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Retinoid vs retinol in skin care - learn the difference

8 mins

Andela Patrnogic

Retinols and retinoids are excellent skincare products. But knowing when and how to use these products helps you make better product decisions and get excellent results.

Retinoid and retinol are both derivatives of Vitamin A. Retinol is found in yellow and green vegetables. It is also found in animal foods such as egg yolk. Retinoids too, are available from plant and animal foods.

Both these forms of vitamin A enable different crucial functions in the body. Retinoids, for example, help in building immunity, while deficiency of retinols can lead to skin diseases and even blindness.

Retinoids and retinols are excellent contributors to skin health. 

Here we will get into an in-depth analysis of retinoid vs retinol.

Table of Contents:

  • Is Retinol different from Retinoid?
  • Is Retinoid Good for Skin?
  • Is retinoid the same as tretinoin?
  • What is Retinoid Good for?
  • What is Retinol Good for?
  • Anti-Aging
  • Acne
  • Skin Appearance
  • Best Ways to Use Retinols and Retinoids

Is Retinol different from Retinoid?

Retinol and retinoid are often used to refer to each other. But, are they essentially the same?

While retinol and retinoid are found in a majority of skincare products, and are used interchangeably, although they are not one and the same. 

Both are considered powerhouses of wellbeing for the skin though. So, what makes these two compounds different?

retinol, retinoid

Retinoids are a derivative of Vitamin A while retinols are a type of retinoids themselves. Retinoids are known to improve cell turnover, promote skin elasticity, ease wrinkles and help maintain an even skin tone.

Retinoid is a stronger form compared to retinol. OTC or Over-the-Counter drugs usually come with retinol given its weaker composition. Retinoids, on the other hand, are prescription-grade products. This means, you need a prescription to use retinoid-based products.

Products with retinoids need to be FDA-approved before they are available for sale as a prescription product. An approval by the FDA is an indication that these products deliver what they promise.

Do the results these compounds offer, differ?

Retinol and retinoid offer the same benefits. But the difference is in the length of time over which the results become visible.

As retinoids are powerful, you can witness results faster whereas with retinol, results take time to appear. Retinol is comparatively less strong. It achieves potency after conversion into retinoic acid in the skin. Retinol undergoes oxidation in the skin and then gets converted into retinoic acid. Retinoic acid and retinoids, available on prescription, are the strongest formulations.

retinoid skin care, retinol skin care, face serum

Is Retinoid Good for Skin?

Retinoids are a go-to for good skincare. In fact, retinoids are present in 99.99% of skincare routines recommended by dermatologists. Retinoids can refer to any skincare products containing vitamin A.

Retinoids arrived on the skincare scene in 1971 when they were approved by the FDA for topical application for acne. Since then, the various skincare benefits of retinoids have been explored and experienced by both dermatologists and skincare lovers.

Retinoids are used to improve skin elasticity and thickness, and reduce wrinkles. Retinoids also promote firmness of the skin by reducing the speed of collagen breakdown. Brown spots appearing on the skin due to exposure to sun are lightened with steady use of retinoids.

Skin experts aver that it is never too late to start including retinoids in one’s skincare routine. Experts also recommend retinoids for everyone.

Retinoids bind with receptors called the retinoid receptors, present in the skin. This binding property of retinoids helps alter specific gene expressions, which in turn enhances skin appearance.

Retinoids deliver a host of other skin benefits, beginning with speeding up the process of skin cell turnover. With new skin cells, the skin looks great, all glowing and bright. Skin cells get exfoliated naturally every 28 days and new cells take the place of old cells. 

Retinoids help by speeding the process of new cell formation.

Dead skin cells can clog pores, leading to pimples. Retinoids can help keep pimples away by speeding up new cell buildup.

perfect skin

In addition, retinoids ease wrinkles and fine lines, thanks to their ability to increase collagen production. The deeper layers of the skin tend to get thinner with age. Retinoids can alter this process, by increasing the thickness of these skin layers. As a result, aging signs associated with such skin layer-thinning are reduced.

If you want to your skin to look healthy, youthful and great, then retinoids need to be a part of your skincare routine.

