brand logo

Am Fam Physician. 2006;73(6):1084

Clinical Question: Does brief daily application of tretinoin (Retin-A) improve healing in diabetic foot ulcers?

Setting: Outpatient (specialty)

Study Design: Randomized controlled trial (double-blinded)

Allocation: Concealed

Synopsis: Findings from uncontrolled studies have suggested that brief application of topical tretinoin may improve healing in patients with chronic skin ulcers. In this small study, 24 patients with diabetic foot ulcers, but without evidence of peripheral vascular disease or infection, were identified at a Veterans Affairs medical center. Groups were reasonably well balanced at the start of the study: the control group had a mean age of 61 years, mean duration of ulcer of 12 months, and mean ulcer size of 1.1 cm; corresponding values for the intervention group were 58 years, six months, and 0.9 cm.

The intervention group had 0.05 percent topical tretinoin applied for 10 minutes per day, followed by a saline rinse, for a total of four weeks. All wounds had cadexomer iodine gel (Iodosorb) applied between treatments with tretinoin or placebo ointment. After 16 weeks, wounds in the intervention group were 55 percent smaller than at baseline; those in the control group were 3 percent larger (absolute values in terms of square centimeters are not reported). More ulcers were completely healed in the intervention group than in the control group (six per 13 versus two per 11; P = .03). Mild to moderate pain was more common in the tretinoin group (three versus one), but this was not statistically significant in this small study.

Bottom Line: This small study provides some support for a daily 10-minute application of 0.05 percent topical tretinoin to diabetic ulcers. (Level of Evidence: 1b–)

POEMs (patient-oriented evidence that matters) are provided by Essential Evidence Plus, a point-of-care clinical decision support system published by Wiley-Blackwell. For more information, see Copyright Wiley-Blackwell. Used with permission.

For definitions of levels of evidence used in POEMs, see

To subscribe to a free podcast of these and other POEMs that appear in AFP, search in iTunes for “POEM of the Week” or go to

This series is coordinated by Natasha J. Pyzocha, DO, contributing editor.

A collection of POEMs published in AFP is available at

Continue Reading

More in AFP

Copyright © 2006 by the American Academy of Family Physicians.

This content is owned by the AAFP. A person viewing it online may make one printout of the material and may use that printout only for his or her personal, non-commercial reference. This material may not otherwise be downloaded, copied, printed, stored, transmitted or reproduced in any medium, whether now known or later invented, except as authorized in writing by the AAFP.  See permissions for copyright questions and/or permission requests.