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Tretinoin 101 for Redheads: Everything You Need To Know

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Retinoids are very popular in the skincare community because of the amazing impact they can have on the skin. Retinoids are derived from Vitamin A and are used topically to treat skin conditions such as acne, hyperpigmentation, psoriasis, and early signs of aging. Recently, there’s been more talk about one specific retinoid called tretinoin. Here’s everything redheads need to know about tretinoin:

What is tretinoin? 

Tretinoin is a Vitamin A derivative that is used topically to treat skin conditions such as acne. According to the Mayo Clinic, tretinoin is “used to treat fine wrinkles, dark spots, or rough skin on the face caused by the damaging rays of the sun. It works by lightening the skin, replacing older skin with newer skin, and slowing down the way the body removes skin cells that may have been harmed by the sun. Tretinoin works best when used within a skin care program that includes protecting the treated skin from the sun. However, it does not completely or permanently erase these skin problems or greatly improve more obvious changes in the skin, such as deep wrinkles caused by the sun or the natural aging process.”

Tretinoin, unlike some over-the-counter retinoids, are usually always prescribed by a doctor who will evaluate your skin and determine if you are a good candidate for it. Tretinoin is used by both teens and adults. Like all retinoids, tretinoin can be harsh on sensitive skin. That doesn’t mean that redheads can’t use it, but they should proceed with caution as it may not be a good option. Since you need a doctor to prescribe it, you will most likely only get a prescription if your skin can handle it. 

If you are prescribed tretinoin, your doctor will tell you how to apply it, how often, and what skincare to avoid when using tretinoin. The most important thing with any retinoid is to make sure you’re using proper sun protection. Retinoids can make your skin more susceptible to sunburn, which is why you need to be very vigilant about your SPF use and reapply often throughout the day. 

How to use tretinoin on redhead skin:

Using tretinoin can make your skin more sensitive to the sun, increasing the risk of sunburn. Here are some steps to effectively apply sunscreen to protect your skin:

1. Wait After Tretinoin Application: Apply tretinoin at night, as it makes your skin more sensitive to sunlight. If you use it during the day, wait at least 20-30 minutes before applying any other product.

2. Choose a Broad-Spectrum SPF: Use a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30. This will protect against both UVA and UVB rays.

3. Apply Generously: Use about a nickel-sized amount of sunscreen for your face and more for other exposed areas. Make sure to cover all areas evenly.

4. Reapply Regularly: Reapply sunscreen every two hours and immediately after swimming, sweating, or towel drying.

5. Use Physical Barriers: Wear hats, sunglasses, and protective clothing when possible. Seek shade, especially during peak sun hours (10 AM to 4 PM).

6. Be Consistent: Make sunscreen application a daily habit, even on cloudy days or when indoors, as UVA rays can penetrate windows.

By following these steps, you can help protect your skin from sunburn and reduce the potential for tretinoin-related irritation.

What if tretinoin cannot be prescribed to you due to your skin being too sensitive? 

If your doctor determines that tretinoin is not a good option for your sensitive skin, they may recommend an alternative over-the-counter retinoid. If they do not, or you don’t have luck with other retinoids, many redheads have found that Bakuchiol, an all-natural plant-based alternative works well for their sensitive skin. Bakuchiol and tretinoin are both popular skincare ingredients known for their anti-aging benefits, but they have different origins, mechanisms, and effects on the skin. Here’s a comparison of the two:


1. Source: Derived from the seeds and leaves of the Psoralea corylifolia plant.

2. Mechanism: Functions similarly to retinoids but is not a retinoid. It activates similar genetic pathways.

3. Benefits:
– Reduces the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles.
– Improves skin firmness and elasticity.
– Helps with pigmentation and skin texture.
– Has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.

4. Skin Tolerance: Generally well-tolerated by most skin types, including sensitive skin. Less likely to cause irritation, dryness, or peeling.

5. Usage: Can be used both morning and night and is not known to increase photosensitivity.


1. Source: A synthetic derivative of vitamin A.

2. Mechanism: Works by speeding up cell turnover, promoting the shedding of old skin cells and stimulating the production of new ones.

3. Benefits:
– Strongly backed by clinical research for reducing wrinkles, fine lines, and hyperpigmentation.
– Treats acne effectively by preventing clogged pores.
– Improves overall skin texture and tone.

4. Skin Tolerance: Can cause significant irritation, dryness, redness, and peeling, especially during initial use. May require a period of adjustment.

5. Usage: Typically used at night due to increased photosensitivity. Sunscreen use is crucial during the day to protect the skin.

Bakuchiol is a gentler, plant-based alternative suitable for those with sensitive skin or those who cannot tolerate retinoids. It can be used both day and night and doesn’t increase sun sensitivity. Tretinoin is a potent, well-researched retinoid ideal for those with resilient skin looking for strong anti-aging and acne treatment effects. It requires careful management of sun exposure and initial skin irritation.

Choosing between bakuchiol and tretinoin depends on your skin type, tolerance, and specific skincare goals. For a milder, more tolerable option with fewer side effects, bakuchiol is a good choice. For more intensive treatment with robust clinical backing, tretinoin may be more suitable.

Always consult with your dermatologist before adding any products to your routine.

Rock it like a Redhead!


READ: Why We’re Recommending Redheads To Not Use Tretinoin

READ: Retinol Without the Side Effects? Why Bakuchiol Is A Promising New Ingredient For Redheads