Medicacollagen and elastinlly reviewed by Minimalist Health Specialist -  Written by Viddhi Patel (Journalist) on 02nd Feb 2021

Retinoid, Tretinoin & Retinol - What is the difference and which one to use

Retinoid, Tretinoin & Retinol

Retinoid, Tretinoin, Retinol: How are these three different in the league of anti-aging solutions, and which one will work for you?

If you are a skincare enthusiast, it is unlikely that you may not have heard of retinol, retinoids, and the likes. Well, you are familiar with the fact that retinoids are considered to be in the big league, and rightly so, since they are the most well-researched in aging and acne treatment. They aren't just some random fad; they enjoy royalty status in the beauty industry since they are research-backed. They don't boast about transformations. Instead, they work towards providing results.

And while it enjoys considerable popularity and credibility in the skincare industry, the ingredient can also be confusing to many.

The skincare industry has so much to offer that even if you are already in line with retinol or anything like it, likely, you don't know the difference between retinol and retinoids.

For starters, Retinol, retinoid, tretinoin all sound the same, making things more confusing than they already are! Yes, you may have heard of them, all of them.

These popular ingredients are the new-age anti-aging warriors. They are clinically proven to treat acne and wrinkles. Retinol, for instance, stimulates epidermal turnover that brings forth new, healthier cells. But to enjoy the best of these skin saviors, you have to get a little deeper and understand its complexities. Because all of them are different, have different identities, levels of effectiveness, and well, they are just different. And to choose the best one you have to know which is the right one.

So, read on to find out what vitamin A ingredient will work wonders for you. Bear with me while I take you inside the world of heroic ingredients and what sets them apart.

First off, "retinoids" is an umbrella term used to classify a range of vitamin-A derivatives: Retinol, Retin-A aka tretinoin aka retinoic acid, retinal, etc. All these derivatives belong to the same family, but they are all unique and different. The retinoid family is a multitude of vitamin derivatives, of which Retinol and tretinoin are few.

Retinoids unclog pores, boost collagen, and increase cell turnover, and these spectacular abilities make them the A-listers in acne and aging treatments.

Let's get to the basics. 

Retinoids: the big league anti-aging agents 

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All types of retinol and vitamin-A derivatives are classified as retinoids, a pretty generic term. Retinoids are essentially a group of fat-soluble compounds derived from vitamin A, the essential vitamin in bodily processes like reproduction, inflammation, skin health, etc.

Retinoids regulate cell growth, division, unclog pores, increase blood flow, decrease inflammation and even stimulate collagen production, which is a big deal. While unclogging of pores makes the compound an effective acne treatment, cellular turnover, on the other hand, makes retinoids anti-aging knights in shining armor.

Retinoids also smoothen skin texture, reduce fine lines, enlarged pores, and fade pigmentation. And it is also viable to say that starting early with these saviors helps in preventing these disturbances. A brighter, smoother, and newer skin is what retinoids promise.

Any retinol-based product has your body either accepting it as retinoic acid or converting it into retinoic acid. Since retinoic acid is naturally found in our bodies as vitamin-A metabolite and for retinoids to bring out results, it has to be retinoic acid or converted to retinoic acid.  

Then what is Retinol? 

Also a kind of retinoid, Retinol is a naturally-occurring vitamin A derivative that smoothens out the skin. Retinol enjoys more appreciation due to its easy availability, OTC, since the other potent vitamin A active ingredients like tretinoin demand prescription. Retinol has been infused in many skincare products like moisturizers, serums, and eye cream, the gentler counterpart of retinoids.

Retinol takes patience since your skin first converts Retinol to retinoic acid for it to be effective. This mild avatar of retinoid is a part of skincare products, even though they take time and transform like the all-powerful tretinoin. This is because Retinol offers its own set of benefits like speeding up cellular turnover, evening out skin tone, diminishing fines lines and wrinkles, and not clogging your pores.

This clement retinoid has been around since the 80s, and it doesn't lead to any serious side effects like its other counterparts and, at most, might lead to minimal skin redness and irritation. This active ingredient works slowly and subtly, making it less potent than dermatologist-grade retinoids, tretinoin, to name one. 

What is tretinoin? What is Retin-A? Ugh, and what is retinoic acid?  

