Tretinoin, a prescription retinoid (commonly sold under the brand name Retin-A), has been one of the biggest players responsible for keeping my acne at bay. I’ve been a Tretinoin user for nearly a year and a half now. Tretinoin is available in multiple formats, including a cream, a gel, and a gel Microsphere. For the first 12 months of my Tretinoin usage, I used the cream. I went through the same purging process many retinoid users go through for the first couple of months, which was basically a bunch of pimples emerging and coming to a head on my chin and forehead, along with some peeling. I also had a few mishaps that involved applying too much Tretinoin cream. These incidences caused a compromised moisture barrier, which manifested as extremely dry, sometimes painful, red, flaky, dry patches. It was not a fun adjustment period, but after the first 8 weeks or so, I was rewarded with a brighter, clearer complexion, and significantly less acne than I had before I started the prescription. The effectiveness of Tretinoin more than made up for the increased sensitivity I experienced, and after the first 9 months, my skin seemed to adjust – it was still sensitive, but far less so.
It was around that time that I started looking into other forms of topical Tretinoin, and began reading up on the gel Microsphere, which is time released and therefore, less irritating. A few months ago, my dermatologist agreed that the gel Microsphere would be worth a try, so I made the switch from Tretinoin Cream 0.025% to Tretinoin Gel Microsphere 0.04%.
What is it?
A Brief History of Tretinoin
Tretinoin (all-trans retinoic acid) was developed by Dr.Albert Kligman and Dr.James Fulton in 1969 as an acne treatment, and was known under the brand name Retin-A – a brand name that is still the most recognizable of the prescription retinoid products available today. It works as a cell-communicating agent, signaling cells in the deeper layers of the skin to create new, healthy skin cells and increasing cellular turnover. It was later discovered that the very mechanism that allows Tretinoin eliminate acne also helps heal photodamage, reduce wrinkles, and slow the aging process.
Tretinoin is a prescription-only treatment, as it is the actual all-trans retinoic acid, which is derived from Vitamin A. Over the counter retinoids such as retinol are indirect forms of all-trans retinoic acid, meaning that the ingredient itself is not an all-trans-retinoic acid, but your body eventually converts it to one once it’s been absorbed.
How Tretinoin Gel Microsphere is Different
As previously mentioned, there are three main types of topical Tretinoin – a cream, a gel, and a gel Microsphere. Tretinoin Cream is obviously a cream. However, there is often some confusion when talking about the two gel formats, Tretinoin Gel and Tretinoin Gel Microsphere. I, myself, was under the impression for a long time that all Tretinoin Gel was the Mircosphere formula, but this is not the case. There is actually a regular Tretinoin Gel that is vastly different from the gel Microsphere. The regular gel is not a time-release formula, and the gel itself contains a high amount of denatured alcohol. Plain old Tretinoin Gel is clear. The Tretinoin Gel Microsphere formula does not contain denatured alcohol, and is an opaque, yellowish color. Gel Microsphere also uses a special delivery system called Microsponge, which is composed of tiny, sphere shaped particles with a porous surface. The porous surface allows for a sustained flow of the Tretinoin out of the sphere, and is what makes Tretinoin Gel Microsphere a time-release product. It’s worth noting that the spheres are so small that you cannot see or feel them in the product.
If you’re interested in learning more about Microsponge technology, there is a great article from the Journal of Advanced Pharmaceutical Technology & Research worth checking out: Microsponges: A novel strategy for drug delivery system.
Tretinoin Gel Microsphere, 0.04% Ingredients:
Tretinoin 0.04% in methyl methacrylate/glycol dimethacrylate Crosspolymer (Microsponge® System), benzyl alcohol, butylated hydroxytoluene, carbomer 974P, cyclomethicone and dimethicone copolyol, disodium EDTA, glycerin, PPG-20 methyl glucose ether distearate, propylene glycol, purified water, sorbic acid, trolamine
Tretinoin Gel Microsphere, 0.04% comes packaged in a basic metal tube. It’s nothing frilly, but it’s hygienic and gets the job done.
There is no discernable smell to Tretinoin Gel Microsphere, 0.04%. I’ve actually tried really hard to smell it on a few occasions, but even the faintest scent of soap left behind on my hands is powerful enough to obscure whatever smell this product might actually have.
