Retinoid vs Retinol: What are the Differences Between Them?

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Most dermatologists will prescribe you either Retinoid or Retinol for skin care once you are 30. So what is the significance of these products for our skincare? Both these products are considered important in skin ageing and health, but how?

Do you find Retinol vs Retinoid confusing? Are they similar or very different skin products? Let's find out.

What is Retinoid?

Retinoid in skin products is derived from or structurally similar to Retinoic acid or vitamin A. It can be natural or synthetic. Retinoid is known as a bridge to youthful skin because of its ability to help fight skin ageing symptoms.

Retinoid for skin is potent enough to help with persistent acne, psoriasis, skin warts, and localised skin cancer lesions. It is available both as topical creams and oral tablets. The most common type of Retinoid used for skin care is tretinoin. It is advised to be used only at night.

What is Retinol?

Retinol is a milder version of retinoid, which people looking for gentler solution should prefer over the other type i.e. Tretinoin as this will have fewer side effects. Retinol on skin requires much longer to break down into Retinoic acid. Therefore, Retinol products produce skin benefits after long periods of use.

Usually, you do not need a prescription to get over-the-counter Retinol creams. They are beneficial in various skin treatments for ageing skin. Women over 30 to 35 can start using a Retinol cream to help reduce skin ageing signs like fine lines, wrinkles, open pores, mild acne, and pigmentation.

Differences Between Retinoid and Retinol

Below are a few points that capture the difference between Retinol and Retinoid


  • Has a strong composition (high retinoic acid content)
  • Requires a prescription from your physician
  • Easily breaks down into retinoic acid
  • Very drying with continuous use (side effects are more common)
  • Cannot be used during pregnancy/ lactation


  • Milder in comparison
  • Available over the counter as serums and creams
  • An ester compound, which requires much longer to work
  • Less drying (side effects are few and less severe)
  • Can be used with caution and under medical supervision

Retinoid vs Retinol: What Do They Have in Common?

Retinol and Retinoid are both products of Retinoic acid or Vitamin A. In reality, Retinol is a milder form of Retinoid. Both these products help bring about skin cell rejuvenation and collagen turnover. Using Retinol and Retinoid on skin helps in the treatment of various skin care problems.

What are the Benefits of Using Retinoid and Retinol?

Retinoid and Retinol have similar benefits, as mentioned below. Using Retinol on skin is a popular part of skin care routine. However, it should be noted that Retinol for face regime is milder and therefore takes more time and sustained use to show effective results.

Benefits of Retinol and Retinoid for face:

  • Increases cellular turnover of the skin: They cause more skin cells to be formed and melanin dispersing in the skin layer.
  • Effective acne treatment: Retinoid helps clear clogged pores. It also has an anti-inflammatory action on acne-prone skin.
  • Reduces wrinkles: Retinoid stimulates collagen, clears skin pores, and has a beneficial action on cell production, resulting in smooth skin.
  • Fades pigmentation to give an even tone: They help individuals with melasma, mottled pigmentation, and sun-damaged skin.

All the above benefits help with more bright and healthy-looking skin.

What are the Side-Effects of Retinoid and Retinol?

These are some of the side effects of Retinol and Retinoid, which may differ from person to person:

  • Dry skin
  • Skin irritation
  • Skin colour changes
  • Increased sensitivity to sunlight
  • Redness or patchy skin
  • Swelling over the applied area
  • Crusting or peeling of skin

Side effects caused by Retinol are usually milder compared to Retinoid due to the lower content of retinoic acid in the former.

How to Prevent the Side-Effects?

You should avoid going out in the sun if you use Retinoid on skin or Retinol for your skincare. If it is important to be outdoors, it is better to limit the time, especially between 10 am and 2 pm.

It is essential to wear a high-SPF sunscreen (SPF 30+). Wear full-coverage clothes like full-sleeved shirts, full pants, big hats, scarves, or face masks. The simplest method to prevent side effects of Retinol and Retinoid is to use any Retinol and Retinoid product only as prescribed or as specified on the label.

Excess use for faster results will not increase efficacy but instead lead to itching, redness, skin peeling, and skin thinning. Always use a good moisturiser after using topical retinol /retinoids. This prevents your skin from getting too dry.

Retinoid vs Retinol: Which One to Choose and Why?

Before you decide to buy either of the two, you should consider a few points:

  • Your skin type: Is it a combination, oily or dry skin? If you have dry skin, you may want to start with mild Retinol only 2 or 3 times a week, evaluate the results in a few weeks, and then decide to increase the dose.
  • Sensitive skin: People with sensitive skin should always consult with their dermatologist about products to be used on their skin, especially when it comes to Retinol vs Retinoid. Either of the products can cause severe side effects on sensitive skin.
  • Skincare for oily skin: People with oily skin/acne-prone skin that does not show any improvement with mild products can talk to their doctor for a prescription for Retinoid for skin care or specifically using Retinoid for face.

Your doctor will start with Retinoid a few times/week and increase the dose depending on the results. Most dermatologists agree that in Retinol vs Retinoid, it is always advised to start slow and mild and then move on to more potent products if needed and if mild products do not show any results.


If you are concerned about your skin or looking for a skincare routine that suits your age, both Retinol and Retinoid offer ample benefits. But if you have sensitive or dry skin, it is better to start with mild over-the-counter Retinol on skin.

Then, your dermatologist can step you up to Retinoids for face and other parts of the skin, if required, after gradual use. Generally speaking, your skin will be highly benefited if you start with something mild. You can then evaluate your progress and add stronger products to your skin regimen.

FAQs On Retinoid Vs Retinol

Q1. Can I use more than one Retinoid product?

Your doctor may prescribe applying Retinoid on skin 2 to 3 times a week, observe the changes and then amp up the dose. A combination of Retinoid and cosmetic Retinol is sometimes used. Still, excess Retinoid for face or skin is never preferred due to its tendency to cause side effects.

Q2. When to use Retinoids for a daily skincare routine?

Retinoid for face is okay for daily skincare routine only when prescribed by your doctor. It is usually started in small doses and then increased if the side effects reduce over time. It is especially beneficial for acne and psoriasis cases when Retinols have failed to show results.

Q3. When to use Retinol for skin care routine?

Retinol for skin care is advised to be used only at night time. The products can reduce ageing signs like fine lines and wrinkles. Using Retinol for face can also help tackle pigmentation and dark spots over time.

Q4. Is Retinoid the same as Retinol?

No, though they are both a product of Retinoic acid, Retinoids are much stronger than Retinols. Also, Retinols take much longer to break down into retinoic acid.

Q5. Can we use Retinoid and Retinol together?

Retinoids should always be used very cautiously and as prescribed by your doctor. You can always use a prescribed Retinoid face product and a cosmetic Retinol cream. However, you should remember that an excess is not always good and may lead to more skin drying.

Q6. What’s stronger, Retinol or Retinoid?

Retinoids are stronger than Retinol as they break down into Retinoic acid faster.

Q7. Which is good for wrinkles – Retinoid or Retinol?

Retinoid causes fast cell turnover and collagen stimulation to help reduce wrinkles and ageing faster. However, this action has side effects like extremely dry skin, redness, or itchy skin. Therefore, Retinoid is to be used as a skin product only under the guidance of a certified dermatologist.

If you’re okay with topical creams that help fight signs of ageing over a more extended period with lesser side effects, Retinol for face and skin is the better bet.