Exactly How To Add Tretinoin to Your Skincare Routine—Without Overhauling Your Entire Regimen

It takes years to cultivate a skincare routine. And when it comes to taking things to the next level, the best approach is to ask your dermatologist for treatments tailored to your skin. But taking home a prescription is one thing—effectively incorporating it into your skincare habits is another. If you’ve ever put out a Google search wondering “how to use tretinoin,” don’t worry—you’re definitely not alone.

Crafting a skincare routine can be a messy art. Trial, error, trial, (more error), then finally, you have a set of products that work. Until… they don’t. Whether you’re greeted with an unexpected breakout or tempted by a shiny new product, that carefully curated selection on your top shelf is bound to shift.

With new skin concerns come new ingredients that force you to change up your whole regimen. Enter: the tricky dance of learning how to use tretinoin in your skincare routine.

Featured image of Marie Kouadio Amouzame by Belathée Photography.

Image by Michelle Nash

How to Use Tretinoin—and Reap the Glowy Benefits

Tretinoin is the most popular prescription retinoid—and for good reason. It’s effective, comes in different concentrations to tackle different concerns, and is a more targeted treatment than over-the-counter retinol. If you’ve tried your hand at retinol night creams but are still looking to fade hyperpigmentation, fight acne, and reduce signs of aging, tretinoin might just be for you. But to get the most out of it, it’s best to tailor the rest of your routine to prep your skin for your tretinoin journey.

Maybe it’s just me, but I always answer the call of a buzzy new ingredient, a well-packaged aesthetic, and the latest luxury holy grail. My routine has mostly been the same for the past few years, but I make a few exceptions. And to be totally honest, I barter with myself. If I finish one bottle of vitamin C, I let myself buy a replacement from the newest brand I’ve been eyeing on Instagram. Or, when the seasons change, I make an effort to mix things up. Exfoliating masks and collagen body creams in the winter, dewy serums and sunscreen in the spring, and so on.

But it’s not just my temperaments and whims that cause my skincare to shift and sway. Over the years, I’ve learned to listen to my skin. I calm down my routine when it gets overwhelmed, and I step it up when I break out. So, if you’re wondering how to use tretinoin, listening to your skin is paramount to avoid peeling and skin irritation.

Image by Riley Blanks Reed

What is tretinoin?

Tretinoin is a derivative of vitamin A, aka a retinoid. Tretinoin usually comes in a gel or cream form. Less commonly, it can also be applied topically in its liquid form or even taken orally. It’s one of the most popular ingredients in prescription-strength acne treatments. Like other retinols, tretinoin also helps fade fine lines and hyperpigmentation. Unlike retinols you’re familiar with, tretinoin is much stronger. So much so that it’s only available with a prescription.

Tretinoin cream and gel typically comes in three concentrations: 0.025%, 0.05%, and 0.1%. 0.025% is the mildest and is generally prescribed for overall skin improvement or mild acne. 0.05% is usually prescribed for anti-aging and reducing fine lines and wrinkles. 0.1% is the highest concentration and should be used with caution. Usually prescribed for people who already have experience with retinoids, it’s used for severe cases of acne, melasma, deep wrinkles, and fine lines. Your healthcare professional can help you decide the strength that fits your needs best.

What effect does tretinoin have on the skin?

Tretinoin accelerates cell turnover. But so do over-the-counter retinol creams. So what’s the difference between tretinoin and retinols you can find in your drugstore beauty aisle? Potency. For any vitamin A derivative to work, your skin needs to convert it to retinoic acid. I’ll spare you too much of the science, but tretinoin is stronger because it’s already in the form of retinoic acid. This means your skin doesn’t have to waste time converting it, and it can get right to work.

Because of its strength, tretinoin works faster than OTC retinols. It stimulates cell generation, sloughs away dead skin cells, and sweeps away bacteria from your pores. Additionally, studies show tretinoin helps stimulate collagen production and block acne-causing inflammatory pathways. Combined, this makes it a powerful acne fighter. It has also been FDA-approved for signs of photoaging, like fine lines and dark spots. Overall, it’s a highly effective ingredient for clearer, smoother, more even skin.

Image by Michelle Nash

Who is a candidate for tretinoin?

