Retinoid vs Retinol | What is the Difference Between Retinol and Retinoid

Retinoid vs Retinol | What is the Difference Between Retinol and Retinoid

You’ve probably heard of a debate, "retinoids vs retinol", and noticed they share a root, but do you know one from the other?


Retinoids and retinol treat a whole host of skin problems like acne and wrinkles; many people use the names interchangeably, but retinoids and retinol are more like parent and child than identical twins.


We’re going to explore the similarities and differences between retinoids and retinol, and take a look at the right applications for each one.


What is Retinoid?


Retinoids all come from vitamin A; in fact, retinoid is a term that includes retinol PLUS all the other types of retinoids that you can buy at the drugstore  as well as prescriptions that you get from a pharmacy.


Retinoids are chemically derived from vitamin A and are converted into retinoic acid, which is then used in myriad applications in topical (lotion, cream, serum, etc.) and oral (pill) skincare. Retinoids can be found just about everywhere, and at wildly different price points, and they’ve only grown in popularity since first introduced decades ago.


Retinoids are amazing acne and wrinkle warriors; as antioxidants, they promote cell turnover and collagen production, and even improve the tone and texture of the skin while reducing dark pigmentation and spots.


Some retinoids treat psoriasis, a skin disease caused by inflammation and abnormal cell growth. Others are meant for treating acne - you’ve probably heard of the retinoid Accutane, a prescription pill, as well as Retin-A, a topical cream available by prescription only. Most very strong retinoids aren’t sold over the counter; Differin, an acne-treatment, is one exception.


What is Retinol?


Now that we understand the category of retinoids, it’s easier to grasp that retinol is just one kind of retinoid, a derivative of vitamin A. It’s potent and effective, but it is also available to buy without a prescription because the concentration of retinoic acid is lower than those used in prescription medicines.


For these over-the-counter products made with retinol, very small amounts of retinoic acid are combined with other, more gentle ingredients that hydrate the skin. This makes retinol very well-tolerated by most users, far much more so than other, stronger, retinoids.


Retinoid vs Retinol


Is retinoid the same as retinol?

All retinoids, including retinol, are derived from the same thing, vitamin A. They have similar benefits - they both treat acne and wrinkles by stimulating cell turnover and collagen production. They also have the same general drawbacks - redness, irritation, flakiness, and dryness.


Differences between retinol and retinoid

While retinoid is an umbrella term, retinol refers specifically to just one, specific retinoid. 


Or, put another way: all retinols are retinoids, but not all retinoids are retinol. As we discovered above, there is an entire array of retinoids that focus treatment on different conditions, and come in various forms and strengths.


Strong retinoids are usually by prescription only, while retinol is readily available over the counter. Retinoids are usually more potent than retinol, and thus have greater side effects.


Which one is for me - Retinol or Retinoid?


When products have similar names, it can get especially tricky to tell which one is the right choice for you! For people with sensitive or dry skin that could be potentially more impacted by a stronger formula, try starting with an over-the-counter retinol lotion, cream, or serum. These are more gentle and are generally tolerated well by most individuals. If your skin tolerates retinol well, it’s more likely to do well with other retinoids.


People with dark skin should start with less frequency and strength than those with lighter skin, because skin with extra melanin might develop hyperpigmentation and excess dryness or ashiness. 


Retinoids Potency Ranking Guide



Most experts recommend trying out an over-the-counter retinol before applying stronger, and potentially more irritating, prescription-strength retinoids. Irritation is the most common side effect of retinoids; in fact, some people just beginning their use of a retinoid can experience dryness, flaking, and redness from a process called retinization.


Start slowly to gauge your reaction and decide if you want to proceed based on your skin’s tolerance. Some people choose to apply their retinoid every three nights at the beginning, and increase in increments until your skin tolerates the retinol well when used every night. 




You can also use a trick called buffering - mix your retinoid product with your regular moisturizer to make it a little more dilute.


Your skin will build its tolerance to the side-effects of retinoids over time, so starting slow is a great way to introduce retinoids into your daily nighttime skincare routine. It’s best to apply it at night, because sunlight degrades the retinoic acid that makes your product effective. If you’d like to use it during the day, there are retinol products with lower concentrations of retinoic acid available that you can use in the morning, as long as you remember to be diligent with using sunscreen.


In your skincare regime, pay more attention to the formula or type of product it is (like cream, lotion, gel, serum) rather than the fact that it is a retinoid. If it’s a retinoid moisturizer, it’ll go on after you cleanse and use toner (and possibly serum). If it’s a serum, the order would go: cleanser, toner, retinol serum, night cream.


Esthetician’s Advice: Start by looking for stabilized, encapsulated Retinol with a slow-release formula that prevents irritation. This type of retinol will not burn your skin, even if it is sensitive. Though the price increases when this process is applied, it’s worth the investment. Retinol with ferulic acid (a very powerful antioxidant) is a very powerful wrinkle fighter, so try it if you’re looking to minimize fine lines and wrinkles.

Precautions - Retinol vs Retinoid


People who are pregnant or breastfeeding should not use any retinoid, including retinol. Individuals with very dry or sensitive skin might also want to avoid retinoids; however, if they had reason to try one, retinol would be a gentle first step in lotion, cream, serum, or gel form.


Individuals already using AHAs (alpha-hydroxy acids) or products with benzoyl peroxide might want to avoid retinoids, because certain ones are broken down by these ingredients. It’s important to pay attention to the different products you use and make sure that they are compatible.


Other ingredients that cause irritation should also be avoided; for example, products with witch hazel or alcohol can be very drying, so retinoids could exacerbate the condition. Read your labels and ask a dermatologist or skin care professional if you aren’t sure about the efficacy or safety of your routine!




All retinols are retinoids, but not all retinoids are retinols!


Retinoids are derived from vitamin A, and retinol is in turn derived from a retinoid. They both treat acne, wrinkles, and other skin conditions safely and effectively. Retinols are generally well-tolerated by most people; the best method is to start with less frequent applications of weaker formulations and gauge your skin’s tolerance, and then to increase in frequency and strength until the desired result is achieved.


Your skin will become used to the treatment and side-effects like dryness and flakes will dissipate.The best part is, the younger you are when you begin to apply retinoids, the more your skin will reap the benefits, because they actually become more efficacious the longer you use them!


Plus, you’ll side step early fine lines and wrinkles and stay smooth much longer into your later years, which is something all of us can appreciate!


Overnight Repair Regimen


  1. Marine Collagen Anti-Aging Cleanser with Peptides
  2. Marine Collagen Anti-Aging Toner with Peptides and Enzymes (fermented)
  3. PM Perfect Retinol Serum - Exclusive Time Release Formula with a proprietary blend of stabilized pure retinol. All without irritation thanks to bisabolol and botanical extracts.
  4. Ultra Nourishing Night Cream to thoroughly nourish and vitalize the skin.

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