Retin-A is the brand name both in the UK and the US for tretinoin, which has been developed to treat acne. As such (and for its largely disputed claim to eliminate wrinkles), it is among the 50 best selling drugs in the US.
Manufactured by Ortho, it is available either as a lotion, gel or cream; the lotion is best suited for large areas, such as the back, the gel for severe cases of acne. and the cream for dry and fair skin.
It is a very powerful treatment, although the manufacturer is not exactly sure how it works. With it come a range of side effects, although so far they have all been reversible. The most common is severe rash and peeling, an indication that the treatment should be suspended or stopped.
The treatment should not be used by eczema sufferers, or by pregnant women and those who are breastfeeding; although there has never been a study involving pregnant women, Retin-A has affected the growth of the fetus in rats. "Tretinoin should be used during pregnancy only if the potential benefit justifies the potential risk to the fetus," says the US Physicians' Desk Reference 1992 although, as we are talking about acne, it's hard to imagine an instance when that would apply.
Equally worrying are the potential risks that Retin-A users can run when out in the sunlight. The manufacturer has made it very clear that people should not be out in sunlight for any length of time, or use sunlamps while using the treatment. Those with suntans should wait for normal colouring to return before using the drug.
The worry is about the possible link to skin
cancer, although no long term studies, either among
humans or animals, have ever been carried out. Small scale tests among animals have produced varying results.