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If you have any medical questions or concerns, please talk to your healthcare provider. The articles on Health Guide are underpinned by peer-reviewed research and information drawn from medical societies and governmental agencies. However, they are not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.
For nearly 50 years, tretinoin has been used to treat acne, sun damage, and other types of skin issues. Common side effects of this topical product include dry, peeling, or itchy skin, but hair loss isn’t likely to be one.
Taking tretinoin orally, on the other hand, could trigger hair loss. Even though there’s no conclusive evidence that applying tretinoin to skin affects hair, past complaints of hair shedding after using the product may have you thinking twice about trying it as a skincare treatment.
If you’re worried about tretinoin and hair loss, here’s some more on the medication––and how it may actually encourage hair growth.
What is tretinoin used for?
Tretinoin (brand name Retin-A; see Important Safety Information) is a derivative of vitamin A belonging to a class of medications called retinoids. This skincare product comes as a gel, cream, lotion, or pill, and is popular for treating acne and acne scars (Yoham, 2022; Leyden, 2017).
Along with mild to severe acne, tretinoin is approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat (Yoham, 2022):
- Sun-damaged skin
- Facial wrinkles
- Rough or uneven skin
- Hyperpigmentation (dark spots or patches)
Dermatologists can also recommend this medication off-label (not FDA-approved) for skin conditions like:
- Stretch marks
- Rare, genetic skin disorders like ichthyosis or Darier disease
- Age spots
There have been studies looking into tretinoin as a possible hair growth aid, which might leave you to wonder if there could be any negative side effects like hair loss.
Does tretinoin cause hair loss?
There isn’t any solid evidence that applying topical tretinoin triggers hair shedding. However, hair loss is a potential side effect of taking oral tretinoin.
Hair loss (including eyelashes and eyebrows) can happen when you take too much vitamin A––especially if it’s a supplement or medication. Besides hair loss, people with vitamin A toxicity may also experience (Yu, 2018; NIH, 2022):
- Blurred vision
- Flaky skin
- Muscle aches
- Severe headache
- Nail dystrophy or deformed nails
- Weight loss
Tretinoin: uses, benefits, results
Side effects of tretinoin
Most mild side effects caused by tretinoin disappear within a few weeks. Common side effects include dry, red, or itchy skin, although these effects may get better with time.
You may also experience burning or pain in the treatment area. If this is the case, you may want to talk to your provider about stopping the product or adjusting the dose (Leyden, 2017; Yoham, 2022).
Oral tretinoin comes as a pill or capsule and is used for moderate to severe acne, certain cancers, and other skin conditions. Common side effects of taking tretinoin orally include (Yoham, 2022):
- Nausea or vomiting
- Stomach pain
- Diarrhea or constipation
Severe side effects are less common and may include (Yoham, 2022):
- Irregular heartbeat
- High blood pressure
- Blood clots
- Hypercalcemia (too much calcium in the blood)
- Gastrointestinal disorders
- Vision and hearing changes
Hair shedding vs. hair loss: what’s the difference?
Tretinoin and hair growth
While the FDA has only approved tretinoin for skin, there has been research looking into its effectiveness for hair growth. Small studies looking at using topical tretinoin for hair loss suggest there may be a benefit. One study saw some hair regrowth in more than half of the participants (Bazzano, 1986).
Other studies focusing on topical tretinoin in combination with minoxidil (brand name Rogaine) suggest that tretinoin may improve the absorption and effectiveness of minoxidil in treating hair loss (Ferry, 1990; Shin, 2007; Sharma, 2019).
More research is needed to confirm any benefits of using tretinoin for hair growth. It’s advisable to only use tretinoin for skincare or hair when recommended by a healthcare professional. Seek medical advice if you experience sudden hair loss while using tretinoin or vitamin A supplements.
- Bazzano, G. S., Terezakis, N., & Galen, W. (1986). Topical tretinoin for hair growth promotion. Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, 15(4), 880–893. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/3771854/#:~:text=Tretinoin%20was%20shown%20to%20stimulate,a%20period%20of%2018%20months.
- Ferry, J. J., Forbes, K. K., VanderLugt, J. T., et al. (1990). Influence of tretinoin on the percutaneous absorption of minoxidil from an aqueous topical solution. Clinical Pharmacology and Therapeutics, 47(4), 439–446. Retrieved from https://www.researchgate.net/publication/20826638_Influence_of_tretinoin_on_percutaneous_absorption_of_minoxidil_from_an_aqueous_topical_solution
- Leyden, J., Stein-Gold, L., & Weiss, J. (2017). Why Topical Retinoids Are Mainstay of Therapy for Acne. Dermatology and Therapy, 7(3), 293–304. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5574737/
- National Institutes of Health (NIH). (2022). Vitamin A and Carotenoids. Retrieved from https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminA-Consumer/
- Sharma, A., Goren, A., Dhurat, R., et al. (2019). Tretinoin enhances minoxidil response in androgenetic alopecia patients by upregulating follicular sulfotransferase enzymes. Dermatologic Therapy, 32(3). Retrieved from https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/dth.12915
- Shin, H. S., Won, C. H., Lee, S. H., et al. (2007). Efficacy of 5% minoxidil versus combined 5% minoxidil and 0.01% tretinoin for male pattern hair loss: a randomized, double-blind, comparative clinical trial. American Journal of Clinical Dermatology, 8(5), 285–290. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/17902730/
- US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). (2002). RETIN-A®. Retrieved from https://www.accessdata.fda.gov/drugsatfda_docs/label/2002/16921s21s22s25lbl.pdf
- Yoham, A. L. & Casadesus, D. (2022). Tretinoin. StatPearls. Retrieved on June 6, 2022, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK557478/
- Yu, V., Juhász, M., Chiang, A., & Atanaskova Mesinkovska, N. (2018). Alopecia and Associated Toxic Agents: A Systematic Review. Skin Appendage Disorders, 4(4), 245–260. Retrieved from https://www.karger.com/Article/Fulltext/485749#
Dr. Chimene Richa is a board-certified Ophthalmologist and Senior Medical Writer/Reviewer at Ro.