Retinoids vs retinol

“Retinoids” is the overarching term for products that contain Vitamin A derivatives. Weaker forms are available in over-the-counter (OTC) products, and stronger forms are available by prescription. They can be natural or synthetic. 


Retinol is the ingredient found in OTC (non-prescription) products. It is formulated to be delivered into the skin gradually, over a period of hours, instead of all at once like retinoids are. Because of this, retinol users often experience less irritation than retinoid users. This makes retinol is ideal for sensitive skin and those new to the product. 

Retin-A (Tretinoin)

Retin-A is the brand name for a common prescription retinoid.  This formulation allows it to begin affecting skin immediately upon application.  While this can be beneficial for many reasons, it also means that can cause irritation more easily and must be used correctly. 


making your choice

Choosing your retinoid can be more tricky than understanding the different formulations! It is a particular and unstable chemical.  This means it must be formulated and packaged correctly to provide any benefit to you.  Your best bet is to talk to your esthetician about brands, but here are some tips to help you get started. 

  • Look for a product that is packaged in an opaque container, and stored in a box.  Light can deactivate retinoids, so the product needs to be kept away from light sources. 
  • Look for a dispenser that does not allow air into the container (dropper bottles are a no-no). The quicker air gets into the container, the quicker the potency will go down.
  • Use a reputable brand! Did you get a product containing retinol in a monthly subscription box? Probably best to avoid that one.  Check the label, are there notes on the product’s stability and the percentage of retinol used? A good formulation takes a great deal of skill. 

Retinols are a wonderful skin care product when used correctly and regularly.  Have questions? Ask about retinol at your next appointment!