Bexarotene Topical : Uses, Side Effects, Interactions & More

Why is this medication prescribed?

Topical bexarotene is used to treat cutaneous T-cell lymphoma (CTCL, a type of skin cancer) that cannot be treated with other medications. Bexarotene is in a class of medications called retinoids. It works by stopping the growth of cancer cells.

How should this medicine be used?

Topical bexarotene comes as a gel to apply to the skin. It is usually applied once every two days in the beginning and is applied gradually more frequently up to two to four times a day. Use topical bexarotene at around the same time every day. Follow the directions on your prescription label carefully and ask your doctor or pharmacist to explain any parts you do not understand. Use bexarotene exactly as directed. Do not use more or less or use it more often than prescribed by your doctor.

Your doctor will likely prescribe a low dose of topical bexarotene and increase it gradually, no more than once a week. Your doctor may lower your dose if you experience side effects.

Your condition may improve as soon as 4 weeks after you start using topical bexarotene, or it may take several months before you notice any improvement. Continue using topical bexarotene after noticing improvement; your condition may continue to improve. Do not stop using bexarotene topical without talking to your doctor.

Bexarotene gel can catch fire. Do not use this medicine near a heat source or near an open flame, such as a cigarette.

Bexarotene gel is for external use only. Do not take the medicine and keep it away from the eyes, nostrils, mouth, lips, vagina, tip of penis, rectum, and anus.

You can bathe, shower, or swim during your topical bexarotene treatment, but you should only use a mild, non-deodorant soap. You should wait at least 20 minutes after bathing or showering before applying bexarotene topical. After applying the medicine, do not bathe, swim, or shower for at least 3 hours.

Ask your pharmacist or doctor for a copy of the manufacturer’s information for the patient.

To use the gel, follow these steps:

  1. Wash your hands.
  2. If you are using a new tube of bexarotene gel, remove the cap and verify that the tube opening is covered with a metal security seal. Do not use the tube if you do not see the security seal or if the seal has been punctured. If you see the security seal, turn the cap over and use the sharp point to pierce the seal.
  3. Use a clean finger to apply a generous layer of gel to the area to be treated only. Be careful not to apply gel to healthy skin around the affected area. Do not rub the gel on the skin. You should be able to see some gel on the affected area once you are done applying it.
  4. Do not cover the treated area with a tight bandage or dressing unless your doctor tells you to.
  5. Wipe the finger that you used to apply the gel with a tissue and throw it away. Wash your hands with soap and water.
  6. Allow the gel to dry for 5-10 minutes before covering it with loose clothing. Do not wear tight clothing over the affected area.
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Other uses for this medicine

This medication may be prescribed for other uses; ask your doctor or pharmacist for more information.

What special precautions should I follow?

Before using topical bexarotene,

  • Tell your doctor and pharmacist if you are allergic to bexarotene; any other retinoid such as acitretin (Soriatane), etretinate (Tegison), isotretinoin (Accutane), or tretinoin (Vesanoid); or any other medication.
  • Tell your doctor and pharmacist what other prescription and nonprescription medications, vitamins, nutritional supplements, and herbal products you are taking or plan to take. Be sure to mention any of the following: certain antifungals such as ketoconazole (Nizoral) and itraconazole (Sporanox), erythromycin (E.E.S., E-Mycin, Erythrocin); gemfibrozil (Lopid); other medications or products that are applied to the skin; and vitamin A (in multivitamins). Your doctor may need to change the doses of your medications or monitor you closely for side effects. Many other medications can also interact with topical bexarotene, so be sure to tell your doctor about all the medications you are taking, even those that do not appear on this list.
  • Tell your doctor if you have or have ever had kidney or liver disease.
  • Tell your doctor if you are pregnant or plan to become pregnant. Topical bexarotene can cause serious birth defects, so you will need to take precautions to avoid pregnancy during and shortly after your treatment. You will start your treatment on the second or third day of your menstrual period, and you should have negative pregnancy tests within a week of starting your treatment and once a month after your treatment. You must use 2 acceptable methods of birth control during your treatment and for a month after your treatment. If you become pregnant during your treatment with topical bexarotene, call your doctor immediately.
  • Tell your doctor if you are breastfeeding.
  • If you are a man and your partner is pregnant or may become pregnant, talk to your doctor about the precautions to take during your treatment. Call your doctor immediately if your partner becomes pregnant while using topical bexarotene.
  • Plan to avoid unnecessary or prolonged exposure to sunlight and sunlamps and wear protective clothing, sunglasses, and sunscreen. Topical bexarotene can make your skin sensitive to sunlight.
  • Do not use insect repellants or other products containing DEET during your treatment with topical bexarotene.
  • Do not scratch the affected areas during your topical bexarotene treatment.
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What special dietary instructions should I follow?

Talk to your doctor about eating grapefruit and drinking grapefruit juice while using this medicine.

What should I do if I forget a dose?

Apply the missed dose as soon as you remember. However, if it is almost time for the next dose, skip the missed dose and continue your regular dosing schedule. Do not apply more gel to make up for the forgotten dose.

What side effects can this medication cause?

Topical bexarotene may cause side effects. Tell your doctor if any of these symptoms are severe or do not go away:

  • itching
  • redness, burning, irritation, or scaling of the skin
  • rash
  • pain
  • sweating
  • weakness
  • headache
  • swelling of the arms, hands, feet, ankles, or lower legs

Some side effects can be serious. If you experience any of these symptoms, call your doctor immediately:

  • sore throat, fever, chills, or other signs of infection
  • swollen glands

Bexarotene can cause other side effects. Call your doctor if you have any unusual problems while using this medicine.

If you experience a serious side effect, you or your doctor can submit a report online to the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) MedWatch Adverse Event Reporting program ( or by phone (1-800-332-1088).

What should I know about storage and disposal of this medication?

Keep this medicine in the container it came in, tightly closed, and out of the reach and sight of children. Store at room temperature and away from light, excess heat, open flames, and moisture (not in the bathroom).

Unnecessary medications must be disposed of in special ways to ensure they cannot be consumed by pets, children, and others. However, you should not flush this medicine down the toilet. Instead, the best way to dispose of your medications is through a drug take-back program. Talk to your pharmacist or contact your local garbage / recycling department to learn about take-back programs in your community. Check out the FDA drug safe disposal website ( for more information if you do not have access to a take-back program.

It is important to keep all medicines out of the sight and reach of children, as many containers (such as those containing weekly pills and those for eye drops, creams, patches and inhalers) are not child-resistant and small children can easily open them. To protect young children from poisoning, always close the safety caps and immediately place the medicine in a safe place, one that is upright and out of their sight and reach.

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What other information should I know?

Keep all your appointments with your doctor.

Don’t let anyone use your medicine. Ask your pharmacist any questions you have about refilling your prescription.

It is important that you keep a written list of all prescription and over-the-counter (over-the-counter) medications you are taking, as well as any products such as vitamins, minerals, or other dietary supplements. You should take this list with you every time you visit a doctor or if you go into hospital. It is also important information to take with you in case of emergencies.

Brand Names

  • Targretin® Topical Gel

Disclaimer: DrLinex has made every effort to ensure that all information is factually accurate, comprehensive and up-to-date. However, this article should not be used as a licensed health care professional’s choice of knowledge and expertise. You should always consult your doctor or other health care professional before taking any medication. The information given here is subject to change and it has not been used to cover all possible uses, directions, precautions, warnings, drug interactions, allergic reactions or adverse effects. The lack of warning or other information for any drug does not indicate that the combination of medicine or medication is safe, effective or appropriate for all patients or all specific uses.

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