Tretinoin is only available with a doctor’s prescription, so consult a dermatologist if you’re looking to add it to your routine. Your skin type and concerns will determine if tretinoin is right for you. If you’re looking to address fine lines, dark spots, severe acne outbreaks (including cystic acne), and skin texture concerns, tretinoin might be an effective treatment.

To be a good candidate, you also have to have really resilient skin. This means pretty much no sensitivity at all. Most experts recommend starting with an OTC retinol to see how your skin reacts. Tretinoin doesn’t have to be your first choice. Starting with milder retinol might address your concerns. It’s also better suited for people with indented acne scars, severe melasma, or hyperpigmentation. Or, if you’re over 35 and looking to reverse sun damage and signs of aging, tretinoin might be a good option.

As a stronger retinoid, tretinoin is probably not right for anyone who has any degree of sensitive skin. A history of eczema, rosacea, or frequently irritated skin also points to a delicate skin barrier, which tretinoin could compromise further. It’s also probably best to skip using any vitamin A if you’re pregnant, just to be cautious. As in all cases, consult your doctor to find out if tretinoin could be right for you. 

Is tretinoin safe to use?

When used properly, tretinoin is perfectly safe. However, due to its potency, users might experience dryness and increased sensitivity to sunlight when they start using tretinoin. To combat this, be sure to up your moisturizing routine and sun protection. It’s also best to start slowly, using tretinoin a few nights a week, then upping your frequency as your skin adjusts. Tretinoin should also not be used excessively or with other actives like acids. This could damage your moisture barrier.

Image by Michelle Nash

What is the “purge”?

Unfortunately, for many users, the notorious tretinoin purge is real. But it’s not a sign to give up—actually, it’s the opposite! Going through the purge means your skin is adjusting to the treatment and learning how to repair itself.

The first few times you apply tretinoin, your skin is going through more rapid cell turnover than it’s used to. This means all the acne-causing irritants and bacteria are pushed to the surface faster. This leads to inflammation, which causes breakouts. Even if you aren’t using tretinoin to treat breakouts, the resurfacing process might bring latent bacteria to the head, meaning those seeking anti-aging effects might experience the purge, too.

How to Reduce the Purge and Tretinoin Sensitivity

Though there’s not much you can do to stop the purge, resist the temptation to be harsh with your skin. This will only irritate your skin further at such a volatile time. Instead, be as gentle as possible.

Starting slowly with your tretinoin use might reduce the intensity of your purge. If you experience excessive inflammation, you might want to scale down to less frequent use and only use a pea-sized amount. Some ingredients are helpful in soothing the effects of tretinoin, like niacinamide. Niacinamide is a great supplement to your routine because it helps calm irritation while bolstering the effects of your retinoid.

Image by Andrea Posadas

How to Use Tretinoin in Your Skincare Routine

Deciding whether or not to start tretinoin isn’t the only question. How do you implement tretinoin in your skincare routine? How should you use tretinoin for the best results? Many have asked, and the answer is surprisingly simple.

When you start tretinoin, your skin will be going through a lot, very fast. Be kind to your visage and do everything to make the transition as easy as possible. At the outset of your tretinoin journey, focus on ingredients that won’t strip your skin or cause further irritation. You can also add ingredients that work well alongside your prescription retinoid. And, of course, you’ll have to take your suncare even more seriously. Apply the medicine at night, then slather on sunscreen to protect your light-sensitive skin during the day. Eventually, you can reintroduce ingredients like acids back into your routine—but only when your skin is less sensitive.

If this sounds like you have to rebuild your whole routine, I’m not going to lie: you might. Here’s a guide to choosing tretinoin-friendly products to reinvent your skin routine.

Image by Michelle Nash

The Best Tretinoin Products To Add to Your Skincare Routine

Every product is curated with care by our editors and we’ll always give an honest opinion, whether gifted or purchased ourselves. If you buy something through our links, we may earn a small commission at no cost to you.


A good cleanser will keep your skin clean without stripping it of natural oils. Be wary of ingredients like sulfates, perfumes, or alcohol in your cleaner. These will dry out your skin at a time when you need moisture the most. Opt for something gentle but effective that doesn’t contain acids. Also, make sure to cleanse gently with your fingertips. Scrubbing with a facial tool or even a washcloth might be too abrasive while on tretinoin.