Is retinoid the same as tretinoin?

Tretinoin is a form of retinoid. Tretinoin was the retinoid approved by the FDA in 1971 for treatment of acne. Tretinoin was approved for use in topical form. Tretinoin is known to prevent clogging of pores. This retinoid can reduce and even prevent scars caused by acne.

Dermatologists recommend tretinoin for aging skin. A tretinoin product is stronger than retinol and therefore requires a prescription. The ability of tretinoin to delay collagen breakdown is stronger than that of that of over-the-counter drugs.

What is Retinoid Good for?

Retinoids are safe, and work for all skin types. Almost everyone can use products with the compound as an ingredient. Unless your skin feels painful or irritated, or is dry or red, you can use retinoids. 

Caution should prevail if you have been diagnosed with any medical condition that involves a compromise of the skin barrier.

If you are suffering from psoriasis or eczema, then it is essential that you wait till the condition heals to start using retinoids.

Retinols

Retinol is usually available as a topical product, meaning it can be applied on the skin. The significance of retinol comes from the fact that it can enter the stratum corneum, which is the outermost layer of the epidermis.

The stratum corneum is the body’s primary defense available for the skin against external factors.

retinol, retinoid

Among the various functions of the stratum corneum is its ability to keep the skin hydrated and improve skin’s water retention capacity. These functions are key to prevent occurrences such as cracking of the skin. Any abnormality of the stratum corneum manifests in the form of skin peeling, flaking or scaling.

The significance of retinol further gains significance given the compound’s ability to reach skin’s deeper layer – the dermis.

Within the layers of the skin - epidermal or dermal - retinol acts by facilitating a better skin cell turnover and preventing collagen from breaking down. Collagen is a protein found in abundance in human body. The protein is produced naturally by the body. This protein production decreases with age.

Collagen serves as a structural protein. It is responsible for giving a structure to cells and tissues of the human body. Collagen is also the reason for the skin to retain its elasticity.

Decrease in the production of collagen is one of the reasons for the appearance of wrinkles and sagging skin as an individual ages. 

What is Retinol Good for?

Retinol benefits the skin in multiple ways as it can access the stratum corneum and the deeper dermal layer.

Retinol can help you address the following skin issues in particular:

Anti-Aging

Aging signs can occur with advancing age. But they can also be accelerated by external factors such as pollution, smoking and exposure to ultra-violet rays. Aging signs may manifest as wrinkles, sagging skin or fine lines. These signs are a result of the skin losing its elasticity and the stratum corneum losing its capacity to retain water.

anti aging, aging skin

Retinol promotes skin health by improving cell multiplicity, keeping collagen breakdown in check, and promoting better collagen production. Research shows that retinol, in particular, among Vitamin A derivatives, is most effective in slowing down the process of aging. Retinol facilitates better skin health by protecting the organ against water loss.

Acne

Acne is a skin condition in which hair follicles get clogged by oils secreted by glands, and dead skin cells. These blocked pores can become vulnerable to attacks by bacteria, which results in inflammation.

Using retinol can help address these skin issues. Retinol functions by working within the skin’s layers. As it penetrates into the stratum corneum, it works as an exfoliator, removing dead skin cells, oil and dirt. Retinol prevents formation of pimples with this action.

The difference that retinol makes when compared to other acne products is that it goes deeper into the skin layers, reaching even the dermis. In the dermal layer, retinol boosts the production of collagen.

Research shows that retinol can increase elastin production. Elastin is a protein found predominantly in the dermal layer of the skin. Elastin is responsible for maintaining skin’s elasticity.

The combined action of these two proteins help keep acne in control. Pores caused by acne and scars that can occur in the long run, are reduced.

skin apperance

Skin Appearance

Retinol can improve the appearance of the skin. A skin regimen that includes retinol-containing skin products can improve the appearance of dull skin. Retinol’s ability to boost new cell production and promote collagen production leads to better-looking skin.

A 10-week study was conducted on subjects with mild to moderate intensity hyperpigmentation and skin-aging conditions including fine lines and wrinkles. Participants were put on a skin regimen that included the use of a sunscreen (SPF 30), cleanser, hydrating serum and moisturizer.

