Retinol vs. Tretinoin: How to Choose the Right Retinoid

by | Feb 23, 2023

Retinol vs. Tretinoin: How to Choose the Right Retinoid

From those nasty fine lines to dark spots caused by sun damage — our skin is constantly exposed to environmental and lifestyle stressors that can lead to visible signs of aging. Even with a good skincare routine and healthy lifestyle, many of us still struggle to keep our skin looking its best.

But how sure are you that you are using the right skincare product for your needs? If you haven’t already started using either retinol or tretinoin — it’s time to consider adding a retinoid to your regimen.

Retinoids are one of the most commonly used anti-aging compounds today. They are vitamin A-based topical treatments that can help reduce the appearance of wrinkles and fine lines, fade age spots, and even out skin tone.

The two most popular retinoids, retinol, and tretinoin are both highly effective in minimizing the signs of skin aging, but they differ slightly in how they should be used on your skin.

Before you pick up a retinoid product online or at your local drugstore, let’s take a look at the key differences between retinol and tretinoin, their benefits and uses, and some tips for choosing the right retinoid for your skin.

What is Retinol?

Retinol is a mild, over-the-counter form of vitamin A that is commonly referred to as the gold standard in the skincare industry. Sold in many forms, such as creams, serums, and oils, it helps boost collagen production, reduce fine lines and wrinkles, and improve skin texture.

Since retinol is gentler than other types of retinoids, it is an excellent choice for those who are just starting out with retinoids because it can be easily incorporated into any skincare regimen.

What is Tretinoin?

Tretinoin, also known as all-trans retinoic acid (ATRA), is the major active form of vitamin A in the body. Compared to retinol, it is a stronger, prescription-only form of retinoid that is used to treat more severe symptoms of skin aging and acne.

It was the first retinoid discovered in the 1970s as an acne treatment, but later has also been proven to fade rough bumps, even out pigmentation, and increase cell turnover.

Since tretinoin is a more potent form of retinoid, it can cause drying and peeling of the skin, which is why experts recommend only applying it every other day at first. Any tretinoin product should only be used after consulting with a professional.

Comparing Trenitol with Retinol

Table 1 shows the difference between retinol and tretinoin based on the most important factors.

RetinolTretinoin
Treats signs of agingTreats both acne and signs of aging
Milder formMore concentrated form
Available over the counterPrescription-only
Suitable for sensitive skinMay cause skin irritation

Benefits of Retinol and Tretinoin

While retinol is the most abundant form of vitamin A in the body, retinoic acid or tretinoin is the most active form. When you apply retinol products to your skin, retinol is converted to tretinoin, which can then be used by the skin cells to stimulate collagen production and cell turnover.

Both retinoids provide similar benefits for the skin. They help:

  • Even skin tone
  • Reduce fine lines and wrinkles
  • Lighten dark spots
  • Improve skin texture
  • Treat mild to moderate acne

Since retinol is milder than tretinoin, it is generally less irritating than tretinoin, which makes it suitable for sensitive skin. On the contrary, tretinoin is stronger than retinol, which is why more patients are more likely to experience irritation and inflammation. However, the reaction varies from person to person and still depends on the individual’s tolerance level.

Uses of Retinol and Tretinoin

Many people use retinoid products to reduce signs of aging, such as fine lines, wrinkles, and dark spots. But retinol and tretinoin are not just for anti-aging purposes. They are also used to treat conditions like:

Which Retinoid is Right for Your Skin?

Regardless of the type, all retinoids work by increasing cell turnover and stimulating collagen production to reduce wrinkles and fine lines and lighten dark spots caused by sun damage or aging.

When choosing a retinoid, look for products that are formulated specifically for your skin type since some formulas can be too strong or irritating for certain skin types. Always follow the directions on the label carefully and use only as directed.

As we mentioned before, Retinol is a milder form of retinoid that has been widely used in over-the-counter products for many years. It’s gentler than tretinoin and may be a good starting point in reducing signs of aging for those with sensitive skin. If you’re just starting out, we recommend testing Retinol on your skin first.

Tretinoin, on the other hand, is a much stronger form of retinoid that is used to treat mild to moderate acne. It’s more potent than retinol and can cause side effects, such as drying, peeling, and redness. Since it’s a prescription-only medication, you should consult a skincare professional before incorporating it into your routine.

Keep in mind that it may take three to six months before you begin seeing improvements and six to 12 months for maximum results. Make sure to apply sunscreen while using any type of retinoid since it can make your skin more sensitive to UV rays.

Getting Started with Retinoids

If you’re new to retinoids, start by using a gentle retinol product like Age Intervention Retinol Plus before working your way up to stronger formulations.

With its advanced solution that combines retinol with other soothing ingredients like green tea extract and hyaluronic acid, Age Intervention Retinol Plus helps to reduce the appearance of wrinkles, fine lines, and skin texture while deeply hydrating your skin. It has been recognized twice as the Best Anti-Aging Retinol Cream by NewBeauty Magazine, making it a perfect option for those looking for gentle yet effective retinol.

References:

1. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.2147/ciia.2006.1.4.327

2. https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/do-retinoids-really-reduce-wrinkles

3. https://scopeblog.stanford.edu/2020/08/06/does-retinol-deserve-the-hype-a-stanford-dermatologist-weighs-in/

4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8157347/

5. https://www.aad.org/public/everyday-care/skin-care-secrets/anti-aging/retinoid-retinol

6. https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/drugstore-skincare-science-backed-anti-aging-ingredients-that-dont-break-the-bank-2020111121309

7. https://health.osu.edu/health/skin-and-body/what-retinoids-can-do-for-skin

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