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Retinol vs retinoids: Which one is better for your skin?

Retinol vs retinoids: Two of the most popular skincare ingredients, but don't know what you want? Here are all the benefits and differences you should know.
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Retinol vs retinoids: Know which one is better. Image courtesy: Freepik
Skin & Hair
Published: 19 May 2024, 13:30 pm IST
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Retinol and retinoids are two buzzwords frequently heard in skincare discussions. They are often used interchangeably, but they have distinct characteristics and benefits. It is important to understand these differences as they can help you make informed decisions about integrating them into your skincare regimen. Retinol vs retinoids: Know the differences to choose the best one for yourself.

What is retinol?

Retinol is a derivative of vitamin A, which is a staple ingredient in skin serums, creams, and lotions. It contains anti-aging properties that help clear acne and keep your skin healthy. Retinols are easily available over-the-counter. The main function of retinol is to increase skin cell production which helps unclog pores. It helps exfoliate your skin and increase collagen production. It is believed to slow down the signs of ageing such as fine lines and wrinkles.

retinol during pregnancy
Retinol is good for your skin. Image courtesy: Adobe Stock

What are retinoids?

Retinoid is a term used for a group of compounds that derive from vitamin A. They can be natural or synthetic, which include different types and forms, including retinol, retinal, or retinyl esters. They are an active compound found in dermatological medications and cosmeceuticals as they are believed to have a positive effect on your skin and its appearance.

Retinol vs retinoids: Know the difference

1. Vitamin A connection

At their core, both retinol and retinoids are derivatives of vitamin A. This essential nutrient plays a crucial role in collagen production promoting youthful-looking skin.

2. Chemical structure

Retinoids, derived from vitamin A is an umbrella term. They include potent prescription formulations like tretinoin, adapalene, and tazarotene. Retinols, on the other hand, are a milder form of retinoids.

3. Strength

Retinoids exhibit higher potency compared to retinol. They penetrate deeper into the skin and yield faster, more dramatic results in addressing various skincare concerns. Retinols, while effective, work more gradually and are suitable for individuals with sensitive skin.

4. Targets different skin conditions

Retinoids work on treating conditions such as acne, wrinkles, and hyperpigmentation while retinol helps improve skin texture, fine lines, open pores, and lax skin.

5. Availability

Retinols are readily accessible over the counter as creams, serums, and lotions. This accessibility makes them a popular choice for individuals seeking to combat signs of aging and enhance skin texture without necessitating a prescription. Conversely, retinoids, particularly the more potent formulations, typically mandate a prescription and are employed under the guidance of a dermatologist.

6. Concentration levels

Due to their lower concentration, retinols take longer to show results compared to prescription retinoids. However, they are generally better tolerated, making them a good starting point for those new to vitamin A skincare.

Retinol for skin
Retinol is a magical skincare ingredient, so are retinoids. Image courtesy: Adobe Stock

Retinol vs retinoids: Are there any side effects?

Both retinoids and retinol can trigger side effects such as dryness, irritation, redness, and peeling, especially during the initial stages of usage or with higher concentrations. However, retinoids are more prone to inducing these side effects due to their heightened potency. Initiating with lower concentrations and gradually escalating frequency can mitigate these effects and allow the skin to acclimate.

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Also Read: Retinol is a skincare hero, but here’s how you can go wrong with it

Retinol vs retinoids: Which one is better?

The choice between retinoids and retinols hinges on individual skin concerns, sensitivity levels, and tolerance thresholds. Those with sensitive skin may gravitate toward retinol for its gentler nature, while individuals grappling with persistent skincare issues may derive greater benefit from the potency of retinoids. Consulting with a dermatologist can provide tailored guidance to ascertain the most suitable option based on your unique skincare needs. Sun protection is also crucial when using either product, as vitamin A can increase skin sensitivity to sunlight.

In the end, the choice of the best skincare ingredient depends on your skin condition and what will suit your skin the best.

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About the Author

Dr Atula Gupta has vast experience in clinical dermatology, pediatric dermatology, aesthetic medicine, and laser surgery. Apart from conventional therapeutics, she is constantly searching for the latest in acne solutions, chemical peels, anti-ageing treatments and skin care products providing effective treatments for medical and cosmetic skin concerns. She was awarded Gold Medal in MD for the best outgoing postgraduate student in the year 2009 at Kasturba Medical College, Mangalore. Her areas of interest include scar management and acne treatments. ...Read More

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