You surely think about the safety of skincare products when you are choosing them. But, do you re-think their safety once you have them on your shelf for some time?
Did you know that skin products – including your favorite tretinoin cream (Retin A) have an expiration date? Yes, you’ve read it correctly.
There is an expiration date on the tretinoin tube. Now you know it, you probably wonder: Can I use expired tretinoin cream?
I know how tired you can get, by checking the expiration date on each of your skin care products.
Especially if you have some skin issues or you get skin irritation easily, and you have to pay extra care to the product’s safety.
But, this part of your skincare routine is highly important. Why?
An expired tube of tretinoin can be potentially harmful to your skin and worsen your skin concerns.
Although there is an expiration date on tretinoin – I have some good news for you.
Proper storage and use of the tretinoin-based product may extend the product’s shelf-life and go ahead with your tretinoin products’ ingredients beyond the expiration date.
Make sure you read the entire article to find out about how tretinoin works, does tretinoin expire, and to learn more about applying tretinoin, and how can it be properly stored.
Safety is always in the first place, right?
What Is Retin A & Tretinoin?
Before we jump into details, let’s first make it clear: what is tretinoin/Retin A, and is it the same as retinol?
Tretinoin is an active, or synthetic form of vitamin A, used as a prescription medication for severe acne, sunburns, rough skin and wrinkles1. However, its benefits don’t end here.
Tretinoin products are usually prescribed as topical medications for a wide variety of skin conditions. Therefore, it is most commonly found as a cream or gel.
Retin A is the brand name for tretinoin, and it is basically a retinoic acid. It is, furthermore, important to know that tretinoin – or Retin A – is not the same as retinol.
Retinol is a type of retinoid and a natural form of vitamin A. This retinoid is much weaker than tretinoin – and you don’t need a doctor’s prescription for it (you need it for Retin A!).
Besides its use for skin cells, it is an FDA-approved medicine for the treatment of leukemia (blood cancer). In that case, it is used as an oral medicine.
Let’s briefly explain tretinoin’s mechanisms of action.
How Does Tretinoin Work On The Skin?
It helps reduce inflammation and redness, that may be caused by acne.
In fact, it is often beneficial in treating severe forms of acne. Its main function exactly is to treat acne2.
- Excessive oil production suppressant
It suppresses excess oil production in acne-affected areas. Excess oils are one of the key issues of acne-prone skin.
So, in order to treat acne, you have to control oil production on your skin.
- Increasing cell turnover of your skin cells
Tretinoin also increases skin cell turnover on the skin’s upper layer, so it can be used as an anti-aging treatment, as it reduces fine lines and wrinkles3.
It also reduces hyperpigmentation and dark spots on your skin. This mechanism is also important if you get damaged skin due to sun exposure.
So, if you have sunburns or dark spots, Retin A will surely help you!
- Collagen production
Tretinoin boosts the production of collagen, which makes it a great option for fighting wrinkles and fine lines, but also to improve skin health and elasticity.
There are many, many benefits of tretinoin face creams.
However, you need to keep in mind that when you stop (or pause) your Retin A treatment, you skin problems may come back. Read more about what happens when you stop using tretinoin cream >>
Does Retin A Expire?
As with any other skincare product and medication, tretinoin has an expiration date.
This expiration date should definitely be adhered to – in order to ensure its safety and effectiveness.
Note that, once the expiration date has passed, the efficacy of tretinoin may no longer be reliable or safe for use.
However, if stored properly, the shelf life of tretinoin can be extended and you can use tretinoin longer. Those are some good news, right?
But, the question arises: When does tretinoin expire? Or, in other words, for your favorite cream – how long does retinol cream expire?
The exact expiration date depends on the brand, however, recommended shelf life is usually around 2-3 years.
Does Tretinoin Cream Have Expiration Date?
Yes, tretinoin cream has an expiration date, as do all skin care products.
It – however – has a pretty long shelf life, up to 3 years from the manufacturing date. Note also that tretinoin will eventually expire even if it is unopened.
In order to find the expiration date on your tretinoin tube, look for the crimp on the bottom edge of the tube.
If you have tretinoin in the bottle, check the expiration date at the bottom of the bottle.
How Long Does Tretinoin Last Once Open?
Opened tube of tretinoin can be used for 6-8 months even past the expiration date – if stored properly in a cool, dark place, away from direct sunlight and heat in a tube form.
As previously noted, its expiry date is usually 2-3 years from the date it was manufactured. However, if stored properly, it can last longer4.
What Happens If Tretinoin Expires?
Normally, tretinoin cream is white or off-white in terms of color. It has a smooth, thick consistency. Tretinoin gel is slightly translucent and has a somewhat runnier consistency.
When the tretinoin expires, its consistency and color change – and it gets pretty easy to tell if it has gone bad5.
Expired Retin A will change in color due to the oxidation of the tretinoin. It is most likely that you will find your cream yellow or brown.
Unfortunately, any kind of discoloration means that it needs to be thrown away, as it is no longer safe to use.
Furthermore, tretinoin will get a weird (usually foul) smell. You will smell it and know the tretinoin product is not for use anymore.
Another very important change past the expiration date is – a change in consistency and texture. Normally, tretinoin has no clumps. It is rather smooth in texture.
Therefore, if your tretinoin gel or cream appears lumpy, grainy, or has separate clumps – this is a warning sign that you shouldn’t use it, as it is probably not effective, and/or safe to use.
How Can You Tell If Tretinoin Has Expired Or Gone Bad?
It is actually very easy to tell that tretinoin expired. If you notice any of the following: discoloration, separation, or changes in texture – throw the tube away.
Can You Use Expired Tretinoin Cream?
Before you use an expired product based on tretinoin – be aware that it most probably has reduced effectiveness as compared to a fresh tube.