Hang on. First, all three, Retin-A, tretinoin, and retinoic acid, are the same known by the blanket term "tretinoin." What it is, is this; a potent prescription length retinoid. The first retinoid to be discovered, tretinoin, doesn't need conversion since it essentially is retinoic acid. Tretinoin has been largely analyzed, mostly in anti-aging. It is THE most effective retinoid and approximately 20 times more potent than Retinol.

It penetrates directly in your skin, stimulates collagen production, inhibits collagen degradation, reduces sebum production, decreases inflammation, unclogs pores, and increases cell turnover.

All the above actions make tretinoin a very attractive choice for reducing lines and wrinkles, tightening loose skin, smoothing skin texture, diminishing pigmentation and melasma, reducing sallowness, treating acne, diminishing acne marks, improve skin elasticity, and the appearance of sun-damaged skin.

But nothing is perfect, right? Tretinoin can get a little tricky if you have sensitive skin types since it causes irritation, dryness, peeling, redness, and to a certain extent, even swelling. And this potent ingredient is unavailable without prescription.  

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Retinol vs. Tretinoin vs. Retinoids.  

Retinol and tretinoin are both retinoids, but their composition differs. While tretinoin is purely retinoic acid, Retinol is gradually converted to retinoic acid after application. This composition makes all the difference in the world since retinoic acid's direct application to the skin leads to faster, more visible results, and the application of Retinol, on the other hand, leads to gradual benefits.

Retinoids calm skin inflammation, inhibit sebum production, increase cellular turnover. This clears up acne and improves the appearance of lines and wrinkles.

Tretinoin works on a cellular level, and retinol works like tretinoin but after going through conversion and turning active.  

Both of them offer almost similar benefits: 

Stimulate epidermal turnover, exfoliate, stimulate collagen and elastin to result in smooth, thick skin with reduced blemishes, smooth lines and wrinkles, reduced acne, and acne scarring.

It's just that while one offers it immediately, the other takes time.

One is aggressive and compatible for tolerant, oily skin, while one is a suitable option for sensitive skin.

Tretinoin is a retinoid only available through prescription, and it is not used in OTC cosmetic products, while Retinol is available OTC.

Tretinoin may potentially lead to reddening, itching, and peeling, while retinol users are safe in terms of pesky side effects.

Now that you fancy retinoids, let's find out which one will work for you? 

Choosing the right retinoid for your skin

The fantastic benefits that these retinoids offer might overwhelm you while making a choice. What should you choose? But you see, the similarities and differences of all retinoids boil down to their strength.

If you are not that desperate to battle acne or aging signs, you can opt for Retinol since it offers all the goodness of retinoids with reduced risks of scary side effects.

Products that have retinol as an active ingredient are comparatively less irritating. Moreover, it is a very readily available anti-aging ingredient. Retinol products often have moisturizing agents added to them to reduce any possibility of irritation. It has to go through two processes to become retinoic acid, which increases the amount of time it'll take to show results.

Retinoids can benefit almost anyone, but the question of irritation, dryness, and peeling continues to remain a concern. But after your skin has adjusted to retinoids and the increased cellular turnover, the effects subside. Ease into it as retinoids often irritate, more so if you have sensitive skin. 

What do you want?  

Faster results regardless of irritation?


The same results regardless of the time it takes?

You are going to reap benefits; the question is your skin's tolerability.

You should consult your derm and find out what will work for you since retinoids might not be an option for everyone.

To sum it up, all are vitamin A derivatives. Some are stronger, while some aren't. They do one job of converting into or just being retinoic acid. This retinoic acid further does what it does to make your skin flawless.

Granactive retinoid by minimalist is a serum with a 2% concentration that helps you reduce fine lines and wrinkles and go back to your former youthful glow. It boosts cellular turnover and stimulates collagen to ease your visible aging signs leaving your skin radiant and glowing.  

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Advice by Beminimalist

Find what works best for your skin and be patient. To err is human, so don't give up.

If you are using any retinoids based product, do not skip on sun protection.

Moisturize to help ease the irritation.

Use tretinoin at night as it will make your skin vulnerable to sun damage.

Go through the other ingredients in your skincare routine since certain combinations don't go well, and you wouldn't want to mess with an agent like tretinoin.

Summing it up  

Both Retinol and tretinoin are retinoids, and they all effectively fight aging signs and acne just at their own pace.

OTC retinol is less potent than prescription tretinoin, and all retinoids are potential irritants, so if you do start with any retinoid, allow the skin to ease into it.

Religious use of retinoids improves your skin's health immensely by reducing fine lines and wrinkles, firming the skin and evening out skin tone.