Tretinoin vs. Tazarotene: Which One Is Better for You?

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If you’ve been struggling with skin issues like acne and hyperpigmentation, then you may be feeling overwhelmed by the sheer amount of treatment options out there. 

This is especially difficult when you’re comparing two potent treatments like tretinoin vs. tazarotene. But don’t worry; we’re here to make the decision easier for you.

Close-up of beautiful young caucasian girl looking at camera applying cream on her face indoors.

We’ve created a comprehensive guide to everything you need to know about tretinoin and tazarotene, from their basic properties to the similarities and differences between them. 

We’re also going to explore their effectiveness for specific skincare issues and provide tips for use so you can make the most of these two retinoids’ transformative effects!

Tazarotene vs. Tretinoin: A Quick Overview

CategoryTretinoinTazarotene
General DescriptionFirst-generation, prescription-only retinoidThird-generation, prescription-only retinoid
Primary FunctionSpeeds up cell turnover and stimulates collagen productionSlows down overgrowth of skin cells, combats inflammation, facilitates collagen production
Targeted Skin Conditions
  • Acne
  • Hyperpigmentation
  • Signs of aging like fine lines and wrinkles
  • Acne
  • Hyperpigmentation
  • Psoriasis
  • Signs of aging and photodamage like fine lines and wrinkles
PotencyLess potent More potent
SpeedTypically works fasterTypically works slower
Potential for IrritationLowerHigher
Recommended UseOnce daily at nightOnce daily at night

What Is Tretinoin?

Before we dive right into the differences between tretinoin vs. tazarotene, let’s take a close look at each one first. 

Like retinol, tretinoin is a first-generation retinoid, meaning it is naturally occurring and most closely resembles vitamin A in terms of function. 

The primary function of tretinoin is to speed up cell turnover, increasing the rate at which the skin sheds dead skin cells and replaces them with new ones. 

It has also been shown to stimulate collagen production

These abilities are why it is often used to treat acne and signs of aging, such as wrinkles and skin discoloration.

Young Asian woman looking her face on mirror before applying acne cream on her face.

Benefits of Tretinoin

Due to its effectiveness at accelerating skin cell turnover, tretinoin offers plenty of benefits to users, such as the following: 

  • Treats and prevents acne: By helping the skin shed dead skin cells that clog the pores, allow bacteria to thrive, and thereby cause the formation of acne, tretinoin helps clear up existing breakouts and prevent new ones.
  • Reduces pigmentation: Tretinoin can also help get rid of pigmented cells on the skin, meaning it can lighten dark spots and hyperpigmentation. So using it can result in a more even skin tone.
  • Improves the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles: Since tretinoin can promote collagen production, it can help plump up the skin and smooth out wrinkles, improving the skin’s overall texture.
  • Reduces inflammation: Clinical studies have found that tretinoin has anti-inflammatory properties, which can be beneficial in treating inflammatory acne.

Availability of Tretinoin

Tretinoin is only available with a prescription. 

Formulated for topical use, it’s available in different concentrations, including 0.025%, 0.05%, and 0.1%, offering a range of options to tailor treatment to specific needs.

Examples of tretinoin brand names include the following:

Cropped shot view of Asian woman smiling after she applying acne cream on her face for solving acne problem.

Side Effects of Using Tretinoin

While tretinoin is widely regarded for its efficacy in treating acne and signs of aging, it is also associated with certain risks and side effects. 

One such risk is the dreaded tretinoin purge, in which acne gets worse before it gets better. After this phase, however, users typically achieve their desired results and experience clearer, healthier-looking skin. 

Other side effects of tretinoin include the following: 

  • Mild burning, itching, or stinging
  • Mild scaling or redness
  • Mild to severe dryness
  • Mild discoloration
  • Slight to significant peeling
  • Intense burning or stinging


These side effects may lessen over time as the body adjusts to the medication. However, if severe side effects occur, consult your dermatologist right away.

What Is Tarazotene? 

A third-generation synthetic retinoid like adapalene, tazarotene is primarily prescribed for treating psoriasis, combating acne vulgaris, and mitigating the effects of photodamage.

The mechanism of tazarotene is relatively straightforward: it helps to slow down the overgrowth of skin cells that can lead to the thick, scaly patches seen in psoriasis.

It also combats inflammation and facilitates collagen production to increase the thickness of the skin’s outer layers, which means it can be used to treat acne and improve signs of aging.  

