It was at a beauty launch that I first heard the whispers. It was a typically luxurious event, and I was surrounded by some of the best beauty editors in the business when one mentioned that, in the lead-up to her wedding, she’d been prescribed something called “tret”. Apparently, it had transformed her skin.
“I know someone who’s been on that,” another beauty editor piped up.
“I’ve been on that for years,” added a third, explaining that it was the secret to her acne-free complexion.
Over the next few weeks, the topic of Tret – or to give it it’s official name “Tretinoin” – seemed to crop up at every beauty event I attended. And so, of course, I looked into it.
The cream beauty editors love
I soon learned that Tretinoin is a prescription-only, topical retinoid (or vitamin A) cream. Although it’s not new, it’s been generating buzz among beauty editors and in online beauty forums for reducing fine lines and boosting collagen – all in a matter of weeks.
Although it’s not new, it’s been generating buzz among beauty editors and in online beauty forums for reducing fine lines and boosting collagen.
“Tretinoin is primarily used to treat acne and improve the appearance of the skin,” explains cosmetic doctor Yalda Jamali of All Saints Clinic. Its main function, she adds, is to increase skin cell turnover, which in return improves texture and the appearance of pore size.This can also be useful for acne suffers as it means it’s harder for clogged pores (or comedones) to form.
Retinoids like tretinoin are also anti-inflammatory, which means they reduce redness and swelling. They also help fade pigmentation and increase collagen in the skin, as well as increase epidermal thickness. The overall effect? A younger, plumper, smoother complexion.
Who is using it?
With more than 105 million views on Tiktok, the Tret ‘secret’ is definitely out. But it isn’t suitable for all skin types, warns Dr Yalda, who says that suitability must be determined by a doctor as tretinoin can exacerbate certain skin conditions, including eczema.
My fellow PRIMER beauty ed and Gloss etc. co-founder Sherine Youssef has used Tret since her early thirties when she came off The Pill and her acne “exploded”.
“It was awful, I saw a dermatologist and she prescribed it to me then. I still use it,” she says. “Now, for its anti-aging benefits.
One of the major drawbacks with tret are the side effects.
Beware irritation and other side effects
One of the major drawbacks with tret are the side effects. Like the oral acne medication Roaccutane it can irritate skin and if not prescribed, monitored and applied correctly, it can leave skin excessively dry, flaky, sore and red. (Online forums are filled with tales of this phenomenon, known as “the tret purge”.) Like other forms of vitamin A, adequate SPF protection is crucial and it cannot be used whilst pregnant or breastfeeding.
Instagram’s favourite beauty scientist Dr Michelle Wong (AKA @LabMuffin) has used tret for five years. At first, she experienced “a lot of peeling, redness and irritation”, and even after five years, if she overdoes it, her irritated skin lets her know.
Overall, though, she is a huge tret fan. “My skin texture has massively improved while using it. I just have to be very careful with how much I use, and what other products I use with it,” she explains.
Sherine remembers easing onto tret very slowly; at first, just once a fortnight and two to three times per week over a six-month period (although this will vary for every patient and needs to come from the prescribing doctor). But, even now, she is careful never to use another vitamin A at the same time, doesn’t use it the night before a professional treatment, brow appointment or on the nights she’s used a face scrub in the shower.
Like other forms of vitamin A, adequate SPF protection is crucial.
Science is on your side – Tret really is gold standard when it comes to solving a multitude of skin concerns. BUT that doesn’t mean it’s for everyone (hence being prescription only). You have to be willing to put up with some possible and quite nasty side effects until your skin adjusts.
So, if you’re not quite ready to go down the doctor route, here are the OTC next best thing when it comes to hard hitting retinol: