A, is sold by prescription as a cream for skin conditions including stretch marks. Different trade names include Retin-A and Renova.
Studies show that if used on recent stretch marks (no more than a few months old, and still red or pink rather than faded to a white or silvery color) tretinoin really does reduce the length and width of stretch marks. It’s available in different strengths: 0.025%, 0.05%, and 0.1% (the last one gives the best results).
It’s confusing that Retin-A and Renova sound like—but aren’t the same as—Retinol, which is a vitamin A cream sold over the counter. Retinol is used in the same way as Retin-A but is less effective, because it only works when the vitamin A it contains is converted to tretinoin by enzymes in the skin cells, which happens at different rates for different people.
Why We Get Stretch Marks
Stretch marks occur when the middle layer of skin, the dermis, has lost the collagen that makes it elastic, and thus becomes thinned out by stretching, letting the pink blood vessels below shine through.
These marks can be caused by pregnancy, rapid weight gain or loss, or overuse of corticosteroids, for example in ointments or pills to treat eczema. They really aren’t harmful, but some people are so bothered by the way they look that they welcome a chance to get rid of them.
Tretinoin works on stretch marks by exfoliating some of the epidermis (the outer layer of the skin) and stimulating collagen production in the dermis below it. This provides a "plumping-up" effect which reduces the appearance of stretch marks.
Things You Should Know About Using Retin-A (Tretinoin) for Stretch Marks
- Expect side effects. Side effects from Retin-A are common and include redness and skin peeling. They are only temporary; if you have discussed them with your dermatologist, you don't have to worry about them. Retin-A will remove (“exfoliate”) the outermost layer of the surface of the skin, and so redness and dryness are to be expected. You can remedy the dryness by applying a layer of moisturizer after using Retin-A.
- It takes a while to work. Many people stop using Retin-A for stretch marks when they don't see results. They may be giving up too early; it may take 24 weeks to see improvement. If side effects persist or worsen, it’s better to go back to your doctor than to just quit.
- Don't expect Retin-A to work on old stretch marks that are months old and have faded to white.
- Don't use more than your dermatologist says to. Applying too much Retin-A or applying too often in the hope of a quick fix can irritate your skin and make it worse. If you experience side effects, your dermatologist may recommend skipping a few treatments and then gradually raising the dose back up to a level you can tolerate.
- Don’t use it if you are pregnant or breastfeeding. Retin-A and other vitamin-A-derived chemicals affect gene expression. Tretinoin applied to the skin has been associated with birth defects in rabbits, and in at least two cases in humans. Don't use it during pregnancy.
- Protect your skin from the sun during the whole treatment period. If you exfoliate your epidermis, you are removing the pigment that shields your skin from long-term damage by the sun. Use a strong sunblocking creme instead of moisturizer if you are going to expose the treated area to the sun.
- Tretinoin or Retin-A can interact with other drugs. Skin ointments with ingredients that cause dryness or exfoliation, for example salicylic acid, resorcinol, or sulfur, shouldn’t be used with Retin-A except on a doctor’s advice.
- Topical tretinoin (retinoic acid) improves early stretch marks. PubMed/NCBI.
Arch Dermatol. 1996 May;132(5):519-26.
- Retin A, Retinoids, Retinol & Vitamin A Creams Used for Skin Rejuvenation: DermaDoctor Blog
- Causes and Treatment of Stretch Marks: Medical News Today
- Tretinoin and Retinoids: Learn about Toxicity. Truth In Aging
- Retinol: When to Use It, How to Use It. Truth In Aging
Drawbacks of frequent and long-term retinol and retinoid use.
- Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University: Vitamin A
- Stretch marks - Mayo Clinic
Another useful article ("free subscription" may be required):
- Rolewski, Sheri L., "Clinical Review: Topical Retinoids." Dermatology Nursing. 2003;15(5). Can be read at http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/464026.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
carmenwong on April 11, 2019:
how much for retin-A
VeGarcia on March 15, 2018:
I've been using Retin-A for about 1 month. The cream is pretty good so far and I'm pretty sure that I read somewhere that you will see noticeable results in around few weeks. And use Retin A 0.1 % because I've heard that it works the best, I'm not sure but I've read it on a lot of websites.
My insurance would not pay for it. My friend told me how to get Retin-A cheap and easy.
