We Asked 2 Derms About Trifarotene, a New FDA-Approved Topical Retinoid Treatment

This is a major breakthrough for facial and body acne.

Girl touching acne

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2020 has been a year of innovation for acne treatments. Earlier this year, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) signed off on the acne medication Winlevi, the first anti-androgen receptor topical cream. And recently, the FDA approved the first retinoid acne treatment in over 20 years. Enter: Trifarotene. What makes this treatment so game-changing? Trifarotene is the only topical retinoid that not only treats facial acne but truncal acne (chest, shoulders, and back) as well. According to a 2007 study, more than 50% of individuals with facial acne also have truncal acne. Yet, no topical treatments have been clinically proven to be safe and effective in treating acne in all of these areas until now. 

To learn more about this breakthrough treatment, we spoke to two board-certified dermatologists about the science behind Trifarotene, who should use it, and more. 

Meet the two board-certified dermatologists sharing everything you need to know about Trifarotene: LA-based board-certified dermatologist and Byrdie's Beauty and Wellness Board member Dr. Onyeka Obioha and Clinical Associate Professor of Dermatology at the University of Alabama-Birmingham and Galderma Consultant Dr. Julie Harper.

What is Trifarotene?

“Trifarotene is a retinoid that specifically targets retinoic acid receptors (RAR) gamma, the most common RAR found in the skin,” Dr. Harper says. “This selectivity of Trifarotene means that the product is potent even at low concentrations. This low concentration gives us comfort from a safety standpoint to use this on larger surface areas, like the chest and back.” Trifarotene is the only topical retinoid proven to effectively and quickly treat the face, chest, shoulders, and back.

Who is Trifarotene Suitable for?

It’s best to speak to your dermatologist to determine which retinoid is right for you. Retinoids like Trifarotene are a standard treatment for acne as they remove dead skin cells, unclog pores, and help prevent new acne from forming. “AKLIEF (Trifarotene) Cream, 0.005% is ideal for acne patients who deal with mild to moderate acne on the face, chest, shoulders, and back,” Dr. Harper explains. It can be used on patients as young as nine years old. If you are deemed a candidate for Trifarotene, your dermatologist can prescribe it to you. The cost of the topical treatment will vary, but savings may be available here.

What Makes Trifarotene Different from Other Retinoids Used to Treat Acne?

Trifarotene differs from other retinoids because it is the only retinoid that selectively targets one retinoic acid receptor (RAR). “Other retinoids like tretinoin, tazarotene, or adapalene are less specific and target other receptors (RAR-alpha, RAR-beta) in addition to RAR-gamma,” Dr. Harper tells us. “RAR- beta is not found in the skin, and RAR-alpha comprises 12-14% of the RAR’s in the skin. RAR-gamma comprises 87% of the RAR in the skin. As mentioned, the selectivity of Trifarotene means the product is potent even at low concentrations.”

What Are the Side Effects?

Dr. Harper says that patients may experience a retinization period after using Trifarotene. During this adjustment period, the skin will begin adapting to the retinol treatment and may become dry or irritated. “Increased sun sensitivity may occur with use. Pruritus has also been reported as an adverse reaction of the medication,” Dr. Obioha adds. 

Is There Anything Else People Should Know About Trifarotene?

If you are prescribed Trifarotene, there are a few more things to keep in mind. “It should be used at night only and you must use sunscreen daily while treating with retinoids to prevent sunburns, as well as to help treat acne scarring,” Dr. Obioha tells us. 

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