How do you tell the difference between an allergic or irritant reaction to a product like tretinoin?

Hello Doctor. I want to ask two questions: how to differentiate between allergic reaction or irritation from using tretinoin cream? Have you ever met a patient that had an allergic reaction from using tretinoin cream even in the smallest concentration (for example tretinoin 0.01 percent). Thanks you so much for your attention.

I’m glad you asked this because I think a lot of people are confused about this.  Basically, an allergic reaction is your immune system’s unpleasant reaction to something.  These are usually fairly bold, red, and often itchy.   Please don’t diagnose for yourself though – see your doctor!!  You can be allergic to very, very tiny amounts of something – yes, even tretinoin.  

 An irritant reaction is often more subtle and often occurs more gradually with time.  Again, please don’t diagose yourself – see you dermatologist!!   These often look more varied – sometimes just dry looking, sometimes a little pink and bumpy, sometimes like eczema, sometimes just a little itchy, etc.    More on irritation and tretinoin on these blogs.  Dr. I


Dr. Brandith Irwin, MD

Ask me your skincare question!

Hi, I’m Dr. Irwin, and I believe that consumers need and deserve a medically trained and unbiased skincare advocate.

  • All our content is written and researched by myself and my trained staff.
  • My medical office in Seattle has experience treating thousands of patients.
  • This site is not affiliated or financially tied to any product line.
Ask Me Something
SkinTour Skincare
One of the best investments in your skin is your daily skincare. Why? Because you can prevent many problems with blotchy skin color, lack of glow, texture, some types of acne, and fine lines with good skincare products. You can also correct some of these problems with effective skincare products. Great skincare is often more expensive because quality ingredients are expensive. Some companies spend on research/development which benefits all of us and adds to the cost. Are they worth it? In general - yes!