Medically reviewed by Kristin Hall, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
Last updated 9/16/2020
Varicella, or chickenpox, was until recently one of the most common viruses amongst children and adolescents in the U.S. for decades.
The chicken pox disease is caused by the varicella-zoster virus (VZV). The chicken pox vaccine became available in the United States in 1995, and since then, the incidence of the chicken pox disease and severity of disease symptoms have decreased significantly.
Two doses of the vaccine are about 90 percent effective in preventing chicken pox.
For most people, chickenpox passes without any lasting issues. However, even though the majority of people don’t experience any long-term skin issues as a result of chickenpox, the blisters, when picked or scratched, can leave people with scars. In fact, you may have a few, yourself.
As a topical retinoid, tretinoin is occasionally used in the treatment of chickenpox scars and can, in some cases, be an effective option for smoothing out your skin. Despite this, it’s not a “cure” for chickenpox scars and shouldn’t be viewed as such.
Below, we’ll look at how tretinoin can help to heal chickenpox scars, as well as other facial skin issues. We’ll also look at some of the other treatments used to fill and flatten scars that occur as a result of chickenpox blisters.
Chickenpox results in small blisters, typically less than a quarter of an inch wide, on the face and body.
Chickenpox blisters usually heal on their own without leaving a permanent scar. However, if a person with chickenpox scratches a blister — which is fairly easy, considering how itchy the rash and subsequent blisters tend to be — it’s possible for the skin to become infected, leading to a permanent scar.
As always, the best way to prevent chickenpox scars is to reduce the risk of them developing in the first place. If you’re dealing with a chickenpox infection or have a child with chickenpox, it’s important to avoid scratching the blisters. One reason being you or your child is less likely to encounter scarring. Another is that scratching the rash and blisters only makes the virus easier to spread.
Tretinoin is one of a few medications occasionally used to treat chickenpox scarring, and is sometimes prescribed as part of a comprehensive scar removal treatment, such as a combined treatment with an Er:YAG laser.
Dermatologists also use tretinoin as a pre-treatment before other skincare procedures in order to improve the penetration of other peeling agents.
On its own, tretinoin has several benefits that can make it an effective treatment for removing chickenpox scars:
It can lighten areas of skin discoloration and hyperpigmentation, which are common in permanent scars left by chickenpox.
It speeds up skin cell turnover, acting as a mild peeling agent that lets your body replace the outermost layer of skin with new, fresh cells.
It can increase skin thickness, making creases, smile lines and other imperfections in the skin (such as chickenpox scars) possibly less visible.
If you have chickenpox scars you’d like to remove using tretinoin, it’s important to have realistic expectations. While tretinoin can potentially lighten your scars, it might not be able to completely remove them.
It’s also important to have a realistic attitude towards the amount of time required for tretinoin to take effect. Tretinoin does not produce overnight results — it can take several months before you start seeing noticeable results from tretinoin.
While topical tretinoin is often enough to reduce the visibility of minor chickenpox scars, deeper scars can require more effective treatments. Other treatments for chickenpox scars include:
Chemical peels, which involve the use of acidic chemicals to blister and remove the outermost layers of skin, improving the texture of facial skin and potentially removing scarring.
Fractional laser therapy, which can be effective at removing deeper, more pronounced chickenpox scars.
Dermal fillers, such as hyaluronic acid (HA) fillers, which can temporarily fill in sunken areas and large scars left from chickenpox.
Skin lightening solutions, such as hydroquinone, which can reduce discoloration and make chickenpox scarring less visible.
Often, fully healing chickenpox scars is a multi-step process that may involve a multitude of treatments and use of medications such as tretinoin or hydroquinone.
On the whole, tretinoin can be an effective treatment for some chickenpox scars. Thanks to its ability to lighten skin discoloration, long-term tretinoin use can even correct the discoloration of chickenpox scars, making scarring less visible and obvious.
Because tretinoin increases skin cell turnover and promotes the development of thicker skin, it can also have positive effects for smoothing out small scars and marks caused by chickenpox.
Of course, tretinoin sometimes isn't a one-stop cure-all for chickenpox scars. Scar removal of any kind can be a complicated process that takes time and patience, as well as a multitude of different treatments to attain desired effectiveness.
If you're looking to help lessen the severity of your chickenpox scarring, the best thing to do is see an experienced, qualified dermatologist.
From scarring to wrinkles, acne and more, tretinoin can be a highly effective treatment for a wide range of skin conditions. Our guides to using tretinoin for acne and for anti-aging go into more detail on the two most common uses for tretinoin.
For an overview of tretinoin’s history, side effects and more, start with our Tretinoin 101 guide.
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