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The Beauty Beat

Retinoids vs Retinol: They Sound the Same, But What's the Difference?

When it comes to the beauty world, the terms retinoid and retinol get thrown around a lot. They sound the same, but what’s the difference? Do they do the same thing? Is one better than the other?

We’ll dive into the difference between retinoids and retinol, and which one is right for you?

Retinoids vs Retinol 

In short, retinoids and retinol are both forms of Vitamin A. They provide similar anti-aging results, but in different time frames. Retinoids are FDA approved and are often only available with a prescription, while retinol is available over the counter.

Difference Between Retinoids and Retinol

Different forms of Vitamin A

Both retinoid and retinol are derivatives of vitamin A, just with slightly different molecular structures. Retinols have a molecular structure that causes it to convert more slowly.

In short, all retinols are retinoids, but not all retinoids are retinol.

Strength and Timeframe

In general, retinoids are stronger than retinol. They contain a higher concentration of the product, and the molecular structure of vitamin A in this form allows it to turn over skin cells at a faster rate than retinol.

Retinol offers similar results, except it has a lower concentration, and the molecular structure causes retinol to take longer to provide similar results. However, it is still an effective product — you just have to be willing to wait to see the results.

Retinoids are FDA Approved

Retinoids are approved by the Food and Drug Administration to treat acne, meaning its effectiveness has been proven in clinical trials. Most retinoids are only available if you have a prescription (except for name-brand Differin, which is available OTC).

Retinol is available OTC

You’ve likely seen plenty of major products on store shelves that contain retinol. While retinol is not approved by the FDA, it is available over the counter and is often recommended by dermatologists to prevent and reverse signs of aging and acne scarring. Of course, each retinol product will be different, and it could contain low concentrations of the actual retinoid, rendering it less effective.

retinol vs retinoids

Should I Buy Retinoid or Retinol?

In general, retinol will be fine for most people, as long as you are willing to wait a little longer to see the anti-aging results. Retinoids may be right for you if you suffer from acne or severe acne scarring, as the high concentration will cause cells to turn over faster and deliver quicker results. You will also have to go through a dermatologist to get access to retinoids which is why retinol is a great alternative for people without any skin conditions. 

Always talk with your dermatologist to figure out what’s best for you and your skin!

Suggested Retinol Products

We’ve compiled a list of our favorite retinol products that will make the best difference in your skincare routine

In combination with daily products, we also suggest a more powerful spa treatment. Spa treatments provide stronger anti-aging benefits that cannot be achieved with products alone. We suggest looking for facials or treatments that target fine lines and deliver moisture to keep skin healthy. 

  • Anti-Aging Facial — combination facial utilizing laser technologies as well as skilled technicians to target multiple skin concerns such as fine lines, wrinkles, dehydration, dull complexion, skin laxity, and pigmentation irregularities.
  • Microcurrent Facial — a must-have for achieving visible anti-aging results with no downtime. Anti-aging infusion serums nourish the skin while soft wave microcurrent technology works to improve facial contour.
  • Hydrafacial — this has become the go-to facial for its powerful cleansing and hydrating properties. Regular Hydrafacials combat acne, fine lines, and dryness without irritation.
  • PCA Peel — These advanced corrective peels treat dehydrated skin, remove hyperpigmentation, diminish blemishes, fine lines, scarring, and other signs of aging. 

Meet the author

Katie Werbowski
Director of Brand Strategy & Development at Skin Spa New York

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