I've got it from http://www.tinyurl.com/tretinoinretina Coupon code "GO10SALE" for 10%off
BrittanyJones45 on October 15, 2017:
I used dermelastic serum during pregnancy to prevent stretch marks, and it worked! My mom had a lot of stretch marks, so I was paranoid. I rubbed dermelastic on diligently twice a day and made it through pregnancy without any stretch marks. It also has a nice smell, particularly compared to a couple other stretch mark creams I tried.
Jasmine Isom on July 25, 2016:
after pregnancy my skin dull and patchy, but ret gel works perfectly and give me better result
bellaluna22 on July 13, 2016:
I'm using it as well wonder what type of moisturizer should i use after applying Retin A dry and itch
lauratr45 on April 24, 2016:
I am just 27 and after my pregnancy I have stretch marks on my hip arms and legs and I have used so many things to reduce stretch marks but I don't get any perfect things. After that I came to know about Dermelastic via one of my friend sister. Within few days and I have noticed a difference in the look of my stretch marks they appear to be getting lighter. It took just under 4 weeks for me to see results. Happy with this Dermelastic product. Lol !
Victoria on August 05, 2015:
Pls where i can retin a to buy in Ghana too
NestPillMart on March 10, 2015:
Retino a is a treatment for mellow, direct, and extreme skin inflammation that consolidates an anti-infection (clindamycin) with a retinoid (tretinoin). Retino A Gel offers these exhibited pimple inflamation contenders in one simple to-utilize gel.
Hannah anku on February 25, 2015:
Please am also having problems with my strecth marks. Where will i get Retin-A to buy in Ghana and how much does it cost. Please help me
MD1221 on December 09, 2014:
After giving birth to my third child I was left with pretty severe stretch marks. My tummy was a road map. At 8 weeks post delivery, I began applying Retin-A to my tummy. Just as many have posted, I experienced red, itchy skin. I continued use and moisturizer frequently. After a month of consistent application I can finally see results! Everyday is better and I am so thankful. I concur that it takes time before it began to take affect but I am so, so happy!
lovethisstuff from London on April 04, 2014:
Retin A is only by prescription and is effective for stretch marks and to rejuvenate the skin. Pregnant and nursing women should not use products containing retinoids and they are not recommended for those with eczema or rosacea issues. I know for experience that if you are persistent with products containing retinol/retinoids you will get a much better complexion in general.
wasila Muktar on March 11, 2014:
Where can i get retina A to buy in Ghana.West Afric
nyc967 on February 13, 2014:
I used to use Retin A, but the side effects were so bad - my dermatologist recommended the Lady Soma Serum and Lady Soma Somatique Face Wash. It has Retinol Vitamin A in it, WITHOUT the side effects of Retin A. For those of you actually using Retin A, here is my routine... Wash with Lady Soma Somatique Face Wash - then apply the Lady Soma Renewal Serum. In the morning I wash again with this Lady Soma Wash. The Lady Soma stuff also seems to be helping with the intial breakout I got from the Retin A (have not had acne in years! was put on the Retin A for sun damage & fine lines).
HannaH021 on November 19, 2013:
Oh I forgot to add that my strech marks are more than 15 years old, and they are white! Retin-a helps rebuild your skin, so just don't give up!!
HannaH021 on November 19, 2013:
I must add my two cents to help people out there, I've been using retin a 0.1% for a year now (not every day because it is very irritating)... and sometimes I'd stop for two weeks and then return and so on... and I can't remember when I started noticing results, but it took VERY long before I did, now my stretch marks are still there, but very very light, and I have no doubt that continuing will get rid of them! So keep your motives going and don't stop, you'll get there in the end
Aby on February 22, 2013:
I asked multiple doctors for a prescription stretch mark treatment and they all told me there is NOTHING that can get rid of them. However a few days ago I made an appointment with a laser specialist to see about getting laser treatment and she suggested that I try this cream first. My oldest stretch marks are from 4 years ago I have used this two nights so far following the instructions the dr gave me to the T and already I see a difference at first it was kind of red and looked worse but today they look better. $45 well spent! I just wish my doctors hadn't lied to me and I could have started when the stretch marks were new.
Ashlea on October 10, 2012:
Some of the best Info i have found so far. Straight to the point and it answers all my questions. I will be at the doctors tomorrow getting a script.
*Dose anyone know if there's a generic brand available? And does it have the same ingredients?
Thanks for the valuable info. I will let you know how it works for me.
Amanda on June 13, 2012:
Very helpful, thank you!