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Obagi Tretinoin Gel Usp 0.05%

Tretinoin Gel Usp 0.05%

A prescription topical treatment for acne vulgaris
Uploaded by: silverkeith on

Ingredients overview

Warning: This ingredient list belongs to a topical product regulated as medicine and uses different ingredient listing rules than regular cosmetics. Read here for more detail.

Obagi Tretinoin Gel Usp 0.05%
Ingredients explained

Tretinoin (0.05%) - superstar
Also-called: All-Trans-Retinoic Acid, Form of Retinoids | What-it-does: cell-communicating ingredient
  • Tretinoin (a metabolite of vitamin A) is the gold standard anti-aging ingredient that is also FDA-approved (and it's the only one so far!)
  • It's an all around skin issue fixer as it works at the skin cell level and makes your skin cells behave in a healthy and normal way
  • It makes the skin less wrinkled, firmer, smoother and tighter, everything you could want from an anti-aging ingredient
  • It's also an effective acne treatment. It normalizes keratinization and makes the pores produce less sebum
  • It's also a skin lightener though not as effective as gold-standard hydroquinone.
  • Side effects with tretinoin are very common. Irritation, skin flaking, redness, and drier skin are usual
  • Do not use tretinoin (or any form of retinoids) while pregnant
  • To minimize side effects introduce tretinoin slowly into your routine (see more how to use tips in geeky details)
Read all the geeky details about Tretinoin here >>

It's one of those things that help your cosmetics not to go wrong too soon, aka a preservative. It can be naturally found in fruits and teas but can also be made synthetically.

No matter the origin, in small amounts (up to 1%) it’s a nice, gentle preservative. Has to be combined with some other nice preservatives, like potassium sorbate to be broad spectrum enough.  

In high amounts, it can be a skin irritant, but don’t worry, it’s never used in high amounts.

What-it-does: preservative

We don't have description for this ingredient yet.

Also-called: Butylated Hydroxy Toluene;BHT | What-it-does: antioxidant, preservative

It's the acronym for Butylated Hydroxy Toluene. It's a common synthetic antioxidant that's used as a preservative.

There is some controversy around BHT. It's not a new ingredient, it has been used both as a food and cosmetics additive since the 1970s. Plenty of studies tried to examine if it's a carcinogen or not. This Truth in Aging article details the situation and also writes that all these studies examine BHT when taken orally.

As for cosmetics, the CIR (Cosmetic Ingredient Review) concluded that the amount of BHT used in cosmetic products is low (usually around 0.01-0.1%),  it does not penetrate skin far enough to be absorbed into the bloodstream and it is safe to use in cosmetics.

What-it-does: viscosity controlling, emulsion stabilising | Irritancy: 0 | Comedogenicity: 1

A big molecule created from repeated subunits (a polymer of acrylic acid) that magically converts a liquid into a nice gel formula.  It usually has to be neutralized with a base (such as sodium hydroxide) for the thickening to occur and it creates viscous, clear gels that also feel nice and non-tacky on the skin. No wonder, it is a very popular and common ingredient. Typically used at 1% or less in most formulations.

What-it-does: preservative

A very common type of feared-by-everyone-mostly-without-scientific-reason paraben. It's a cheap, effective and well-tolerated ingredient to make sure the cosmetic formula does not go wrong too soon. Read more about parabens here >>

The chemically chopped up version of the big protein molecule, collagen. It is often derived from fish or bovine sources and works as a nice moisturizer and humectant that helps the skin to hold onto water.  

To understand a bit more what Hydrolyzed Collagen is, you have to know that proteins are large chains of amino acids connected with so-called peptide bonds. These bonds can be broken up when a water molecule is added and the resulting thing is a mix of shorter length amino acids, also called peptides. So Hydrolyzed Collagen is not really collagen, it is rather an undefined and varying mix of largish peptides. Based on a manufacturer's data, the whole, soluble collagen has an average molecular weight of 300 000 Da, while this chopped up mixture has an average MW of 12 000 Da (still pretty big). 

The main thing of these largish peptides is to act as water-binding agents, and to make the skin nice and smooth (aka emollient). Hydrolyzed Collagen is also often used in cleansers as it can make harsh surfactants milder and in hair conditioners as it improves the flexibility and manageability of hair. 

