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Can Tretinoin Remove Blackheads?

Michele Emery, DNP

Medically reviewed by Michele Emery, DNP

Written by Our Editorial Team

Last updated 5/21/2019

Blackheads, a type of mild acne that can develop inside hair follicles, are a common annoyance that can affect people of all ages.

Also known as “comedones,” blackheads develop when oil and skin debris collect inside hair follicles. The other form of comedones are whiteheads or pimples. They develop when oil and skin collect in hair follicles as well. However, blackheads form in open hair follicles and whiteheads form in closed follicles.

Although blackheads usually aren’t as severe as other forms of acne, they can be embarrassing and irritating, especially when they occur frequently or develop in large numbers.

Tretinoin, which is used to treat and prevent acne, can be useful in removing blackheads from your facial skin. Below, we’ve explained how tretinoin works and how you can use it to remove and prevent blackheads over the long term.

How Tretinoin Works to Prevent Acne

Tretinoin is a retinoid that is a derivative of vitamin A. It is not known exactly how tretinoin works to prevent acne. However, tretinoin is a retinoid which can be applied topically to decrease lesions that can be seen and inhibit new comedones and lesions from forming.  Tretinoin also decreases cellular inflammation that acne can cause.

This makes tretinoin a useful medication for treating acne because it inhibits the formation of comedones, inhibits the formation of microcomedones (the precursor to comedones) and decreases inflammation.

In a way, you can think of tretinoin as acting almost like a fast-forward button for your facial skin cells. By decreasing the comedones from forming, tretinoin makes it harder for old skin and oil to build up in hair follicles over time and cause acne to develop.

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Does Tretinoin Prevent Blackheads?

While there are no studies that specifically deal with tretinoin and blackheads, several studies show that tretinoin is highly effective at treating and reducing acne.

One study from 2009 found that tretinoin had a “significantly greater” treatment success rate than a non-therapeutic placebo. In a different study, researchers noted a measurable decrease in facial acne in people given a mix of tretinoin cream and clindamycin one percent gel. The Journal of American Academy of Dermatologist said that retinoids are the “core of topical therapy for acne."

In general, while there’s no direct evidence showing that tretinoin can remove blackheads and whiteheads specifically, there are several detailed, peer-reviewed studies that show tretinoin is highly effective at treating, removing and preventing acne.

Learn How to Use Tretinoin

Are you interested in using tretinoin to eliminate and prevent blackheads? Our guide to using tretinoin for acne prevention covers the entire process of preventing facial acne with tretinoin, from choosing the right strength of tretinoin cream to applying the product to your face.

You can also learn more about tretinoin as a general acne prevention and anti-aging medication in our Tretinoin 101 guide.

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This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. The information contained herein is not a substitute for and should never be relied upon for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment.

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