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What is the difference between Retinoid and Retinol

March 06, 2020 3 min read

What is the difference between Retinoid and Retinol

Retinoid vs Retinol:

What’s the Difference? And How to Choose the Right One for Your Skin


Retinoids have long been considered an anti-aging powerhouse and one of the most effective topical treatments to promote skin renewal, significantly reduce fine lines and wrinkles, fade pigmentation, smooth skin texture, improve skin elasticity, brighten skin tone and boost collagen production.  


But with terms like retinoids and retinol often being interchanged, how do you know the difference between them, and, most importantly, how do you choose the right one for you?  


Retinoid is an umbrella term for the whole family of vitamin A derivatives, including over-the-counter products containing Retinol and prescription treatments like Retin-A. 


Regardless of which type of retinoid you choose, the only type that our skin is able to use is called retinoic acid, the active form of Vitamin A. Retinoic acid binds to the retinoid receptors in our bodies, where it boosts cellular repair and renewal processes. This means that all other forms of retinoids have to be converted into retinoic acid before the skin is able to use it.


Here is our quick guide to Retinoids and how to use them in your routine. 


Retinoid – the full on one

Retinoids get faster results, but can potentially cause more irritation and need a prescription. 


  1. Some of the strongest Retinoids are pure retinoic acid and don’t need to go through the conversion process, which is why they are so much more potent and therefore need a prescription. 
  2. This means that retinoids can be more irritating than over-the-counter retinol and should be slowly ramped up to limit irritation.


Retinol – the ‘be patient with me’ one  

Retinol is gentler than retinoid and can be bought over the counter. But it takes longer to reveal results.

  1. Retinol is a specific form of vitamin A that's available in many relatively affordable over-the-counter skincare products, i.e. serums and moisturisers. No prescription required.
  2. These gentler, over-the-counter retinoids have to be converted into retinoic acid by the enzymes in our skin before we can actually get their benefits. 
  3. Be aware: just because it’s gentler than prescription retinoids, it doesn’t mean that you won’t experience irritation. 


So, which one should you choose? 

Most skin types can tolerate a retinol or retinoid but you have to make sure to choose the right retinol/retinoid product for you. Retinoids are incredibly effective topical skincare ingredients and it’s important to take your skin concern and type into consideration. Speak with a dermatologist or your facial aesthetics expert to help you decide whether prescription retinoids or an over-the-counter retinol is a better option for you. 


Who Can't Use Retinoids or Retinol?

If you are pregnant or breastfeeding, it’s recommended to avoid using retinols and retinoids altogether. A small percentage of people are super sensitive and sometimes have a very difficult time tolerating a retinoid.


How to Use your Retinol Products In Your Skincare Routine 

Whether you use Retinol or prescription retinoids it’s important to carefully incorporate these ingredients into your skincare routine, especially when you’re a first time user. 


  1. Start slow and increase gradually. Use every third night for a couple of weeks, then every other night for another couple of weeks. If your skin is tolerating the product well it’s possible to use every day. 
  2. Start with a low percentage like 0.2% if your skin is ultra-sensitive or potentially 0.5% for normal skin that tolerate active ingredients well.  
  3. Check instructions or get advice on how to layer your Retinol/Retinoid with other products in your routine i.e. an acid based liquid exfoliant.
  4. Use only at night. 
  5. Use a gentle skincare routine and follow with a moisturiser to help protect the skin barrier.  
  6. Always wear a broad spectrum SPF during the daytime as your skin will be more sensitive to UVA and UVB rays.


What to expect

Once you start using a Retinoid or Retinol product your skin may get worse before it gets better. This period is called Retinisation and ma

y involve peeling, flaking, dryness and redness while your skin adjusting to the product. This is temporary and will settle down, usually after a couple of weeks.


How long to see results? 

Anything between two and twelve weeks depending on the product and how well your skin responds. Some people may start to see a difference in as little as fourteen days, but don’t give up after the first 2-3 weeks if you don’t see results. 

The key is consistent use.