Satisfied girl with bare shoulders applying cleansing beauty product on cheeks closed eyes.

Benefits of Tarazotene

When used as directed, tazarotene can offer incredible results and improvements in the skin’s overall health and appearance. 

Among its benefits are the following: 

  • Aids in psoriasis management: Tazarotene can help reduce the symptoms of psoriasis, such as scaling, redness, and itchiness.
  • Reduces the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles: Like tretinoin, tazarotene enhances collagen production and makes the skin smoother, suppler, and more elastic as a result. This helps reduce wrinkles. 
  • Treats acne-related inflammation: Tazarotene’s potent anti-inflammatory properties make it beneficial for treating inflamed skin and bumps related to acne.
  • Targets hyperpigmentation and signs of photodamage: As a retinoid, tazarotene also helps the skin shed dead or pigmented skin cells faster, which is why it’s extremely effective for sun or age spots.

Take note that it may take several weeks of use for tazarotene to work effectively and lead to evident improvements in the skin.

Availability of Tarazotene

Tazarotene is formulated in different dosage forms, including creams, gels, and foams, with concentrations typically available in 0.05% and 0.1%.

Here are some examples of tazarotene brand names:

  • Arazlo
  • Tazorac
  • Fabior
  • Avage
Annoyed young african american woman scratching red spots all over her body, isolated on grey studio background

Side Effects of Using Tazarotene

While tazarotene is effective for treating certain skin conditions, it is crucial to be aware of its potential side effects, which include these:

  • Burning or stinging after application
  • Mild to severe dryness, itching, peeling, or redness 
  • Pain or swelling
  • Changes in the color of the treated skin
  • Skin rash

You can combat some of these side effects with a moisturizer, but seek medical attention right away if you experience severe reactions. 

Similarities Between Tazarotene and Tretinoin

While there are some major differences between tazarotene and tretinoin, they do share some similarities. 

They’re both retinoids or derivatives of vitamin A that are:

  • FDA-approved for topical use;
  • used to treat acne, signs of aging, and hyperpigmentation; 
  • recommended for once-daily use at bedtime; and
  • known to cause irritation, especially during initial use. 

Differences Between Tretinoin vs. Tazarotene

Tazarotene and tretinoin differ in many ways, particularly in how quickly and effectively they deliver results when treating various skin concerns or conditions. 

We’ll get into the details of this in a while, but here’s a brief overview of their main differences:

  • Strength: Tazarotene is stronger than tretinoin.
  • Speed: In the treatment of certain skin conditions, tazarotene typically works more quickly than tretinoin. It can usually deliver results in as little as four weeks, whereas it may take tretinoin 12 weeks to offer visible improvements. 
  • Potential for irritation: Due to its potency, there’s an increased risk of irritation associated with the use of tazarotene. 
  • Price: Tretinoin is usually less expensive than tazarotene.
Young gen z woman smiles as she shows off her beautiful skin in a studio.

Comparing Tazarotene vs. Tretinoin for Different Skin Conditions

Now let’s compare and contrast how tazarotene and tretinoin work for different skin concerns:

Tretinoin vs. Tazarotene for Acne

Studies comparing tretinoin to tazarotene for acne have found the latter to be quicker and more effective. 

One study compared the effects of equal concentrations of tazarotene and tretinoin gel — both used once daily — on mild to moderate acne. 

It revealed that tazarotene had a higher success rate than tretinoin in terms of decreasing lesions and reducing overall severity. 

And it also found tazarotene and tretinoin to be equally tolerable by patients, meaning one didn’t cause more irritation than the other.

Another study discovered that tazarotene more effectively reduced open comedones at a faster rate than tretinoin, although the trials used a 0.1% concentration of tazarotene and 0.025% concentration of tazarotene. 

That said, take note that experts still advise patients to take caution when using tazarotene, as this retinoid is not well tolerated by all individuals.  

Tretinoin vs. Tazarotene for Scars

While both retinoids can aid in reducing the appearance of scars by promoting skin cell turnover and collagen production, there is no clear evidence favoring one over the other specifically for scar treatment.

A study indicated that tazarotene is effective for treating atrophic acne scars, which are indented scars that form when the skin does not produce enough collagen as it heals from acne.

The study also mentioned that using 0.1% tazarotene for atrophic acne scars is as effective and tolerable as microneedling therapy.