Toning can prime your skin with extra hydration, but only if you choose the right one. Skip anything with alcohol, and instead opt for a hydrating and refreshing supplement to your routine. If you’re used to an acid toner, you’re going to have to retire it for a while on tretinoin. Either way, apply your toner, then wait for it to dry before applying tretinoin. You can also load your skin up with moisture during this step by using a gentle, hydrating essence.


To avoid overstimulating your skin while you start tretinoin, most experts suggest saving serums for the morning and using tretinoin at night. Good serums are those that complement the effects of your retinoid. Niacinamide helps soothe irritated skin and protect the skin barrier. Hydrating serums help keep your skin from excessive dryness. And finally, vitamin C serums help facilitate collagen production.


Keeping your skin moisturized is one of the best ways to minimize the side effects of tretinoin, like irritation and dryness. Experts suggest using a stronger moisturizer when you start with tretinoin while being mindful of your skincare type. If you already suffer from dry skin, you’ll want to use a super-rich moisturizer. If you have oilier skin, you still want to step up your hydrationn game, but it doesn’t have to be as intense. Just make sure you choose products without synthetic fragrances to keep irritation at bay.

When starting out, apply moisturizer directly after applying tretinoin to minimize potential irritation. As your skin adjusts, you can leave tretinoin on for about 20 minutes before following up with a moisturizer.


I cannot express the importance of always applying your sunscreen (liberally!). This is especially true on tretinoin. Retinoids increase your sensitivity to the sun, so any work your tretinoin is doing will immediately be compromised without adequate sun protection. Try clean mineral sunscreens to provide a physical shield between you and the sun. And be sure to reapply throughout the day! 

This post was originally published on March 7, 2022, and has since been updated.

Who’s Ready for Cozy Season? 50 Ideas to Add to Your Fall Bucket List

Summer is officially out (well, the heat still seems to be lingering) and we’re all ready for fall. There’s so much to enjoy about the upcoming season: savoring good food, enjoying the outdoors, flexing our creative muscles, and making meaningful connections with the people closest to us. With so much to do, we organized our annual fall bucket list to keep you inspired all throughout the season. Autumn’s back, baby.

One of the best things about the season is that there is so much beauty just waiting to be soaked up. Regardless of your preferences, everyone can get excited about a full fall bucket list. If you’re an outdoorsy person, taking advantage of the crisp weather and changing leaves makes it a gorgeous opportunity to plan outdoor activities. If you’re a homebody, then it’s time to stock up on candles and perfect your hot apple cider recipe. The markets are bursting with gorgeous seasonal fruits and veggies, the upcoming fall TV lineup is ripe for bingeing, and our coats are ready to be shown off once again.

Featured image from our interview with Carrie Barber by Teal Thomsen.

Image by Michelle Nash

50 Fall Bucket List Ideas for Your Best Season Yet

While the freedom of summer has made way for our fall schedules, we plan to continue leaving room for a little unexpected fun in our days. (Even in the middle of a workweek!) So, light that pumpkin candle and get inspired to soak up all our fall bucket list has in store for you.

For the Homebody

1. Give your space a fall makeover. Because I’m spending a lot more time indoors during the upcoming months, cozying up my home is one of my favorite—and arguably, necessary—fall activities. When the temps start to drop, I take it as a sign to begin incorporating soft textures and deep hues into every corner. If you’re looking for inspiration, our editors shared their favorite cozy fall picks.

2. Splurge (or save) on the best fall candles. When fall comes around, there’s no denying: It’s time to buy a candle to match the season. Shop all the fall candles your home needs this year.

3. Refresh your coffee table. It’s the best spot in the house to display your favorite books, decorative objects, and candles (see above). Because we take our coffee table design so seriously, we asked a few designers for their tips and tricks. Their guide to designing your dream coffee table is the perfect place to start.

4. Invest in a projector for cozy movie nights. It’s as aesthetically pleasing as it is a blast. Plus, who doesn’t love having the big screen experience from the comfort of your home. (Where you can eat as much popcorn as you want?)

5. Treat yourself to a plush new blanket. It’s cozy season, after all! Browse all of our favorite blankets for max comfort.

