Retin A, Tretinoin, Tazorac, Differin, Renova, Generic Gel Cream- Which is Best?

Are they all the same? Which is better? Which is more advanced/latest? Doesnt cause irritation? Most preferred by people? Let me know your experiences.I was told generics are not as good-Tretinoin. Cream is better than gel? I've heard mixed reviews and I dont want to go through each one to find out. As just going through 1 (Tretinoin) has been a suicidal nightmare. Please let me know!

Doctor Answers 5

Topical retinoid better used under supervision of board-certified dermatologist

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Prescription strength topical retinoids such as Differin, Retin-A, Renova, Atralin, Refissa, Tazorac etc are indispensable part of my dermatology practice not just for treatment of acne, but also for wrinkle reduction/prevention as well as for chemoprevention and reversal of prior sun damage. I have published a peer reviewed article that demonstrated efficacy of topical retinoid in reducing fine lines and sun damage as quickly as 4 weeks. However, topical retinoid is better used under supervision of board-certified dermatologist who will assist you in selecting the right retinoid for you, advising the appropriate frequency of application, and recommending appropriate combination of moisturizer to achieve the best clinical outcome and minimize irritation.

Bay Area Dermatologic Surgeon
4.5 out of 5 stars 14 reviews

All retinoids can cause irritation

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It is important to go slow, use moisturizer and talk to your dermatologist. I have a trick I call the "mask" therapy. I use Tazorac cream, apply a pea size amount evenly to the entire face, then rinse the face after 5 minutes with a light lotion. This and other tricks can make retinoids work well with little to no irritation. My favorites are Retin A Micro gel (is time released) and Tazorac.

Mary P. Lupo, MD
New Orleans Dermatologist
5.0 out of 5 stars 18 reviews


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All of these medications are retinoids (derivatives or mimics of Vitamin A) and all are used for acne and sometimes for sun spots or fine wrinkles.

No one of these creams is best for all patients. Some are milder and would be more useful for sensitive skin, some are more aggressive and would be used for more severe acne or oily skin. Talking to a board-certified dermatologist is the best way to decide which one is right for your skin (and they may be able to provide a sample so you can try it before you buy a large tube). Gels tend to be more drying than the same medication in a cream so gels are usually reserved for patients with oilier skin.

Moisturize one hour prior to applying any retinoid. A drop the size of a small garden pea is usually enough for the entire face. It won't seem like much but more will be more drying and irritating. Most people find some irritation (akin to a mild sunburn) when they first start one of these medications, and usually it fades after 1-2 weeks. If it doesn't, ask you doctor about using the medicine 3-5 times a week instead of every night.

Colby Evans, MD
Austin Dermatologist

Topical retinoids for acne

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All of these topical medications are effective for acne. The time and place for use is based on the dermatologists assessment of your skin and the type of acne you have. Any of these at any given time can cause irritation but all reverses upon discontinuation or upon taking "rest periods" from applying them topically.

Steven Hacker, MD
West Palm Beach Dermatologic Surgeon

Retin A

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All of these products have a similar therapeutic benefit.  Some dermatologists prefer one over the other but they all help acne and sun damage.  Unless you have very oily skin, use the cream, not the gel form.  Start using a mild dosage such as tretinoin cream .025% every other night and slowly increase it to nightly usage as tolerated.  If you are using it for photoaging, studies have shown .025% to be effective and you do not need to go to a higher strength.  Use sun protection in the morning.

Martie Gidon, MD, FRCPC
Toronto Dermatologist

These answers are for educational purposes and should not be relied upon as a substitute for medical advice you may receive from your physician. If you have a medical emergency, please call 911. These answers do not constitute or initiate a patient/doctor relationship.