top of page


Ingredient Insider: Retinoids, Retin-A, Retinols…

We have all heard about them: retinoids, retin-A, retinols… The skincare miracle. The hero of the drugstore. Or do I need a prescription product?

Are you confused? Here is the scoop.

Retinoids are compounds derived from the Vitamin A family. They minimize the appearance of wrinkles, bolster skin thickness and elasticity, slow the breakdown of collagen, and lighten brown spots caused by sun exposure. The tiny molecular size is perfect for topical application: it can penetrate deep into the skin to work its magic. 

The difference between Retinoic Acid and Retinol

Retinoic acid (commonly known as Retin-A) and retinol are both in part of the retinoid family. Retinoic acid is found only in prescription creams. Retinol is less potent and gradually converts into retinoic acid in the body at a cellular level.

What does that mean? The prescription formulas that contain Retinoic Acid, Retin-A or Tretinoin will work faster, but might cause more irritation: redness, drier-than-usual, lightly peeling skin. While retinol is gentler than retinoic acid, biochemically it does exactly the same thing — it may just take longer to see results.

Why use a product with retinol?

The natural skin cell turnover process takes about 28 days. Unfortunately, that process slows down as we age. Retinol prompts surface skin cells to turn over and die rapidly, making way for new cell growth underneath. When used regularly, retinol can reduce signs of aging and improve skin’s elasticity and youthful appearance. Retinol acts as an antioxidant that fights to repair damaged skin cells, and prevents future damage.

Retinol also helps exfoliate the skin, leaving your pores clear, and is as such a useful tool to combat acne. It furthermore helps to reduce the bacteria that causes breakouts on your skin.

How to use retinoids

If you are looking to start adding a retinol to your skincare regimen, it is a good strategy to start with a lower concentration product and work up a tolerance. Even with that, it might take two or three weeks for the skin cells adapt to the retinoic acid and begin to tolerate the ingredient. Start slowly (as in once or twice a week) and increase gradually. Retinol is not an overnight miracle. Most formulas require a minimum of 6 to 8 weeks to see change in the skin.

Just like after a peel, any new skin is delicate and should not be exposed to the sun. That is why a product with retinol should be used at night time. Furthermore, vitamin A derivatives, including retinol, rapidly break down when exposed to the sun and air, thus become less effective.

Be sure to use a retinol in combination with other ingredients formulated to sooth, hydrate and retain moisture, especially if you are currently using a prescription retinoid. Green tea, cucumber extract and Echinacea are all natural anti-inflammatory ingredients. Ingredients that are designed to exfoliate the skin should be avoided when using a prescription formula. Often symptoms subside as your skin adjusts, but if the irritation worsens, ask your doctor, or when using an over the counter product, it may be time to discontinue use and perhaps look into a milder repair line or less strong concentration.

Retinoids can be a wonderful addition to the anti-aging skincare regimen and are highly effective in combating acne. As always: the goal is a balanced, healthy skin. 

bottom of page