6. Stock your pantry with Trader Joe’s fall faves. Is there a better place to celebrate all that’s beautiful about fall foods? We think not. Check out our guide to the best fall treats at Trader Joe’s.

7. Host a game night. It’s the coziest gathering you’ll have all season. Steal Camille’s step-by-step tips for a memorable game night.

8. Make pizzas with the gang. Not feeling like going out? While pizza is arguably a perfect food year-round, there’s something extra cozy about topping a thin, crispy crust with all the best fall produce. Here’s how it’s done.

9. Update your dining table. Your coffee table shouldn’t have all the fun! Get our ideas for the perfect fall centerpiece that’ll draw everyone’s eyes to the table. (Followed, of course, by the food.)

10. Decorate with branches. As we shift from the summertime florals, branches are our favorite way to decorate when the temps drop. Get inspired with a pro’s tips for artful branch arrangements.

Image by Michelle Nash

For the Outdoor Enthusiast

11. Go leaf-peeping. Load up the car and check out some of the gorgeous sights as the leaves begin to change.

12. Plan a spontaneous road trip and go camping. Check out nearby campgrounds and our guide to the ultimate road trip.

13. Volunteer at a local farm. What better way to spend a chilly fall day than snuggling a little lamb?

14. Visit a pumpkin patch. Experience autumnal bliss at this forever-fall favorite.

15. Go apple picking. If you can find a farm with a cidery attached to enjoy some seasonal adult beverages, even better!

16. Jump on the pickleball bandwagon. Pick up the game that everyone can’t stop obsessing over.

17. Find a new favorite hiking trail. Hiking isn’t just for the warmer months! Pack adequate layers so you’re prepared in case of an emergency. See this guide for everything you need before you set out (whether it’s a short jaunt or a longer backpacking excursion). And be sure to take a few friends along for the adventure!

18. Plant a backyard garden and grow your own food. Fall is actually peak season for lots of veggies, even if you don’t have much outdoor space. Here are eight fruit and vegetable varieties you should start with for an easy DIY container garden. Prepare to be amazed at what you can grow at home!

19. Explore a cemetery. Indulge in the spooky season with a walk through a historic cemetery.

20. Attend a local fall festival. Plenty of cities and towns host them throughout the fall. Prepare for caramel apples, cider doughnuts, and all the best local fare.

Image by Michelle Nash

For the Creatively Inclined

21. Plan out the ultimate Halloween costume in advance. Am I the only one who comes up with countless brilliant costumes all throughout the year, only to forget them come October 28th? Don’t let the holiday catch you by surprise! Check out our favorite family costumes, easy kids costumes, and last-minute get-ups that require zero effort.

22. Fill your journal with these thought-provoking prompts. While the summer might have seen us out and about more often than looking inwards, fall is the perfect time to reset and get realigned with your inner thoughts.

23. Make a seasonal playlist. Add some moody tunes to stomp through leaves to like Elliott Smith, Billie Eilish, and Weyes Blood.

24. Cook your way through one of fall’s newly-released cookbooks. Then surprise your family or roommate with a home-cooked meal.

25. Brew your own kombucha at home. Yep, you can do it—everything you need to know is here. Mocktails anyone?

26. Pick up a new hobby. Ideally, one that’s perfect for staying inspired indoors! I’ve always been a knitter, but this year, I’ve made it a goal to build upon my love of fiber arts with crocheting and sewing. You can always try your hand at painting or put your old magazines to work and make a vision board.

27. Make a hearty, seasonal meal for one. No special occasion necessary.

28. Learn a new instrument. I’m not sure I’ve found anything more gratifying than picking up a musical instrument. And because I’ve been playing the drums for 19 years (flex), I can confirm: This is the best way to spend a rainy day.

29. Mark your calendar for new music dropping this fall. From Olivia Rodrigo to Dolly Parton’s star-studded rock album.

30. Bake all your fall faves. Is there anything better than spending an entire weekend day baking away? I think not. Now’s the time to make the most of all your favorite sweet, pumpkin recipes and incorporate apples into everything. Check out our go-to list of fall baking ideas.

31. Invest in your social media. No, we’re not saying that you have to have dreams of becoming an influencer. But there’s so much fun to be had by making creative Reels and seeing social media as a scrapbook of your life. Instead of scrolling mindlessly, see others’ digital creations as an opportunity to get inspired and post as you please.

