Tretinoin Purge Duration: What is That?

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If you’re an acne sufferer, there’s no doubt you’ve heard about the dreaded tretinoin purge, which happens to most people who go through the process of using tretinoin or retinol to clear their skin of breakouts.

Although everyone’s skin is unique, should you be aware of any general guidelines on what you can expect from the process?

Can you really get rid of the whiteheads and pustules that plague your skin forever? And what is the tretinoin purge duration? We’ll discuss all that here.


What Is Tretinoin?

Tretinoin, which is also known all-trans retinoic acid, is a pharmaceutical medication that can be used for treating acne.

As a derivative of vitamin A, it works to increase the process rate of skin cell turnover in your body, which causes your skin to look fresher and brighter with clearer pores and fewer blemishes.

Tretinoin is a retinoid. It’s similar to retinol, but is stronger and (depending on your location) may require a prescription.

Those familiar with retinol will be aware of the delightfully-named retinol uglies which is a process of skin rejuvenation using retinol. This is similar to the tretinoin purge, which can instill terror, panic, and trepidation in the hearts of even the most confident.

What Does Tretinoin Purge Look Like?

In the first few weeks of treatment, as the skin becomes used to using tretinoin, most users will experience severe dryness and breakouts.

This is known as the tretinoin purge.

But don’t worry too much. Not everyone will have the ordeal of a horrible purge.

For example, if your acne isn’t severe, you’re less likely to have an extreme purge. The most common purge symptoms are major breakouts in your usual breakout locations, severe dryness, and skin flaking and peeling.

How Long Does Tretinoin Purge Last? Tretinoin Purge Duration

Tretinoin is a medication that works gradually over time, so patience is needed to achieve the goal of fresher skin. This means you shouldn’t expect to see results over the course of a few days.

In fact, it may take up to three months before you see a noticeable reduction in breakouts, flakiness, peeling, and other skin irritations.

Purge effects, although frustrating, are temporary. The thing is because everyone’s skin is different, nobody can predict just how long your tretinoin purge will last.

So, accepting the unknown is a key factor in this.

As a general rule, though, and according to the accumulated knowledge of Reddit, most people experience a purge lasting in the range of 8-12 weeks.

By definition, a purge is a once-only thing, so there’s no such thing as a second or third wave.

It’s possible to have severe irritation from tretinoin. If you experience the following, you should consult your dermatologist:

  • Your purge lasts longer than 12 weeks
  • Your breakouts are really extreme and in places you don’t usually break out

How To Help Yourself

Dealing with the tretinoin purge can be stressful and affect your confidence in a not-so-good way. The reason you’re doing this is that you know that tretinoin is supposed to get rid of your acne — not cause more of it!

If each time you look in the mirror, you feel that all you want to do is hide or cover your face in makeup (which you know will just make things worse), then here are some tips to help yourself during your tretinoin purge.

1. Work Your Way Up

Your skin will need time to adjust to using tretinoin. So, to feel more in control, it is best to start using a formulation with a lower concentration of tretinoin, starting at 0.025%.

This will allow for your skin to process your purge more gradually.

When your skin adjusts to 0.025%, then you can work your way up to 0.05% and then eventually up to 0.1%, if necessary.

As far as tretinoin is concerned, a lesser concentration is definitely more than enough to improve your skin. This means, the slower and more gentle you go, the less likely you will have to deal with major irritation.

Going straight for a higher concentration, although tempting, will cause significantly increased skin sensitivity to sun exposure and UV light. It will also lead to more drying, flaking, irritation, inflammation, and breakouts.

This would defeat the purpose of doing the tretinoin purge in the first place.

2. The Right Choice

Using the right formulation of tretinoin for your skin is just as important as what concentration you use. Tretinoin comes in cream, gel, and gel microsphere forms. Although they all obviously will do the job, in order to avoid severe dryness during your tretinoin purge, you should consider using a cream formula. These formulations will also help moisturize your skin during the process.

This is because the gel formulas contain alcohol, which can lead to more irritation, especially if you have drier skin.

3. Stay Moist

When you first start using tretinoin, not only can it cause breakouts, but also dryness and flakiness on top because of the increased skin exfoliation process.

This means that keeping your skin as hydrated as possible will help to keep it moisturized from the inside out.

Drinking an adequate amount of fresh, pure water each day will also help to improve your general health and sense of wellbeing. This will be a boost to your overall mental state during your tretinoin purge.

4. Positive Encouragement

There are many things that can get you down during your tretinoin purge, the main one being more pimples popping up than you’re used to seeing while your body adjusts to the treatment. This can get you down if you obsess about it whenever you look in the mirror.

But you can turn this around to your advantage by documenting your progress to stay motivated through the worst parts. Every couple of weeks, take photos of your face to track your progress so that you can see the consistency in your skin’s improvement.

5. Focused Mind

These are just a few things you can do to make your tretinoin purge process easier. And you can add a positive mindset into the mix. It will also go a long way in helping you to deal with your tretinoin purge.

Accepting the tretinoin purge duration, instead of obsessing about your breakouts, will allow you to keep your mind focussed on your skin’s improvement in the long term.

It will also give you something to look forward to.

Clean, beautiful skin awaits!

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Written by Kayla Young

Kayla is the founder of LuxeLuminous. She has worked professionally in the tanning industry for years. She has been interested in esthetics since childhood, and has tried every hair, skin, and makeup product ever produced (more or less).