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What is Tazarotene?

By M. Haskins
Updated May 17, 2024
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Tazarotene is a gel or cream medication available by prescription only that is applied to the skin to treat acne, psoriasis, or sun damage. It is sold under various brand names, like Tazorac, Zorac and Avage, and is a retinoid, meaning it is a substance similar to vitamin A. Creams or gels with tazarotene are usually applied once a day, but directions can vary and one should consult the prescribing doctor for specific information. It is not known exactly how tazarotene works, but it appears to have anti-inflammatory properties and to reduce the skin's natural oil production. Side effects, including dryness and redness of the skin, are usually mild and generally do not last long, but in case of more serious side effects like dizziness or rash, one should consult a medical professional.

Gels and creams containing tazarotene are available in concentrations of 0.1% and 0.05%, and are most commonly prescribed to treat psoriasis and acne. The use of tazoretene to treat sun damage, also called photo damage, is more recent. When used to treat sun damage, tazoretene has been shown to reduce wrinkles, improve skin elasticity, increase collagen production, and reduce various pigmentation problems. Improvements in the treated condition will often show after six to 12 weeks of use. When treating acne with tazarotene, the condition can sometimes get worse initially, and then improve with continued use.

Common application tips when using a photo damage cream, acne cream or psoriasis cream with tazarotene include applying it to skin that has been cleaned using a gentle cleanser and is thoroughly dry. For best results, it is recommended to wait at least half an hour after washing before applying the cream or gel. The medication should be applied in a thin layer, avoiding the eyes and mouth, and should not be applied to cuts or other injuries or to areas with sunburns or eczema. A light moisturizer can be applied an hour after applying the medicated cream or gel. To minimize the risk of skin irritation, one should avoid sun exposure while using these treatments.

Common side effects of tazarotene include irritation, dry skin and redness. Sometimes the skin can get very dry and crack. These side effects can be lessened by using gentle soaps and moisturizers. In rare cases, more serious side effects like swelling, rash, dizziness and breathing problems can occur. One should contact a medical profession as soon as possible if experiencing such symptoms.

WiseGEEK is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.

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