If you wanna know more about collagen in cosmetics, we have a shiny explanation about soluble collagen here >> 

Glycerin - superstar
Also-called: Glycerol | What-it-does: skin-identical ingredient, moisturizer/humectant | Irritancy: 0 | Comedogenicity: 0
  • A natural moisturizer that’s also in our skin
  • A super common, safe, effective and cheap molecule used for more than 50 years
  • Not only a simple moisturizer but knows much more: keeps the skin lipids between our skin cells in a healthy (liquid crystal) state, protects against irritation, helps to restore barrier
  • Effective from as low as 3% with even more benefits at higher concentrations up to 20-40% (around 10% is a good usability-effectiveness sweet spot)
  • High-glycerin moisturizers are awesome for treating severely dry skin
Read all the geeky details about Glycerin here >>

We don't have description for this ingredient yet.

What-it-does: preservative | Irritancy: 0 | Comedogenicity: 0

The most common type of feared-by-everyone-mostly-without-scientific-reason parabens. It's a cheap, effective and well-tolerated ingredient to make sure the cosmetic formula does not go wrong too soon

Apart from the general controversy around parabens (we wrote about it more here), there is a 2006 in-vitro (made in the lab not on real people) research about methylparaben (MP) showing that when exposed to sunlight, MP treated skin cells suffered more harm than non-MP treated skin cells. The study was not done with real people on real skin but still - using a good sunscreen next to MP containing products is a good idea. (Well, in fact using a sunscreen is always a good idea. :))

What-it-does: emulsifying, surfactant/cleansing | Comedogenicity: 0-1

We don't have description for this ingredient yet.

What-it-does: preservative

It’s pretty much the current IT-preservative. It’s safe and gentle, but even more importantly, it’s not a feared-by-everyone-mostly-without-scientific-reason paraben.

It’s not something new: it was introduced around 1950 and today it can be used up to 1% worldwide. It can be found in nature - in green tea - but the version used in cosmetics is synthetic. 

Other than having a good safety profile and being quite gentle to the skin it has some other advantages too. It can be used in many types of formulations as it has great thermal stability (can be heated up to 85°C) and works on a wide range of pH levels (ph 3-10). 

It’s often used together with ethylhexylglycerin as it nicely improves the preservative activity of phenoxyethanol.

What-it-does: preservative, perfuming | Irritancy: 0 | Comedogenicity: 0

A very common type of feared-by-everyone-mostly-without-scientific-reason parabens. It's a cheap, effective and well-tolerated ingredient to make sure the cosmetic formula does not go wrong too soon.

Also-called: Aqua;Water | What-it-does: solvent

Good old water, aka H2O. The most common skincare ingredient of all. You can usually find it right in the very first spot of the ingredient list, meaning it’s the biggest thing out of all the stuff that makes up the product. 

It’s mainly a solvent for ingredients that do not like to dissolve in oils but rather in water. 

Once inside the skin, it hydrates, but not from the outside - putting pure water on the skin (hello long baths!) is drying. 

One more thing: the water used in cosmetics is purified and deionized (it means that almost all of the mineral ions inside it is removed). Like this, the products can stay more stable over time. 

What-it-does: skin-identical ingredient, moisturizer/humectant | Irritancy: 0 | Comedogenicity: 0

It’s the - sodium form - cousin of the famous NMFhyaluronic acid (HA). If HA does not tell you anything we have a super detailed, geeky explanation about it here.  The TL; DR version of HA is that it's a huge polymer (big molecule from repeated subunits) found in the skin that acts as a sponge helping the skin to hold onto water, being plump and elastic. HA is famous for its crazy water holding capacity as it can bind up to 1000 times its own weight in water.

As far as skincare goes, sodium hyaluronate and hyaluronic acid are pretty much the same and the two names are used interchangeably. As cosmetic chemist kindofstephen writes on reddit  "sodium hyaluronate disassociates into hyaluronic acid molecule and a sodium atom in solution". 

In spite of this, if you search for "hyaluronic acid vs sodium hyaluronate" you will find on multiple places that sodium hyaluronate is smaller and can penetrate the skin better. Chemically, this is definitely not true, as the two forms are almost the same, both are polymers and the subunits can be repeated in both forms as much as you like. (We also checked Prospector for sodium hyaluronate versions actually used in cosmetic products and found that the most common molecular weight was 1.5-1.8 million Da that absolutely counts as high molecular weight).

