Medically reviewed by Minimalist Health Specialist -  Written by Viddhi Patel (Journalist)  on 10th Dec 2020

Retinoid vs. Retinol- A Guide to Using These Skincare Saviorsnon-comedogenic

The battle of retinoids and retinol

Dabbling with anti-aging skincare products brings you across retinol and retinoids. You may have come across retinol, and it sure might have gotten you thinking about its proven ability to treat acne and wrinkles how these can help reveal new, healthy skin cells. Moreover, there is a lot more to it than just that.

Retinoids and retinol have unfailing dashing properties, and you may have used them interchangeably. While they do have a few similarities, they have their differences too.

The debate between the most effective weapons in treating acne and the anti-aging battle gets complicated. It is essential to clear stuff up. Technically, they are both separate components, but they can be the same in some cases.

So, learn the difference, be the judge yourself, and find what works for you! 

The battle of retinoids and retinol- A brief discussion.

Retinol, retinoids are vitamin A derivatives and are broadly used in acne and anti-aging treatments. Retinol is the strongest OTC version comparatively to other OTC retinoids.

First, the terms_ "retinol" and "retinoid" to describe the ingredients that we have readily added in our skincare routines are NOT the same.

Retinol finds its presence in creams, and it is responsible for boosting collagen. It even plumps your skin. It can also diminish fine lines and wrinkles and improve your skin tone and texture overall.

Retinoid is said to encourage cellular turnover, soften wrinkles, treat acne, and also stimulate collagen.

Furthermore, it has shown effectiveness in fading pigmentation and giving your skin a youthful, plump appearance. All these benefits make them royal in the skincare industry.

Vitamin A family reigns in the skincare industry as its members are proven to repair photodamage, tackle aging issues, and be generally beneficial for the skin. Retinoids and retinol are related and come from the family of vitamin A. Both offer a range of benefits, treat breakouts, and fine lines help you level up your anti-aging game.

But not every vitamin A undergoes the same creation process. The generic term for any vitamin A product is a retinoid. It functions as a catch-all term for all vitamin A derivatives: retinoic acid, retinyl palmitate, retinyl propionate/pro-retinol, and retinol. 

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Familiarize yourself with these ingredients. 


Retinoids have notably worked on unclogging pores and have proven to stand true to their fame by stimulating collagen production and improving your existing collagen density. Retinoids possess anti-inflammatory properties that help keep acne in check. Moderate to severe acne can be improved with retinoid when other treatment options prove to be ineffective.  

How do retinoids work?

Retinoids penetrate the skin when they are convertible or are already converted to retinoic acid. Retinoic acid is the one that binds retinoid receptors, which are found on the outer membrane of cells.

Retinoids unclog pores and allow your skincare ingredients to penetrate deeply and work effectively.

Vitamin A also prevents dead skin cells from clogging the pores, which further helps in reducing breakouts.

Furthermore, retinoids may also reduce acne scars by clearing acne and reducing outbreaks. Retinoid penetrates sebaceous glands, reducing sebum production.  

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Types of Retinoids  

Oral retinoid pills work on sebum production, bacteria, and bacteria, causing acne along with inflammation. Retinoids are used for prescription-strength retinoid products that have retinoic acids like tretinoin and tazarotene. Retinoic acid is the most active derivative of the family and the most potent one out there, and you typically will need a prescription for it.

The three prescription-strength retinoids in the market are- Tretinoin, Tazarotene (strongest), and Adapalene (gentlest). There is no evidence that only prescription formulas will deliver the most outstanding results, but drawbacks include potential irritation, peeling, and redness.

Some types of retinoids are retinaldehyde, adapalene, tretinoin, and isotretinoin. The strongest ones, tretinoin, and isotretinoin, to name a few, will work immediately as they are the most biologically active retinoids. But there are significant side effects involved, and hence these are available only by prescription.  

Side effects

Your skin takes time to adjust to anything new, and retinoids are something you need to be careful about when you start with it. Space out between applications to try to help your skin adjust to the cellular turnover the ingredient is leading. Retinoids may leave your skin dry and cause peeling. They also make your skin more susceptible to the sun. 


The popular avatar of vitamin A in over-the-counter products is retinol, and although it is not retinoic, it converts to retinoic acid.

If you are to describe retinol, then it is just one of the many retinoids out there. They all work towards a similar goal, but they are not created equal, mostly if you talk about strength.   

Factors affecting the effectiveness of retinol 

Retinol is gentler, available without a prescription. It needs to be converted into retinoic acid to affect, making retinol less potent. The weaker the retinol, the easier for the skin to tolerate.

Apart from the conversion steps, there are other factors on which vitamin A derivatives' effectiveness depends.  


Vitamin A derivatives degrade very quickly on exposure to air and sunlight. Retinoids were favored due to the instability of retinol. It led to the discovery of encapsulated versions of retinol that do not degrade that quickly. It is essential to keep your product away from light and use it only at night. 


