Retinol and retinoids are two of the most common and effective anti-aging ingredients. Yet, there is much misunderstanding concerning the distinctions between the two.

In this article, we’ll look at the differences between retinol vs. retinoid and their benefits and risks to help you decide which is best for your skincare routine.

What is Retinol vs. Retinoid?

Retinol and retinoids are both derivatives of vitamin A, a powerful antioxidant essential for healthy skin. Vitamin A is necessary for maintaining and repairing skin tissues and producing new skin cells.

Retinol is a form of vitamin A found in many over-the-counter skincare products. It is less potent than prescription-strength retinoids and is converted into retinoic acid, the active form of vitamin A, by the body.

On the other hand, retinoids are a group of compounds chemically similar to retinoic acid. They include tretinoin (Retin-A), adapalene (Differin), and tazarotene (Tazorac), which are all available by prescription only.

What’s the Difference Between Retinol vs. Retinoid?

Retinol and retinoids are undoubtedly two of the most potent ingredients for fighting acne and signs of aging. However, it’s essential to note that they do differ in potency and side effects.

Retinoids are typically stronger than retinol and can often show results faster. However, they also have a higher likelihood of producing side effects. On the other hand, retinol is not as potent, and most people can tolerate it better.

One of the main differences between the two is that retinoids work faster than retinol. Retinol can take a few weeks or even months to work, whereas retinoids can work in as little as two to four weeks.

It’s also worth noting that retinol is available over the counter, whereas retinoids require a prescription. The only exception is adapalene, a retinoid that can be bought without a prescription. Adapalene works wonders in treating acne, and most people don’t have any problems with it. [1]

This makes retinol easier to get and cheaper than retinoids, but it may not work as well for some skin problems.

Benefits of Retinol vs. Retinoid

1. Retinol vs. Retinoid for Anti-Aging, Acne, and Other Skin Problems

Shilajit vs. Sea Moss 3

Both retinol and retinoids offer a wide range of benefits for the skin, primarily in treating signs of aging, such as fine lines, wrinkles, and uneven skin tone. They can also help with acne and other skin concerns.

Some retinoids, such as tretinoin, help eliminate acne by keeping pores from getting clogged. Tretinoin has been used for over half a century to treat comedonal and inflammatory acne. [2]

As a combined therapy, clindamycin and tretinoin have been shown to be effective against bacteria and comedones, while also reducing inflammation. As a result, it has been shown to be a very effective treatment for treating all forms of acne. [2]

Retinoids like tazarotene can also help with psoriasis by reducing inflammation and controlling cell growth in the skin. [3]

The anti-inflammatory effects of topical retinoids mean that they may also help with hyperpigmentation. [4]

2. Retinol vs. Retinoid for Increasing Cell Turnover

Retinol and retinoids work by making the body produce more collagen to help get rid of old cells faster. It increases cell turnover —that’s why it works so well at making skin soft and radiant.

Both substances also help clear out pores and reduce inflammation, improving the appearance of acne and other skin problems.

3. Retinol vs. Retinoid for Reducing Skin Cancer

Retinol and retinoids may also help reduce the risk of skin cancer by repairing DNA damage caused by UV radiation. However, there is some debate on whether or not retinol products should be used to reduce the risk of skin cancer.

Retinol can also make your skin more sensitive to the sun, which is contrary to its proposed benefit. Hence, those who use retinol creams should be careful while spending prolonged time in the sun.

Hence, those who use retinol creams should be careful while spending prolonged time in the sun. Because of this, while taking retinol or retinoids, it is essential to protect your skin from the sun by using sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30.

Risks of Using Retinol and Retinoids

Shilajit vs. Sea Moss 4

While retinol and retinoids are generally safe for most people to use, they can cause some side effects, especially if you’re using them for the first time. These side effects may include:

  • Dryness, redness, and peeling of the skin
  • Increased sensitivity to sunlight
  • Irritation and itching

You can minimize these side effects by starting with a low concentration of retinol or retinoid and gradually increasing the concentration over time.

Also, as mentioned earlier, you should use sunscreen daily and avoid sun exposure.

Retinoids, in particular, can cause more severe side effects, such as burning, stinging, and severe dryness. So they are not recommended for pregnant or breastfeeding women, as they can harm the developing fetus.

How to Use Retinol and Retinoids

Although different, using retinol and retinoids are the same.

Start with a low concentration and gradually work your way up to higher concentrations. Starting with a low dose helps minimize side effects and allows your skin to adjust gradually to the product. Once your skin can tolerate it, you can use higher doses. However, you might need a prescription, especially if you’re using retinoids.

Remember to use sunscreen daily and avoid sun exposure while using these products, as they can increase the risk of sunburn and skin damage.

Also, it’s ideal to use retinol or retinoids at night, as they can break down when exposed to sunlight.

Can Retinol or Retinoids Cause Acne?