What seems to be a true difference, though, is that the salt form is more stable, easier to formulate and cheaper so it pops up more often on the ingredient lists. 

If you wanna become a real HA-and-the-skin expert you can read way more about the topic at hyaluronic acid (including penetration-questions, differences between high and low molecular weight versions and a bunch of references to scientific literature).

What-it-does: buffering | Irritancy: 0 | Comedogenicity: 2

It’s a little helper ingredient that helps to set the pH of a cosmetic formulation to be just right. It’s very alkaline (you know the opposite of being very acidic): a 1% solution has a pH of around 10.

It does not have the very best safety reputation but in general, you do not have to worry about it. 

What is true is that if a product contains so-called N-nitrogenating agents (e.g.: preservatives like 2-Bromo-2-Nitropropane-1,3-Diol, 5-Bromo-5-Nitro- 1,3-Dioxane or sodium nitrate - so look out for things with nitro, nitra in the name) that together with TEA can form some not nice carcinogenic stuff (that is called nitrosamines). But with proper formulation that does not happen, TEA in itself is not a bad guy. 

But let’s assume a bad combination of ingredients were used and the nitrosamines formed. :( Even in that case you are probably fine because as far as we know it cannot penetrate the skin. 

But to be on the safe side, if you see Triethanolamine in an INCI and also something with nitra, nitro in the name of it just skip the product, that cannot hurt.

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what‑it‑does cell-communicating ingredient
The gold-standard, and only FDA-approved anti-aging active ingredient. It works on the skin cell level and makes your skin cells behave in a healthy and normal way. It's not only an anti-aging miracle but is also an effective acne treatment and skin lightener. [more]
what‑it‑does preservative | perfuming | solvent | viscosity controlling
It's one of those things that help your cosmetics not to go wrong too soon, aka a preservative. It can be naturally found in fruits and teas but can also be made synthetically. No matter the origin, in small amounts (up to 1%) it’s a nice, gentle preservative. [more]
what‑it‑does preservative
what‑it‑does antioxidant | preservative
It's the acronym for Butylated Hydroxy Toluene. It's a common synthetic antioxidant that's used as a preservative.There is some controversy around BHT. [more]
what‑it‑does viscosity controlling
irritancy, com. 0, 1
A handy white powder that magically converts a liquid into a nice gel formula. [more]
what‑it‑does preservative
A very common type of feared-by-everyone-mostly-without-scientific-reason paraben. It's a cheap, effective and well-tolerated ingredient to make sure the cosmetic formula does not go wrong too soon. [more]
what‑it‑does emollient | moisturizer/humectant
The chemically chopped up version of the big protein molecule, collagen. It is often derived from fish or bovine sources and works as a nice moisturizer and humectant that helps the skin to hold onto water.   To understand a bit more what Hydrolyzed Collagen is, you have to know that proteins are large chains of amino acids connected with so-called peptide bonds. [more]
what‑it‑does skin-identical ingredient | moisturizer/humectant
irritancy, com. 0, 0
A real oldie but a goodie. Great natural moisturizer and skin-identical ingredient that plays an important role in skin hydration and general skin health. [more]
what‑it‑does preservative | antimicrobial/antibacterial
what‑it‑does preservative
irritancy, com. 0, 0
The most common type of feared-by-everyone-mostly-without-scientific-reason parabens. It's a cheap, effective and well-tolerated ingredient to make sure the cosmetic formula does not go wrong too soon.  Apart from the general controversy around parabens (we wrote about it more here), there is a 2006 in-vitro (made in the lab not on real people) research about methylparaben (MP) sho [more]
what‑it‑does emulsifying | surfactant/cleansing
com. 0-1
what‑it‑does preservative
Pretty much the current IT-preservative. It’s safe and gentle, and can be used up to 1% worldwide. [more]
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irritancy, com. 0, 0
A very common type of feared-by-everyone-mostly-without-scientific-reason parabens. It's a cheap, effective and well-tolerated ingredient to make sure the cosmetic formula does not go wrong too soon. [more]
what‑it‑does solvent
Normal (well kind of - it's purified and deionized) water. Usually the main solvent in cosmetic products. [more]
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irritancy, com. 0, 0
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what‑it‑does buffering
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Helps to set the pH of a cosmetic formulation to be right. It’s very alkaline. [more]