With social media, everything is at our fingertips, including figuring out how to take better care of our skin. We can add or subtract products from our regime according to what works best for us. Among the products being added to regimens, and trending via socials are tretinoin and retinol. Levels of skin care can go from proper order of product use to managing acne, hyperpigmentation, fighting wrinkles and more. And for these issues in particular, tretinoin and retinol help the skin to deliver results. You might be wondering what’s the difference between tretinoin and retinol; how do they work and which works best for me? Let’s get into the layers of this chat: tretinoin vs. retinol.  

Tretinoin vs. Retinol: What’s The Difference?

Both tretinoin and retinol are topical retinoids. This means they can be applied to the skin as a cream or gel-like formula. Retinoids are chemical compounds related to vitamin A, which is known to have an impact on the skin. Tretinoin is stronger than retinol and requires a prescription. Where retinol is a natural ingredient found in vitamin A, and available over-the-counter, tretinoin is the synthetic version.

Over-the-counter retinol can be found in drugstores and sometimes has the percentage (0.01 – 0.1%) contained within the product printed on the label. Their difference in strength can lead to a range of developments from skin irritation to cleared skin when used consistently and carefully. Starting with a lower percentage and small amounts, then gradually increasing, has been recommended by dermatologists. It is also recommended that you speak with your doctor and/or dermatologist if you’re considering adding tretinoin to your skincare routine. 

How Do Tretinoin and Retinol Work?

Whether it’s the over-the-counter retinol or prescription-strength tretinoin, both topical retinoids help increase cell turnover. Faster cell turnover helps replace damaged, dull skin with a layer that’s healthier and brighter. These benefits are effective for skin conditions like acne, anti-aging, hyperpigmentation and collagen production. And, when your skin produces collagen, it boosts elasticity and plumpness.

These results range in efficiency for users as do the amount applied and its strength. Tretinoin can work up to 20 times faster than retinol. So if you’ve used retinol, and aren’t seeing the results that you want, consider switching over. As with any skin product, there are also risks to consider which in this case include irritation, hyperpigmentation (in darker skin tones) and sensitivity to the sun. So, boost that SPF!

Also, if you’re pregnant or breastfeeding, retinoids pose an additional risk in that excess vitamin A can transfer to the baby through the placenta or milk increasing the possibility of birth defects and toxicity.

Which Works Better For Your Skin?

Seeing as tretinoin and retinol are both retinoids, both products have been used to treat a range of skin conditions from acne, melasma and liver spots to sun spots and wrinkles. Tretinoin can be applied to the skin topically or taken orally. Retinol appears in a range of drug store products and is generally more accessible.

In either case, it’s recommended that you start off applying tretinoin or retinol a few nights a week. Any side effects can be noticed when applied ahead of your sleep cycle and at this level of frequency. Irritation can appear in the form of dry or flaky skin with redness. Lastly, products that contain acids (hydroxy, salicylic or benzoyl peroxide) can increase irritation.

More serious skin conditions like psoriasis or carcinomas (skin cancers) will require consultation with a medical professional. We wish you comfort and increased awareness on your skincare journey!