More importantly: always watch for any changes in color, smell, or texture.
If you notice any of these changes, or the product doesn’t seem to be as effective, it’s best to get rid of it.
Using expired tretinoin cream past the expiration date is not recommendable and may sometimes cause you more harm than benefits, especially if it shows signs of change in color, consistency, or smell.
Besides being ineffective, expired tretinoin may cause skin issues6.
Although it might (in some cases) be effective for longer than the expiration date if properly stored, be cautious – there is a thin line between “good” and “bad” tretinoin.
Therefore, it is generally safe and recommended not to use tretinoin once it expires.
If you are not sure about the state of your tretinoin product, consult your dermatologist before using tretinoin.
What Happens If Your Use Expired Tretinoin?
Ok, we now know that it is not safe to use expired Retin A. But – what can expired tretinoin do to your skin?
Using expired Retin A may cause irritation, redness, dryness, scaling, or flaking of the skin. It even poses an increased risk of sunburn.
Furthermore – and especially if not stored properly, it may even be contaminated with bacteria – potentially leading to a skin infection.
How To Store Tretinoin Properly?
If you store tretinoin properly, you can prolong its shelf life. It is important to follow these steps in storing tretinoin.
Tretinoin, or all-trans retinoic acid lasts for shorter periods of time, if opened.
Tretinoin degrades gradually, every time you open the tube and expose the product to air and light. Also, if it is exposed to extreme temperatures – whether cold or hot, it will degrade faster, as well.
Also, for detailed and specific instructions on how to store tretinoin-based product properly, you can always refer to the packaging or insert that comes with your prescription.
To properly store it, make sure it is stored in a cool, dry place, away from the light – so it would be best if you store it in a cabinet.
Avoid exposing the product to sunlight, heat, and moisture (the bathroom is not the luckiest place for storing it).
Additionally, do not freeze tretinoin! Exposing it to extreme temperatures only does harm to the product, plus it definitely reduces its potency and efficacy.
Make sure the cap of the tube is tightly closed and sealed after each use for the opened tube, to reduce the possibility of contamination.
Therefore, both, opened and closed tubes of tretinoin, should be stored in a closed container at room temperature, without being exposed to extreme heat or cold, or direct sunlight.
For opened tube, be careful with the cap sealing.
Retin A & Tretinoin – FAQ
I understand it may be confusing to read all the facts and guidelines for tretinoin and Retin A use, and the details on their expiration dates, so I will answer some of your most frequent questions.
How To Get Best Results When Using Tretinoin?
For the best results, make sure to follow some simple steps.
Before applying tretinoin, apply a layer of moisturizer on your face and a thin layer of Vaseline around your eye and mouth areas. Don’t apply it on the damp skin.
A pea-sized amount of the cream is enough for the face and neck. Using more of the product doesn’t mean better results.
Begin with small steps. So, start with the lowest concentration, using it two times a week in the beginning, and gradually increase the frequency of it’s use. And yes, apply it only at nighttime.
If you notice that your skin got really dry, use some non-comedogenic moisturizer creams along. Besides, you should cut all other active ingredients including AHA, BHA, and salicylic acid from your skincare routine.
When using tretinoin, sunscreen is a must, as it can make your skin more susceptible to sunburns. However, you shouldn’t apply sun protection cream for at least 24h after applying tretinoin.
One of the most important steps, however, is – to keep in mind the expiration date and proper storage, to ensure both – effectiveness and safety!
How Much Time Does Tretinoin Take To Work On Your Skin?
It can take somewhere between 8 and 12 weeks for the product to start working on your skin.
How To Survive Tretinoin Burn & Purge Phase?
Once you start using tretinoin, the first effects (burn and purge phase) may scare you. But, no worries, it is normal.
There are measures to help you handle this phase.
First, take cold showers – you should absolutely avoid hot showers.
Also, avoid cleansers and moisturizers that contain harsh chemicals like fragrances and alcohol, as well as other exfoliants or exfoliating gadgets and chemical peels.
Give a lot of moisture and hydration to your skin. You can opt for moisturizers based on ceramide, hyaluronic acid, and niacinamide. Plus tip: use a thin layer of Vaseline to seal the skin.
Of course, you check the expiration dates before using any product!
What Skincare Ingredients Can I Mix With Tretinoin?
There are some things you can’t combine with tretinoin, but – there are some ingredients that combine with tretinoin beautifully, such as:
- Niacinamide (the rules are the same as for combining niacinamide and retinol)
- Hyaluronic acid (it’s also beneficial to pair hyaluronic acid with retinol)
- Azelaic acid
Who Shouldn’t Use Tretinoin?
While tretinoin is beneficial in most cases, there are some exceptions.
- If you have open cuts or skin conditions like eczema or rosacea
You should avoid tretinoin, as it may worsen these conditions. Some of the side effects of tretinoin include redness, irritation, burning, and dryness.
If you suffer from the mentioned conditions, your skin is already sensitive – and tretinoin may lead to damaged skin.
According to National Eczema Association7, Retin A can trigger eczema flares, therefore they recommend skipping it completely or at least you should be very very careful when using it.
- If you are pregnant, nursing, or trying to get pregnant, avoid tretinoin
Retin-A use during pregnancy or breastfeeding has not been extensively or adequately studied. Skin products are also absorbed into your bloodstream, so – be cautious.
- If you have very sensitive skin
Tretinoin might not be your active ingredient of choice, as its side effects are sometimes “too much” even for normal skin. So, using this product in this case is not recommended.
The purpose of this article is informative and entertaining. It’s not a substitute for medical consultation or medical care. The author of this article does not accept any responsibility for any liability, loss or risk, personal or otherwise, incurred as a consequence, directly or indirectly, from any information or advice contained here. Safety should be your priority.