Tretinoin, also known as all-trans-retinoic acid, is a naturally occurring derivative of vitamin A (retinol). Retinoids such as tretinoin are important regulators of cell reproduction, proliferation and differentiation and are used to treat acne and photodamaged skin as well as cornification disorders such as ichthyosis and keratosis follicularis. Tretinoin is also used in the treatment of acute promyelocytic leukemia. It is used as a topical formulation to treat acne and as an oral formulation to treat leukemia.



For use in the treatment of acute promyelocytic leukemia, the exact mechanism of action is unknown. However, laboratory tests have shown that tretinoin forces the degenerate cells to differentiate and prevents them from proliferating.

In the treatment acne, it leads to normalization of proliferation and multiplication of keratinocytes in the skin, resulting in a decrease in the formation of blackheads and pustules.


Tretinoin is 1-31% absorbed when applied to the skin. Plasma protein binding is approximately 95%. Metabolism occurs in the liver. The average half-life is 0.5-2 hours.


Side effects

Common side effects when used on the skin are limited to the site of application and include skin redness, peeling, and sensitivity to sunlight.

When used by mouth, the most common side effects are shortness of breath, headache, numbness, depression, skin dryness, itching, hair loss, vomiting, muscle pain, and vision problems.

Other serious side effects include increased white blood cell count and blood clots. Use during pregnancy is contraindicated because of the risk of birth defects.

Toxicological data

LD50 (rat, oral): 2000 mg-kg-1

Chemical & physical properties

ATC Code D10AD01, L01XX14
Formula C20H28O2
Molar Mass (g·mol−1) 300,435
Physical State solid
Melting Point (°C) 182
PKS Value 4.76
CAS Number 302-79-4
PUB Number 444795
Drugbank ID DB00755


  • Drugbank
  • PubChem
  • Aktories, Förstermann, Hofmann, Starke: Allgemeine und spezielle Pharmakologie und Toxikologie, Elsvier, 2017

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All information used for the content comes from verified sources (recognised institutions, experts, studies by renowned universities). We attach great importance to the qualification of the authors and the scientific background of the information. Thus, we ensure that our research is based on scientific findings.
Markus Falkenstätter, BSc

Markus Falkenstätter, BSc

Markus Falkenstätter is a writer on pharmaceutical topics in Medikamio's medical editorial team. He is in the last semester of his pharmacy studies at the University of Vienna and loves scientific work in the field of natural sciences.

Mag. pharm. Stefanie Lehenauer

Mag. pharm. Stefanie Lehenauer

Stefanie Lehenauer has been a freelance writer for Medikamio since 2020 and studied pharmacy at the University of Vienna. She works as a pharmacist in Vienna and her passion is herbal medicines and their effects.

The content of this page is an automated and high-quality translation from DeepL. You can find the original content in German here.


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