Retinol Vs Retin-A – Are They The Same Thing?

Retinol vs Retin-A - a girl in front of a mirror, using retinoid products.

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Retinol vs Retin-A – These two are amongst the most popular skincare ingredients. You must have heard of them so far. You may even want to try them out for yourself. But, are retinol and Retin-A the same thing, what are the differences and which one do you need?

What Are Retinoids?

Both retinol and Retin-A are types of retinoids. So, to explain the difference between retinol vs Retin-A, first we need to see what retinoids actually are.

Retinoids are a large group of vitamin A derivatives. This group includes both retinol and Retin-A, as well as several other ingredients chemically related to vitamin A.

Retinoids are amongst the most valued skincare ingredients when it comes to dealing with wrinkles and fine lines, clearing out acne or brightening the complexion. And they are a gold standard for a reason – retinoids are the only topical products clinically proven to decrease collagen breakdown and increase collagen production.

What Are the Benefits of Retinol and Retin-A?

Although retinoids can help with many skin issues, they are most well known as ingredients meant to treat acne and aging signs. This is partly because vitamin A derivatives are powerful antioxidants.

But mostly – retinoids can speed up the skin cell turnover process like not many other ingredients. They encourage the skin to produce new, healthy skin cells, to replace the old, dull ones.

Long story short, both retinol and Retin-A can:

  1. Help you reduce wrinkles, fine lines, dark spots and other aging signs;
  2. They also improve the skin’s firmness and elasticity by stimulating collagen production;
  3. Retinoid products reduce the damage caused by free radicals and sun exposure and maintain your skin smooth and supple;
  4. They can help you unclog your pores and prevent blackheads and acne breakouts;
  5. They have an anti-inflammatory effect, so they can help calm the acne that are already there;
  6. Retinoids can also help you fade the marks left after acne, as well as other discolorations and skin imperfections;
  7. They work to smoothe the skin’s surface, improve its texture, minimize the appearance of your pores and reduce rough or bumpy complexion;
  8. All in all, retinoids can help you get that youthful, healthy glow and an even, beautiful complexion.

The Difference Between Retinol and Retin-A

Does it sound to you so far like retinol and Retin-A are kind of the same thing? They sure have very similar effects on your skin, but there is one huge difference between them – their strength.

A table explaining all the differences between Retinol vs Retin-A, which one is better and when to use which


Retinol is a natural form of vitamin A. You can find it in many over-the-counter skincare products, mostly in those meant to treat early aging signs, acne, acne scars, skin dullness…

In order for it to work, retinol first must be converted into retinoic acid. The enzymes naturally present in your skin are in charge of this. And they do a great job with converting retinol into a form that can effectively improve your skin. But, the process does take some time.

Because of this, retinol is much gentler to your skin than Retin-A. It is less likely to cause severe skin peeling, dryness and irritations the way Retin-A can (though, there is still a possibility for irritation).

The downsides are that retinol is not quite as effective as the full-strength Retin-A. And it may take even up to six months before you start to notice any real results.


Retin-A is a synthetic form of vitamin A. It is actually the brand name for the medication tretinoin and you can get it only with a prescription from a doctor.

Unlike retinol, Retin-A doesn’t need skin enzymes to work. Tretinoin (Retin-A) actually is retinoic acid. Because of this, Retin-A has a much stronger effect to the skin and you can expect to see results in only 6 – 8 weeks.

This makes Retin-A one of the best, the most sought after anti-aging and anti-acne ingredients. It has unparalleled abilities to reverse aging signs, treat inflammatory acne, fade hyperpigmentation and brighten your skin tone.

However, using an ingredient of that strength also means more irritations to the skin, more redness, peeling and dryness, especially when you just start using it.

Retinol vs Retin-A – Which One to Use?

As tempting as it may be to slather fair amounts of Retin-A all over your face and let it do its magic, there’s a reason why you need a go from your dermatologist first – that sh*t is strong!

Yes, Retin-A is absolutely amazing at what it does. But, the side effects are very common and not pleasant at all. We are talking about excessive skin dryness, flaking, redness, burning and stinging sensation…

The point – Retin-A is a super cool ingredient, but use it only if you really need to. So, if you are dealing with severe acne, hyperpigmentation and deeper lines and wrinkles, go talk to a derm and see if you are a good candidate for prescription strength retinoid.

And listen to their advice as to how often and how much of the product you should use. When it comes to Retin-A, less is usually more. A proper use could help you minimize or even completely avoid those scary side effects.

On the other hand, if your skin’s condition is not that bad and you just need something to give it a little boost, brighten it up, prevent aging signs or deal with fine lines that are just starting to form, give a retinol a try.

There are countless retinol products on the market, from serums to face and eye creams. And I’m happy to say – they are getting better and better lately (read – less side effects, more results).

Retinol products may need some more time to show results, but they are great at what they are supposed to do. Unless you have serious skin issues, there’s a good chance some low concentration OTC retinol can cover all your skin’s needs.

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(2) Comments

  1. Pamela says:

    Jovana, great post ever, thanks for sharing! For me tretinoin (Retin-A) is much more powerful than any retinol. One of my friend, was a satisfied user of Retin-A, suggested me to use Retin.A.0.05%. So happy😊 I googled ‘Ret247get’ ❤️ and got Retin-A. First 2 weeks my acne breakout little more than the usual. but after that, acne seemed to be decreased. Now I am cured and my skin is glowing. And I am quite satisfied with this .

    1. Jovana R. says:

      Thanks for sharing and for the recommendation, Pamela! ❤️️ ❤️️ ❤️️

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