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Is Tazorac better than tretinoin?

Medically reviewed by Sally Chao, MD. Last updated on July 7, 2021.

Official answer

by Drugs.com

Tazorac and tretinoin are both retinoids, which are vitamin A derivatives. Although they share many similarities and are related, the two medications are indicated for different conditions, making head-to-head comparisons difficult.

  • Tazorac is a brand name for tazarotene. Tazorac is used to treat acne as well as psoriasis, an inflammatory skin disease that occurs when your body's immune system revs up its production of skin cells. Instead of shedding, these cells build up on the skin, causing raised, reddened plaques that itch, burn and may be covered with silvery scales.
  • Tretinoin is a generic drug. Brand names for tretinoin include Altreno, Atralin, Avita and Retin-A for acne; Refissa and Renova for smoothing wrinkles; and Renova for discoloration and rough skin.

They each help manage these skin conditions, but they don’t cure them.

  • Tazorac slows skin cell growth and reduces the inflammation that may drive acne and/or psoriasis.
  • Tretinoin promotes peeling of the affected skin areas and unclogs pores.

Other medications in the retinoid class include retinol, adapalene, alitretinoin and bexarotene.

Tazorac versus tretinoin for acne

Both Tazorac and tretinoin (Retin-A) are equally effective for treating acne, according to a 2019 review of 54 studies in the American Journal of Clinical Dermatology.

Improvements in acne are typically seen in two to three weeks with tretinoin. Tazorac improves acne in about one month. The American Academy of Dermatology recommends both Tazorac and Retin-A as first-line treatments for mild-to-moderate acne.

It can take months to see improvements in other conditions using tretinoin.

With psoriasis, improvements are often seen within one to four weeks of Tazorac use.

Formulations and strengths

Tazorac is available as a cream, foam or gel.

Tretinoin comes as a lotion (Altreno), cream (Avita, Refissa, Renova, Retin-A) and gel (Atralin, Avita, Retin-A).

The two medications are available in different strengths as well. For example, Tazorac cream comes in two strengths: 0.05% and 0.1%. Tretinoin cream is available in three strengths: 0.1%, 0.05% or 0.025%.

Another potential difference between Tazorac and tretinoin is cost. Tazorac is a brand-name drug, but generic forms of drugs like tretinoin tend to be less expensive.

All retinoids, including Tazorac and tretinoin, can cause side effects in the treated area. Common ones include:

  • Dry skin
  • Itching
  • Sun sensitivity
  • Rashing
  • Peeling
  • Flaky skin
References
  1. U.S. National Library of Medicine MedlinePlus. Tretinoin Topical. May 26, 2021. Available at: https://medlineplus.gov/druginfo/meds/a682437.html. [Accessed June 8, 2021].
  2. U.S. National Library of Medicine MedlinePlus. Tazarotene Topical. June 15, 2019. Available at: https://medlineplus.gov/druginfo/meds/a616052.html#:~:text=Tazarotene%20is%20in%20a%20class,lead%20to%20acne%20or%20psoriasis. [Accessed June 8, 2021].
  3. Kolli SS, Pecone P, Pona A. Topical Retinoids in Acne Vulgaris: A Systematic Review. American Journal of Clinical Dermatology. 2019; 20: 345–365. https://doi.org/10.1007/s40257-019-00423-z
  4. Zaenglein AL, Pathy AL, Schlosser BJ, et al. Guidelines of care for the management of acne vulgaris. Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology. 2016;74:945-73. https://www.jaad.org/action/showPdf?pii=S0190-9622%2815%2902614-6
  5. U.S. National Library of Medicine DailyMed. Tazorac-tazarotene cream. February 3, 2020. Available at: https://dailymed.nlm.nih.gov/dailymed/drugInfo.cfm?setid=021744d1-a6d7-4ad6-99c2-7187c24e64c6. [Accessed June 8, 2021].
  6. U.S. National Library of Medicine DailyMed. Retin-A. April 27, 2010. Available at: https://dailymed.nlm.nih.gov/dailymed/drugInfo.cfm?setid=0ee4fccd-087f-4134-9b66-1d5186c116c0. [Accessed June 8, 2021].

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