On the other hand, studies have found that tretinoin can also reduce atrophic acne scars and keloid scars. 

beautiful girl with acne looking herself on the mirror

Tretinoin vs. Tazarotene for Hyperpigmentation and Signs of Aging

Trying to decide between tazarotene vs. tretinoin for wrinkles and other signs of aging? Well, they both work effectively since they can accelerate skin cell renewal and improve collagen production. 

This was proven by a review of retinoids for treating signs of aging, which covered a study that found tazarotene and tretinoin to be equally effective at reducing hyperpigmentation. 

However, it also revealed that tazarotene was more prone to causing a burning sensation on the skin. 

The review also included a study that compared tazarotene vs. tretinoin for hyperpigmentation and wrinkles. 

Quick Tip

Tazarotene use yielded significant improvements at earlier points in the trial than tretinoin, showing that it works faster. Plus, the study found tazarotene to be overall more successful at targeting signs of photodamage.

This means that tazarotene may be better if you want faster results, but you can opt for tretinoin if you’re worried about skin irritation.

Tretinoin vs. Tazarotene for Psoriasis

Tazarotene has been specifically approved for the treatment of psoriasis.

On the other hand, tretinoin is not typically used for psoriasis. So for this condition, tazarotene would be the more appropriate choice.

Unrecognizable young woman suffering from autoimmune incurable dermatological skin disease called psoriasis.

How To Use Tretinoin and Tazarotene

Instructions for Use

When using tretinoin or tazarotene, follow these steps for best results:

  1. Begin by cleansing your face with a mild cleanser.
  1. Gently pat it dry with a clean towel.
  1. Take a pea-sized amount of the product and place it on your fingertips.
  1. Dot the product across your target area, then gently spread it out in a thin, even layer.
  1. Follow up with a moisturizer to prevent excessive dryness.

Quick Tip

You can apply moisturizer an hour before using tazarotene to help counteract potential dryness. 

Frequency of Use

Begin by applying tretinoin or tazarotene every other night or twice a week for the first two to four weeks. This allows your skin to gradually acclimate to the treatment.

After six to eight weeks, if your skin is tolerating the product well, increase to nightly application. 

Adjust the frequency accordingly based on your skin’s response and your dermatologist’s advice.

Precautions

  • Avoid applying tretinoin or tazarotene to sensitive areas, such as the corners of your nose, mouth, and eyes.
  • Limit sun exposure as much as possible because these treatments can make your skin more sensitive to sunlight. When going out into the sun is unavoidable, always use sunscreen with at least SPF 30.
  • Avoid using tretinoin and tazarotene products with skincare ingredients like benzoyl peroxide and AHAs like glycolic acid and lactic acid, which can cause further irritation.
  • If you experience excessive redness, peeling, or discomfort, speak to your dermatologist about adjusting the dosage or frequency of use.
Young beautiful woman enjoys the sun rays at home in the bathroom.

Frequently Asked Questions About Tretinoin vs. Tazarotene

Can Switching From Tretinoin to Tazorac Be Beneficial?

Switching from tretinoin to tazarotene (Tazorac) can be beneficial for some individuals, particularly for those suffering from severe cases of acne who have not achieved their desired results with tretinoin. 

However, it may cause more irritation initially. The effectiveness of the switch might vary depending on prior tretinoin use and specific skin conditions.

Can You Use Tazarotene and Tretinoin Together?

No, doing so can increase your risk of skin irritation. They should never be used together or on the same day. 

You can instead alternate between them if you want to get both their benefits. 

But essential to consult your dermatologist before making any changes to your treatment plan.

Tretinoin vs. Tazarotene: Unveiling the Path to Clearer Skin

Now that you’ve gotten to know all the ins and outs of tretinoin and tazarotene, you can easily select the one that best aligns with your specific needs and skincare goals! 

Whether you want to treat a severe case of acne or improve the appearance of hyperpigmentation without irritating your skin, just keep all the facts you’ve learned in mind to help you make the right decision. 

So get started on the path toward clearer, healthier skin today with either of these retinoids!

Author

  • Shai Urbano

    Shai is a licensed pharmacist with a Bachelor of Arts in Pharmacy. She uniquely intertwines her medical expertise with a fervent passion for beauty. With an intrinsic understanding of ingredients and formulation, she's the proud creator of her own line of products designed exclusively for naturally curly hair. Over her four-year writing career, Shai consistently delivers content enriched by her distinct blend of knowledge and enthusiasm.

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