Retinol vs. Retinoid: What’s The Difference?

The topic of “retinol vs. retinoid” is always confusing, even for some advanced skin care enthusiasts. Both retinol and retinoid are vitamin A derivatives that eventually transform into retinoic acid. Technically, retinoid is a parental form of retinol. They are related but not the same. So, let’s learn more about the differences between them.

retinol vs retinoid

What is Retinol?

  • Retinol is available over-the-counter in ester forms such as retinyl palmitate, retinyl linoleate, retinaldehyde, propionic acid, or retinyl acetate.
  • It has a lower concentration of active ingredients compared to retinoids. The strongest form of retinol available without a prescription is 2%, which is not recommended for first-time users. You better start with 0.25% – 0.5% and then gradually increase the concentration if your skin has no adverse reactions.
  • The molecular structure differs from retinoid. When applied to the skin, retinol must undergo two steps of transformation. Enzymes convert the retinol to retinaldehyde and then to retinoic acid – the active agent for skin rejuvenation. For this reason, the effects of retinol are quite gentle and gradual. It can take a couple of months to see the result.
  • Retinol has fewer adverse effects than retinoids. But it still has! Redness, irritation, or stinging may appear during the first two weeks of use. That means the skin undergoes the process of adaptation, or “retinization.”

What is Retinoid?

  • Retinoid is obtainable only by prescription. However, there is one exception – Differin (Adapalene), the first over-the-counter retinoid.
  • It has a much higher concentration of the active ingredient compared to retinol.
  • Retinoid is so much more potent. With the special molecular structure, they don’t need a lengthy conversion process. Thus, they act faster with the most significant results. You can notice improvement after a month of use.
  • Sounds like retinoid has no flaws, but they do. The added power of retinoids comes with a downside. Compared to retinol, retinoid is more “aggressive” and quite possibly causes severe burning and peeling during a period of adaptation. Don’t panic! The adverse reactions usually subside within two to three weeks.
retinol vs retinoid

Retinol vs. Retinoid

The choice depends on individual preference and skin condition. People with mature and sun-damaged skin tend to pick more powerful products with retinoids. Young newbies of aged 30s to 40s prefer a gentle alternative – retinol.

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