I apply a pea sized amount to my entire face at night, per the pharmacy’s instructions. I’ve done a little bit of experimentation as to what point in my routine this should be applied. Initially, I tried applying it first thing after washing my face, before even applying a toner. After gently massaging in the Tretinoin Gel Microsphere, I waited 20 to 30 minutes to give the Tretinoin ample time to absorb, then applied the rest of my skin care products. Applying it first seemed to work fine, but my skin did feel a bit a dry by the time I was ready to perform the rest of my skin care routine. Of course, by the time I applied my moisturizer, I didn’t feel dry anymore, but I couldn’t help but think I was experiencing a little more water loss than I’d like to be by applying the products in this order.
After the first month, I decided to try applying the Tretinoin Gel Microsphere in the middle of my skin care routine. For this, I applied my toner, my serum, then a little facial oil mixed with aloe propolis gel, and waited 30-60 minutes for everything to absorb completely. I then applied the Tretinoin and waited another 30 minutes before finally applying my moisturizer. My results with the Tretinoin appear to be the same as they were when I was applying it first, except with this method I’m not experiencing any periods of dryness (however brief they may be). This method of application seems to suit me better even though it’s slightly more work with the two waiting periods.
I absolutely love the Tretinoin Gel Microsphere formula. It has been just as effective at keeping my acne at bay as my Tretinoin Cream was, but I find the Gel Microsphere to be far less irritating. There have been multiple instances when I’ve accidentally squeezed a bit too much out of the tube at once, and not wanting to waste any product, applied it all to my face. With the cream, this would have been a mistake I paid for with inflamed, red, flaky areas that lasted for at least a week. With the Tretinoin Gel Microsphere, all I experienced was a little extra redness the following day, and then everything was business as usual.
I can’t really speak to how the initial adjustment period for Tretinoin Gel Microsphere for new Tretinoin users, since I’d already been using the Tretinoin cream for a year before switching to this formula. However, I can say that I had about 5 weeks before starting the Gel Microsphere when I wasn’t using any Tretinoin at all because my prescription had run out. I’d fully prepared myself for some sort of break-in/purging period when starting the Tretinoin Gel Microsphere, but it was smooth sailing from the start. I imagine this is largely due to the fact that I’d been using the Tretinoin Cream for so long before stopping, but I was surprised that I didn’t experience ill effects from stopping for so long in between.
I’ll definitely be sticking with Tretinoin Gel Microsphere, 0.04% for the foreseeable future. I think it’s definitely worth asking about if you’ve used other Tretinoin products in the past and couldn’t tolerate the purging and the peeling – this formula seems to be much gentler without losing any efficacy.
From the Retin-A Micro patient leaflet (Tretinoin Gel Microsphere is the generic version of Retin-A micro):
Do not use this product if:
• you are sunburned.
• you have eczema or other skin conditions.
• you are allergic to any of the ingredients.
Tell your doctor before using this product if:
• you are pregnant, planning to become pregnant, or may be pregnant.
• you are breast-feeding.
• you are using any other medicines to treat your acne. Do not use any other medicines unless they are recommended by your doctor. Other acne medicines used with Tretinoin may make your face more likely to be dry and red and cause it to peel.
• you are taking medicines for other health conditions. Some medicines may make your skin more sensitive to sunlight. Tell your doctor about all medicines that you are taking.
For a complete list of drug precautions, you can view the patient information here.
How to Get it
Tretinoin Gel Microsphere is a prescription product, so you’ll need to visit your dermatologist or general practitioner for this one. It might be tempting to try an score this online without a prescriptions, but there are numerous reasons why this isn’t a good idea:
• It’s easy to wind up with non-authentic products, which may contain questionable ingredients, and may not even contain the right active ingredient at all
• Your acne might be caused by an underlying issue that you need to know about, and could require a difference course of treatment altogether. Only your doctor will be able to make this determination.
• If you have insurance, it may be significantly cheaper to get this through the pharmacy than it would through a questionable internet source. Additionally, Wal-mart, Target, Harris Teeter, and Rite-Aid all have $4 prescription drug plans for generic medications (which includes Tretinoin Gel Microsphere) in many US states. I live in NC, and pay $4 for this product every couple of months.
Are you a Tretinoin user or have you tried it in the past? Have you tried the Tretinoin Gel Microsphere before? What kind of results did you get?