Bexarotene Gel (Targretin® Gel Formulation)

OncoLink Team
Last Modified: July 29, 2015

Pronounced: beks-AIR-oh-teen
Classification: Retinoid

About Bexarotene

Bexarotene belongs to a class of medications called retinoids. Retinoids are relatives of vitamin A and appear to interfere with genes that control cell growth. The exact way bexarotene works is unknown, but it is believed to inhibit the growth of tumor cells.

How to Take Bexarotene (Gel Formulation)

Bexarotene gel formulation is applied to the skin. The gel should be applied initially once every other day. The frequency should be increased, as tolerated, to once a day, then twice a day, then three times a day, and finally, four times a day.

How to Apply:

  • Apply the gel using a clean, washed finger. Apply a generous coating over the surface of each lesion, trying not to apply gel to the healthy skin around the lesion. This will help reduce redness and irritation to the healthy skin.
  • Immediately after applying the gel, wipe the finger with a tissue and wash with soap and water.
  • Allow the gel to dry for 5-10 minutes before covering with clothing. Avoid covering with gauze or bandages.
  • Use a non-deodorant soap when bathing and wait at least 20 minutes after a shower or bath to apply the gel. Avoid getting the area wet (bathing, swimming) for 3 hours after applying.
  • Do not apply to mucosal surfaces, including eyes, nostrils, mouth, vagina, tip of penis, rectum or anus.
  • Do not use insect repellants or other products that contain DEET while using this gel.

Where do I get this medication?

Bexarotene gel formulation is available through retail/mail order pharmacy.  Your oncology team will work with your prescription drug plan to identify an in-network retail/mail order pharmacy for medication distribution. 

Insurance Information

This medication may be covered under your prescription drug plan.  Patient assistance may be available to qualifying individuals without prescription drug coverage.  A co-pay assistance program, which reduces the patient’s co-pay responsibility for eligible, commercially (non-government sponsored) insured patients, may also be available. Your care team can help you find these resources, if they are available.

Storage and Handling

Store your medication in the original, labeled container at room temperature and in a dry location (unless otherwise directed by your HCP or Pharmacist). Keep containers out of reach of children and pets.

If a caregiver helps you apply the medication, they should consider wearing gloves or dispense the gel directly from the directly into your hand for application. They should always wash their hands before and after touching the medication. Pregnant or nursing women should not prepare the dose for you. Ask your oncology team where to return any unused medication for disposal. Do not flush down the toilet or throw in the trash.

Safety Considerations When Receiving Bexarotene:

  • Vitamin A supplements can worsen the side effects of bexarotene. The manufacturer recommends limiting vitamin A supplementation to less than 5,000 IU/day, but you should discuss taking any vitamin supplements with your doctor BEFORE you take them.
  • Bexarotene can cause harm to a fetus (unborn baby). Men and women should not become pregnant (or father a child). Two methods of effective contraception are recommended for women of childbearing potential for one month before starting, during therapy, and one month after completing therapy. Discuss with your doctor when you may safely become pregnant after therapy.
  • Men should use condoms during sexual activity during therapy and for one month after completing therapy to protect their partner from exposure to the medication and prevent them from becoming pregnant.

Possible Side Effects of Bexarotene Gel Formulation

There are a number of things you can do to manage the side effects of bexarotene gel formulation. Talk to your doctor or nurse about these recommendations. They can help you decide what will work best for you. These are some of the most common side effects:

Skin Changes

While using this gel, your skin may develop redness, itching, burning, irritation and scaling in the area of application. Your skin will be more sensitive to the sun, which can result in severe sunburn or rash. Sun sensitivity can last even after you stop taking the medication. Avoid the sun as much as possible, as even a little exposure can cause a burn. Do not use a sunlamp or tanning bed. Wear sunglasses and long sleeves/pants to protect your skin and eyes. Talk to your healthcare provider before using topical lotions and moisturizers as these may interfere with the medication if applied to the same areas.

Sun Sensitivity

This medication can make your skin more sensitive to the sun, which can result in severe sunburn or rash. Sun sensitivity can last even after chemotherapy is completed. Avoid the sun between 10-2pm, when it is strongest. Wear sunscreen (at least SPF 15) everyday; wear sunglasses, a hat and long sleeves/pants to protect your skin and seek out shade whenever possible.

Reproductive Concerns

As noted above, exposure of an unborn child to this medication could cause birth defects, so you should not become pregnant or father a child while on this medication. Effective birth control is necessary during treatment and for at least 1 month after treatment. Even if your menstrual cycle stops or you believe you are not producing sperm, you could still be fertile and conceive. You should not breastfeed while using this medication.


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