32. Press fall leaves. Want the autumnal magic to last beyond October? Go on a hike, gather some fallen leaves, and press them inside a book. You can display them around the house to add a little coziness in every corner.

Image by Michelle Nash

For the Social Butterfly

33. Surprise a friend or loved one with a care package. Happy Box curates adorable gift boxes for various occasions. Or better yet, craft one of your own! Assemble a box or a bag of their favorite things—books, self-care objects, and even a homemade baked good. (Don’t forget to throw in the recipe!)

34. Donate time to your community. Help to clean up a community garden, volunteer at a soup kitchen, or check out your local Meals on Wheels program.

35. Have a picnic in the park to savor the changing leaves. Get all the fall picnic-packing inspiration you need.

36. Meet up with your friends for a cinema date. The era of Barbie fever may be ending, but there are plenty of new movies coming out this fall. And what’s cozier than a date with friends or a partner at the cinema?

37. Go with your friends to their kids’ soccer games. Or football, or whatever fall sport they play! Bring hot cider and maybe treats for the kiddos afterwards. It’s a fun way to support your loved ones and get together.

38. Perfect your fall cheeseboard. Contrary to popular belief, the food doesn’t always have to be prepared the moment your guests arrive. Pour some wine, set out the ingredients (cheese, dried meats, nuts, and seasonal fruits) and assemble together. Get inspired with our guide to making an Instagram-worthy fall cheeseboard.

39. Establish regular date nights with your partner. Fall is the perfect time to get cozy with those you love. If you’re in a long-term partnership (or even just started dating), ask these 50 questions to build intimacy and get to know each other better.

40. Play ‘Never Have I Ever.’ Hot take: this game will never get old. Gather with your friends around the fire pit and ask each other these 101 ‘Never Have I Ever’ questions. Warning: Things are about to get juicy.

Image by Michelle Nash

For the Wellness Maven

41. Take a detox bath. We’re all about indulging in this supportive, health-promoting practice. Check out our favorite detox bath salts and soaks and treat yourself to an at-home spa day.

42. Tune in to the 2022 Emmy Awards on September 12. Hosted by Kenan Thompson, this year’s award ceremony is sure to be a good time. Catch up on who’s nominated from Only Murders in the Building to The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel here.

43. Hunker down at your local coffee shop with a fresh new book. I just picked up The Fortunes of Jaded Women when it came out a couple of days ago, and I’m already hooked. And you can bet I’ll be devouring Elizabeth Strout’s latest, Lucy by the Sea when it releases on September 20th.

44. Curate your newsletter subscriptions. Thankfully, we did the hard work for you. Get the scoop on all of our favorite email newsletters that keep us inspired, learning, and laughing on the reg.

45. Re-watch your favorite Gilmore Girls episodes. Or, better yet, marathon the whole thing through. Now: are you team Dean, Jess, or Logan?

46. Orient your nighttime routine to the fall. The days are getting shorter, and the nights are getting darker. Living in tune with the seasons is one of the best ways we can support our physical and mental well-being. Turn the lights down starting at 8 p.m., play calming music, turn off the tech, and curl up with a cup of tea, your favorite fall read, or perhaps your journal.

47. Practice lymphatic massage. Maybe your face is feeling swollen, or you’re bloated from months of carefree, summertime living. Whatever the case, lymphatic drainage massage can help reduce stress and anxiety, boost your immune system, and support glowing skin. Start with gua sha, dry brushing, or book a lymphatic massage with a provider in your area.

48. Make a big batch of bone broth for the week. Bone broth is one of the most powerful, natural tools we have to promote healthy digestion. What’s more, it’s a great source of collagen and supports healthy sleep. Learn everything you need to know about how to make your own bone broth.

49. Commit to a Sunday reset. I have a strict rule that I never make social plans on Sundays. The end of the weekend is my time to rest with a good book or show, clean the house, meal prep, and get aligned for the week ahead. Sunday Scaries, who?

50. Create your dream life. Manifestation is a powerful way to set your goals in motion. Paired with hard work, manifesting can provide you with a road map and a direction to help you set meaningful intentions. Get an expert’s guide to all things manifestation.

This post was originally published on September 14, 2020, and has since been updated.