The higher the concentration of retinol, the higher the conversion rates to retinoic acid. However, higher concentrations may also potentially irritate. And if you are not experiencing any of it, then it, fortunately, means that the retinoic acid is absorbing into the skin's cells receptors.

Retinol can improve wrinkles (caused by sun damage or normal aging), fade pigmentation, improve skin elasticity, and smoothen skin texture

What's the Difference Between Retinol vs. Retinoids? 

Why are retinol and retinoids used interchangeably at times? Because both of them have certain similarities that favor the argument that they are the same. They both belong to the vitamin A family, and both come with huge benefits like treating breakouts and wrinkles. Their overwhelming ability to make a visual change in appearance makes them appear similar. But, they have significant differences. 

The concentration  

The active retinoic acid ingredient is in a lower concentration in OTC retinol, while the prescription ones have it in higher concentrations. All the serums and creams that you are currently using is retinol.  

Molecular structure and conversions steps  

Retinol works gradually over time compared to retinoid due to the molecular difference and their skin process.

OTC retinoids are in ester forms like retinyl palmitate, retinyl linoleate, retinaldehyde, retinyl propionic acid.

These require more steps to convert into active retinoic acid.

More conversions mean weaker products. Retinol, for instance, goes through two modifications to become retinoic acid. It takes 12 weeks to see significant results. Coming to retinoids, it takes four to six weeks to see changes.  

What works for me? Retinoid or Retinol?

It mostly depends on your skin type.

For Sensitive or dry skin: Start with over-the-counter retinol or retinal. The more potent the product, the greater the potential for redness, irritation, and dryness. It is less powerful and gentler on the skin. You can address mild acne and fine lines.

Chronic cystic acne or are looking to target deep wrinkles and folds. You may see a dermatologist regarding retinoids.

Most skin types are tolerant of retinol or retinoid. Still, it is your responsibility to choose the right product and the one you are to use in a non-irritating gentle skincare regimen with a good moisturizer and a gentle cleanser. Your dermatologist may work out the need of your skin (if it needs a delicate touch of mild retinol or action of retinoid).

It also depends on your skin's needs; skin goals,
All of them activate retinoid receptors in your skin, which further carries out many functions, increases cell turnover, regulates collagen production, keeps pores clean, and brightens dark spots through their peeling process.

To decide between the two, it takes your effort to go through your goals, skin types, etc. They potentially determine if you can do fine with retinol, or a retinoid is needed, or you can do without any of it.  

Your skin regime with retinol or retinoid  

Choose a product that has encapsulated retinol.

Has a significant concentration of retinol

Does not have retinyl palmitate or another vitamin A ester

Does not have preservatives- parabens.

You may start by using it every third night and gradually increase the application according to tolerability. Apply moisturizer after retinol to avoid dryness or flaking.

Moisturizing ingredients, dryness reducing ingredients, antioxidants, brightening ingredients are added with retinoids in OTC products. It makes the product more palatable for the skin.

Granactive Retinoid 2% by Beminimalist is fragrance-free, non-comedogenic. It will help decrease/reduce fine lines and wrinkles and give your skin a youthful vibrancy.

It boosts cell turnover and stimulates collagen production.

Be careful with layering products and discuss your routine with your dermatologist.  

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Sides Effects  

Why retinoids all together may not be the one for you.

Retinization is used to describe the redness, dryness, and flaking of skin when you first start with retinoids or retinol. That is why it is essential/vital to ease into retinoid use slowly.

Retinoids are comparatively more effective than retinol but come with dangers; the side effects are baffling. Redness, stinging, flaking, dryness, irritation of other kinds, and purging accompany the potent ingredient.

Mild irritation, dryness, and sun sensitivity are expected as long as your skin adjusts to the active. But intense flaking, redness, and burning are not okay, especially if you have sensitive skin or suffer from rosacea or eczema. It would help if you were wary of retinol or avoid it altogether.  

Be minimalist's piece of mind 

Use at night and wear SPF 30 or more sunscreen when stepping out.

Talk to your dermatologist to analyze your skin tolerance towards retinoids or if retinol is a safer bet for you.

Use retinol or prescription retinoids only at night, followed by a broad-spectrum sunscreen with SPF 30 or more. Apply it to clean, dry skin.

The regulation of retinoids is due to their teratogenic nature, meaning they can cause abnormal fetal development. If you are breast-feeding or pregnant, you are not to use retinoids or even retinol for that matter.  

Wrapping it up  

Retinoids, the powerhouse multitaskers, work by increasing collagen production and increasing skin-cell turnover. They are known for their positive effects on aging as well as acne-prone skin.

Their efficacy continues to surprise as it also improves skin texture, evens skin tone, decreasing pore size, and gives you a glow.

On the other hand, retinol is comparatively the best form of retinoid as it is the most accessible among all the other retinoids.

But the rate at which these benefits show visible difference depends on whether it is a retinoid or retinol.