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Retinol vs Retinoid: Any Difference Between Both?

In the beauty world, retinol and retinoid are often used interchangeably yet they aren’t the same. Thankfully, many people are realizing there could be a difference. It’s probably why search phrases like retinol vs retinoid keep gracing the Google search box.

Think of these wrinkle-fighting products as two pods in a pea. Though they are similar, they’re still different. In what ways, you wonder? That’s what we’ll cover in this article. You’ll also see how to use them, their core ingredients, and every other detail you should know about both compounds. Keep reading as we dive in.

Retinol vs Retinoid: What are They?

Retinoid is the umbrella term for the overarching category of compounds derived from vitamin A (aka Retinyl Palmitate) and transformed into retinoic acid for skincare use. It’s an antioxidant known for fighting wrinkles, lightening dark spots, clearing pores, and increasing cell turnover to improve your skin texture and tone, among other benefits.

There are different types of retinoids available in skincare and they all fall under one of four categories: retinol, retinoic acid, retinyl esters, and retinaldehyde. Retinol is the most popular of them.

On the other hand, retinol is a type of retinoid found in over-the-counter anti-aging skincare products instead of prescription medications. Products with this derivative can help your skin feel smoother and look brighter. On ingredient labels, retinol is mostly written under the names retinyl palmitate, retinaldehyde, retinyl linoleate, propionic acid, or retinyl acetate.

Furthermore, retinol is often combined with other hydrating and brightening ingredients for OTC products. Although these products may be gentler on the skin than prescription retinoids, they may contain little amounts of the active ingredient.

ALSO READ: How to Get Rid of Wrinkles & Look Young Again

Differences Between Retinol & Retinoid

These compounds are different in terms of:


Generally, retinoids are stronger than retinol. This is because the molecular structure of vitamin A in retinoids allows it to turn over skin cells faster than retinol. Though retinol offers similar results, it takes a longer time. And that’s because it has a lower concentration compared to retinoids. In other words, it contains less active ingredients than retinoids. However, this doesn’t mean it isn’t an effective product — you just have to be patient to see the results.

OTC vs Prescription

Most retinoids are only available based on prescription. On the other hand, retinol is available over the counter and dermatologists recommend it to reduce aging and acne scarring.

In summary, retinoids and retinol are both derivatives of Vitamin A. They both provide anti-aging results but in different time frames. While retinoids are only available with a prescription, retinol is available over the counter.

Should I Buy Retinoid or Retinol?

The best answer to this question is one from your dermatologist. So long as you’re ready to wait for the anti-aging results, retinol works. But if you want an escape from acne and blemishes, retinoids will give you faster results.

The rule of thumb is to always consult a dermatologist and go for what they say is good for your skin.

When to Use Retinoid

As Melissa Kanchanapoomi Levin, Dermatologist and the founder of Entière, shared with Byrdie, use retinoids in your nighttime skincare routine. This is because sunlight degrades retinoic acid. However, you can still use a retinoid product, say low-concentration retinol or retinoic ester, during the day if you always apply SPF sunscreen. 

Do Retinoids Make You Look Younger?

Yes, retinoids are one of the derivatives that beat aging. Though they were first prescribed to treat acne, they’re now used to combat aging, psoriasis, and other skin maladies.

How do You Know if Retinol is Working?

Retinol takes more time for results to start showing but in two to six weeks, you should see some subtle and gradual differences. A pro tip is to take a picture of your skin before using the product so you can have something to compare with.

Can I Use Vitamin C With Retinol?

Yes, you can. Combining Vitamin C and Retinol in your skincare routine can give you that glowing, healthy-looking skin, even your skin tone, and get rid of dark spots, fine lines, wrinkles, and saggy skin.

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How to Use

Before using any of these products, do a patch test on a tiny part of your skin to check for irritations. Then follow the directions on the bottle of the retinol and follow these steps:

  • Use a light cleanser on your skin and pat it dry. 
  • Put a teeny-weeny dose of retinol on your entire face. Be careful so it doesn’t get to your mouth, nose, and eyes.
  • Apply the retinol every other day during your first few weeks of using it.
  • Apply a face moisturizer t to seal the treatment. Ensure the moisturizer doesn’t clog your pores.

Note: Avoid exfoliating while using retinol products.

What Products Can’t Be Used With Retinoids?

Before you add a retinoid to your regimen, look at your existing skincare routine and read the labels. This is necessary because some ingredients can make retinoids less effective and cause more irritations. For instance, Benzoyl peroxide and alpha-hydroxy acids can deactivate retinoids like tretinoin. In addition, ingredients like ethyl alcohol or witch hazel can cause redness and irritation, thus exaggerating the retinoid effects.

So be careful not to layer products and always discuss your skincare needs and plans with your dermatologist.

Retinol vs Retinoid: Two Blessings for Your Skin

Retinoids and retinol are vitamin A derivatives that offer many benefits to your skin. While they differ in terms of strength and access, their potency in the skincare world can’t be denied.

But remember, it’s crucial you understand your skin type and talk with a dermatologist before settling for any of them. This way you can be sure your chosen option will give you your desired results.

ALSO READ: How to Exfoliate Properly — 6 Exfoliating Tips for Glowing Skin 

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Victoria B. Willie

Writing has always been a part of me. From writing stories as a young child to studying Communication Arts in the university, it has always been more than a medium of expression to me.

And then one day, I found myself toeing the path of an entrepreneur and becoming a fashion enthusiast. This made me develop an interest in content marketing and copywriting which I've been chasing alongside my fashion career.

That aside, when I'm not sharing style articles, selling with stories, or sketching fashion-forward pieces for Ria Kosher, you'll find me telling wild stories that always come with a twist.

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