Retinoids vs Retinol: what’s the difference and when to use each

Choosing a hero beauty product which defends your skin against fine lines, reduces large pores and gives dull complexion a healthy glow can be daunting. There are so many options available, claiming to contain actives and breakthrough ingredients which can completely transform your skin. Part of these miracle ingredients are the retin-based actives.

Retin-based ingredients are more commonly known as retinoids. The term retinoid is used to refer to the entire family of vitamin A derivatives, including over-the-counter products (which are the gentlest) and prescription treatments (which are the most potent). The different types of retinoids include:

  •             Retinol esters
  •             Retinol
  •             Retinaldehyde
  •             Retinoic acid esters 
  •             Adapalene
  •             Tretinoin
  •             Tazarotene
  •             Trifarotene
  •             Isotretinoin

Retinoids help promote skin cellular renewal in our body. This means that they can encourage dead and dying skin cells to slough away from the surface more quickly than usual, and accelerate the appearance of new, smooth, clear skin underneath.

When applied, retinoids get converted by skin enzymes into retinoic acid, promoting skin renewal, improving skin blood flow, brightening skin tone, reducing acne, and boosting collagen production.

So why do some products contain Retinol and other Retinoids? And when do you use each?

Retinol is one specific type of retinoid and commonly sold over-the-counter. 

It has been for some time now the ultimate wrinkle-busting skincare ingredient, making skin care and cosmetic brands go crazy for it. This beauty miracle is used in skincare products for its exfoliating, anti-ageing and anti-breakout properties.

Retinol products contain a lower concentration of the active Retinoic Acid ingredient, which means they work gradually over a period of time, because it takes longer for the skin to process and convert them into retinoic acid.

Retinol is, therefore, a great ingredient for your regular serums and creams, because of its properties to improve wrinkles and discolouration. As well as lessening the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, retinol can also reverse some of the side effects of sun damage.

Whether you suffer from mild complaints or are after an effective plumping agent which can help you reduce the appearance of lines and restore your skin’s health from sun damage, retinol-based products are a great choice. You can start seeing visible results in your skin within 3-6 months of using retinol.

Prescription retinoids have a much higher concentration of the active Retinoic Acid ingredient, so they are more readily available for your skin to use.

Prescription retinoids work as a potent exfoliator. This means that if you suffer from acne, it is cleared more quickly and new breakouts are prevented because of their ability to constantly exfoliate the skin. They also stimulate collagen production, improving the appearance of wrinkles and fine lines, and as a result, make you look younger.

Results are seen quicker, usually within 6-8 weeks.

As most skin types can tolerate both retinol or more powerful retinoids, the two key factors to determine what active ingredient is right for you, are your skin health and condition. Some people may see adequate results with just the use of retinols, while others may need more potent, prescription-only retinoids to get the desired results.

Are there any side effects?

When you start using retin-based products, you may experience some side effects such as mild irritation, dryness or perhaps an increase in acne breakouts. This is just normal as your skin is simply adjusting to the new active ingredient. Your skin may start flaking, developing redness, or even stinging/burning. It is best to contact your practitioner if this happens as they may suggest temporarily reducing the frequency of application to every other day for example. Or, if after a short chat you decide that you can tolerate the side effects as would like to see the results sooner, you may be happy to continue. Most side effects subside after 2-3 weeks as your skin gets used to the procduct.

For those with very sensitive skin or who struggle with conditions like rosacea or eczema, retinoids may be too powerful and irritating, therefore you may be better off shying away from them all together.

Moreover, retinoids make your skin more sensitive to the sun. It is, therefore, important to use sunscreen with high SPF protection (30 plus) to ensure your skin is fully shielded from the damaging effects of UV rays. Also sunlight decreases the efficacy of retinoids, hence you should restrict their use by only making them part of your evening beauty regime.

Generally speaking, retin-based products are great for anti-ageing and clearing the skin, what makes them a good choice and investment. If you are looking to give your skin a boost and restore its youthful radiance overall by minimising fine lines, reducing pore size and evening skin tone and texture, look for products which contain retinol.

If you, however, suffer from acne or more severe skin damage, prescription retinoids are extremely effective in lessening skin breakouts and improving wrinkles, as they are able to accelerate the process of skin cell renewal and trigger collagen production a lot quicker.

Interested in finding out more about what retin-based products are right for you? I can help you find the most-suited solution, with or without prescription, to truly transform your skin.

Your skin consultation is FREE!