All these different forms of Retin A (Renova, Atralin, tretinoin) — arghhhh!

Dear Dr. Irwin, I've used Retin-A for many years and recently my Dermatologist prescribed Atralin. Even though it's considered retin-a, it looks and feels different than what I'm used to. Also, it was very pricey. Do you have any idea why my doctor might have prescribed this type of retin-a? I'm 53 and have used retin-a for decades. Thank you very sincerely for your reply.

I know this is very confusing for everyone and understandably so.  I’ll try to talk you through this. 

There is really only one prescription drug and one nonprescription drug in common use.   The prescription one is tretinoin (the generic name) and the nonprescription is retinol.

That one drug tretinoin comes in all these different names and strengths.   The names are things like Retin A, Retin A Micro, Renova, Refissa, Atralin etc.   They are all the same medication in different bases, like a gel, lotion or cream, and strengths.  Tazorac and Differin have similar effects but are not exactly the same. 

Does the strength matter?   Not so much actually if you are using it to prevent aging.   It turns out there isn’t much difference long term between the 0.25% (weaker) and the 0.1% (stronger)  over years, except the stronger ones are more irritating.   Acne is different. 

Does the base matter?   Yes……. a lot!   The gels are much better for oily, acne prone skin and something like Renova and Refissa much better for dryer, older skin with no acne.  The others are in between.  

Bottom line:   I would ask your dermatologist.  Usually Atralin would be prescribed for oilier, acne prone, teen age skin.   It’s possible it was just an error.

IMPORTANT:   The stronger retinols are now getting results similiar to  tretinoin and are much less expensive.  It’s worth trying these, in my opinion.   You can always go back to the Retin A, if you think the results aren’t quite as good for you. 

Hope this helps, Dr. I

Dr. Brandith Irwin, MD

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