The retinol-containing product was applied only during night time. By the time the study ended, a significant improvement was found in skin appearance as well as aging signs. Aging signs such as fine lines were reduced in week 2. Skin attained a radiance and smoothness as well in the 2nd week. Week 4 brought an improvement in hyperpigmentation, skin tone and wrinkles.       

Is retinol or retinoid better for skin?

Both retinol and retinoid have excellent skincare properties, which makes them great for any skincare regimen. Did you know that retinoids and retinols are among the anti-aging products that dermatologists are known to use for their own skin health?

Retinol is generally prescribed by dermatologists for new patients, and beginners in skincare routines. As retinol is not as strong as retinoids, it works best for people new to a skincare routine.

Dermatologists may gradually increase the strength of the drug and include retinoids depending on the skin issues and health goals of the patient.

If you are using over-the-counter retinol products, then you may not notice any difference until 3 to 6 months. These retinol products need to be used daily for the effects to take over. But the effects are definitely real as retinols can protect you from sun damage and make the skin smoother.

If you are in need of a stronger skincare product, then a prescription retinoid delivers results. It takes only 6 to 8 weeks for retinoids to show effect. You can achieve a smoother skin, and a more even skin tone, faster, with retinoids.

Best Ways to Use Retinols and Retinoids

Whether you choose retinoid or retinol products, skin experts recommend certain routines to get the best results.

Retinoids

  • Avoid starting off with a retinoid-intense product such as tretinoin. Experts advise starting with a less-intense retinoid and graduate to more intense forms slowly.
  • Use retinoid products only at night. Retinoids are unstable in sunlight and can end up irritating your skin. If you have just started with retinoids, then use the product on alternate nights.
  • Use less quantity of the product during application. A pea-sized application of the product should be enough to cover your entire face.
  • Avoid applying retinoids on wet skin as it interferes with the penetration capability of the compound, leading ultimately to irritation.
  • Stay away from applying exfoliants with harsh chemicals on the same day of using retinoids. Your skin should get enough time to process retinoids, which are already stronger in potency.
  • Avoid using more than one retinoid at the same time as it can lead to increased dryness and irritation.
  • Apply a moisturizer before using a retinoid.   
  • Make a few changes to your lifestyle to witness maximum results.
  • Stay away from intense stretches of sunlight, especially between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. Use a SPF-30 sunscreen formulation. Use protective clothing to cover the neck, hands and other exposed parts.

Retinols

  • Retinols are great for dry and sensitive skin. They work well with dry skin as they usually contain hydration ingredients.
  • Choose a retinol product with antioxidants such as retinol face creams by Wow Skin Science. Retinol products with antioxidants offer extra nourishment essential for dry skin. This nourishment delivers better results. Dry skin becomes smoother from products fortified with antioxidants.
retinol face cream, best face care
  • Start with the least formulation of retinol if you are new to a retinoid-based skincare routine.
  •  Apply retinol products twice or thrice a week. Consider increasing the frequency after a month of such application.
  •  Use only a pea-sized amount of the formulation every day.
  •  Avoid applying retinols in the morning. It can make you more sun-sensitive. Also, applying retinol at night time gives your skin extra benefit. Your skin undergoes natural regeneration at night. When complemented by a retinol routine, this process gains speed and more beneficial ingredients. The skincare results are better.
  •  Use sunscreen even if you are using a retinol. 

A glowing youthful skin free of acne spots and aging signs is no longer wishful thinking. You can achieve your desired skin with the help of retinoids and retinols.

It can be tempting to want to see immediate results. Using stronger retinoids may seem a natural choice when faced with such temptation.

But it is always good for your skin to start with a gentler retinol routine. Once you get used to retinol, you can move to stronger retinoid formulations under expert supervision.

Whether you are planning to use retinoid or retinol, talk to your dermatologist. A consultation with your dermatologist will help you choose the right product and experience the best results. More importantly, expert consultation will prevent you from making mistakes that can be harmful for your skin.

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