Shilajit vs. Sea Moss 5

Purging happens when the retinol or retinoid speeds up the skin’s natural exfoliation process. This can cause previously hidden acne to come to the surface. While it can be frustrating, it’s a good sign that the product is working to improve your skin in the long term. [5]

Not everyone will experience purging, and some may see an improvement immediately. But if you experience purging, it typically lasts for a few weeks and then subsides.

If this happens, you should not stop using the product, as this can make your skin worse. Continue using it, and you will see gradual results – until your skin becomes clear. While retinol and retinoids can cause initial breakouts, they are still effective treatments for acne-prone skin.

You can help minimize the severity of purging by gradually introducing the retinol or retinoid into your skincare routine and using a gentle cleanser and moisturizer.

Can I use retinol vs. retinoid with other skincare products?

When incorporating retinol or retinoids into your skincare regimen, avoiding using them with other skincare products is important. Also, proper usage is necessary to prevent adverse effects and irritation.

After applying retinol or retinoid, let the product fully absorb into your skin before applying any additional skincare products, such as moisturizers or serums. In the case of prescription-strength retinoids, it is recommended that you use them every other night or every third night initially, as advised by your dermatologist.

Also, it’s best to refrain from using any other exfoliating products, like scrubs or acids, while using retinol or retinoids since they can result in skin irritation and dryness. Instead, opt for gentle and hydrating products that support your skin’s natural barrier.

If you have concerns about using retinol or retinoids in your skincare routine or experiencing any adverse effects or irritation, consulting a dermatologist for personalized advice is highly recommended.

Bottom Line: Retinol vs. Retinoid: Which is Better?

Retinol vs. retinoid are undoubtedly two of the most potent skincare ingredients for both anti-aging and acne-fighting benefits. However, it’s crucial to remember that there are some differences between the two in terms of potency and side effects.

So if you’re trying to choose between retinol and retinoids, it’s essential to consider your specific skin concerns and how sensitive your skin is to potential side effects.

It’s always best to begin with a lower concentration and slowly work your way up to higher concentrations, as this can help you avoid any adverse effects or irritation.

But before starting any new skincare regimen, it’s highly recommended to seek the advice of a dermatologist. They can help you identify the most suitable treatment options for your skin type and provide you with personalized recommendations.

Remember, your skin deserves the best care, so don’t be afraid to seek the guidance of an expert.

Disclaimer: This article is only a guide. It does not substitute the advice given by your healthcare professional. Before making any health-related decision, consult your healthcare professional.

Editorial References And Fact-Checking

  • Piskin S, Uzunali E. A review of the use of adapalene for the treatment of acne vulgaris. Ther Clin Risk Manag. 2007 Aug;3(4):621-4. PMID: 18472984; PMCID: PMC2374937.
  • Schmidt N, Gans EH. Tretinoin: A Review of Its Anti-inflammatory Properties in the Treatment of Acne. J Clin Aesthet Dermatol. 2011 Nov;4(11):22-9. PMID: 22125655; PMCID: PMC3225141.
  • Weinstein GD, Koo JY, Krueger GG, Lebwohl MG, Lowe NJ, Menter MA, Lew-Kaya DA, Sefton J, Gibson JR, Walker PS; Tazarotene Cream Clinical Study Group. Tazarotene cream in the treatment of psoriasis: Two multicenter, double-blind, randomized, vehicle-controlled studies of the safety and efficacy of tazarotene creams 0.05% and 0.1% applied once daily for 12 weeks. J Am Acad Dermatol. 2003 May;48(5):760-7. doi: 10.1067/mjd.2003.103. PMID: 12734506.
  • Callender VD, Baldwin H, Cook-Bolden FE, Alexis AF, Stein Gold L, Guenin E. Effects of Topical Retinoids on Acne and Post-inflammatory Hyperpigmentation in Patients with Skin of Color: A Clinical Review and Implications for Practice. Am J Clin Dermatol. 2022 Jan;23(1):69-81. doi: 10.1007/s40257-021-00643-2. Epub 2021 Nov 9. PMID: 34751927; PMCID: PMC8776661.
  • Retinoid-Induced Flaring in Patients with Acne Vulgaris: Does It Really Exist?: A discussion of data from clinical studies with a gel formulation of clindamycin phosphate 1.2% and tretinoin 0.025%. J Clin Aesthet Dermatol. 2008 May;1(1):41-3. PMID: 21103310; PMCID: PMC2989803.


  • Shaira Urbano, Licensed Pharmacist

    Shaira is a licensed pharmacist (Bachelor of Pharmacy) and an experienced content writer. She enjoys inspiring and informing her readers through research-backed, comprehensive health content. Shaira draws from her personal experience working with real-life patients in a hospital setting and is currently pursuing her passion in writing.


Shaira is a licensed pharmacist (Bachelor of Pharmacy) and an experienced content writer. She enjoys inspiring and informing her readers through research-backed, comprehensive health content. Shaira draws from her personal experience working with real-life patients in a hospital setting and is currently pursuing her passion in writing.