Retinoid vs. Retinol: When to Use Them and Why

retinoid vs retinol

A lot of people use retinoids and retinol interchangeably. But, they’re not the same thing at all. Understanding the difference between retinoid vs retinol can help you maximize your skin care success. Here are the similarities, differences, and uses of retinoid vs retinol-based products.

What Are Retinoid and Retinol?

Retinoid and retinol are both vitamin A derivatives. You can find them in a lot of skin care products. These ingredients are the golden standard for anti-aging skin.

Retinoid is the umbrella term for over-the-counter retinol and prescription retinoids. Topical retinoids include adapalene, tretinoin, and tazarotene. You will need a prescription for retinoids in the US.

Retinol, on the other hand, is a type of retinoid. You’ll mainly find it in over-the-counter products, as opposed to prescribed medication. You can find these in the pharmacy, drug store or even the grocery store.

Examples of retinols are retinyl esters (retinyl palmitate or propionate), retinaldehyde, and retinol. Retinol gets converted by skin cells and turns into retinoic acid, which has a lot of amazing benefits for your skin.

The Differences Between Retinoid vs Retinol

While both retinol and retinoids are like vitamin A, they’re not the same. There are several important differences between these two active ingredients that you should know.

Retinol is the precursor of retinoids. Retinol gets converted into retinoids by our skin cells. This triggers a series of cellular events. The end result is improved collagen synthesis, better cell turnover, and decreased signs of aging.


One of the key differences between retinoid vs. retinol is the overall effectiveness between the two. Retinol is weaker in biological action than retinoid because it’s missing that extra step of conversion. Weaker does not necessarily mean that it’s a worse or inferior product. The strength of retinoids can have unwanted side effects.

Side Effects

Since your skin reacts differently to retinoid vs. retinol, the immediate effects you feel will differ as well. If you have sensitive skin, retinoids may cause irritation, peeling, and redness when you first start using them. This is one of the reasons why you need a prescription for retinoids in the US.

Retinols, on the other hand, are a lot gentler on your skin. While you may still experience some irritation, it will be much less noticeable.  You can think of retinols as the perfect bridging ingredient if you’re interested in anti-aging topical skin care, but you’ve never tried any retinoids before. 

You can buy retinoid vs retinol products with prescription or without

Retinoid vs Retinol: What Do They Have in Common?

While there are some major differences between the retinoids and retinols, there are also a couple of important similarities.

Overall Benefits

It’s no coincidence that you can use both retinol and retinoid products against aging. They’re proven to promote cell turnover and stimulate collagen synthesis. They also strengthen your skin against sun damage.

These benefits lead to reduced signs of aging, decreased lines, uneven skin texture, pigmentation, and laxity.

Neither Is Safe During Pregnancy

If you’re pregnant or breastfeeding, don’t use retinol or retinoids. While it’s challenging if you experience acne during pregnancy, there are other products you can use to keep your skin glowing until it’s safe to use retinols or retinoids again.

For example, pregnant or breastfeeding women can turn to bakuchiol if they’re experiencing acne. It’s a botanical extract that has similar properties as retinol or retinoid. It’s a less-irritating natural alternative. Discuss with your doctor if this product is safe for you to use while pregnant or breastfeeding.

Is Retinoid Better Than Retinol?

The answer to this question depends on how you look at it. If you want the stronger and more potent ingredient, retinoid is better than retinol. But if you have sensitive skin, retinol is the better option for you.

It’s important to note that the irritation caused by the retinoid is temporary. It will be most pronounced within the first few days to weeks of treatment. And as your skin becomes more tolerant of this new rate of cell turnover, it should calm down.  

Who Should Use Retinoid or Retinol Products?

Retinol is a great topical skin care ingredient for anyone interested in a preventative, anti-aging skin care routine. Its benefits lie in the reduction of pore size, balancing out skin tone, reducing fine lines, strengthening skin elasticity, and treating signs of sun damage. Because retinol and retinoid help to promote cell turnover, they can be very beneficial for people with mild acne or blemish-prone skin.

Who Should Not Use Retinoid or Retinol

Plenty of medical research studies support the safety of long-term use of retinol and retinoid. While it may take up to 12 – 16 weeks to see results, the effects of retinoid treatment are worth it.

Keep in mind that not everybody should use retinoids or retinol. Remember, since they’re both Vitamin A derivatives, pregnant and nursing mothers should avoid them. This prevents any potential risk to the fetus or baby.

Allergic reactions are a risk for every beauty and healthcare product. If you develop an allergy to a serum or anti-aging cream, retinol isn’t always the cause. You may simply be allergic to other components of the product such as fragrances, preservatives or stabilizers. 

It’s beneficial to get a skin allergy test to find out exactly which ingredient triggers your skin reaction.

When Should You Start Using Retinol

There’s definitely a right time to start using retinoids or retinol in your skin care routine. But, it’s not the same for everyone. It all depends on your skin needs, your skin type, and your lifestyle.

Generally, it’s best to ease into using retinoids or retinol. As dermatologists, we often recommend starting every third or second night, and slowly increase to nightly over the course of 4-6 weeks. . Some people with sensitive skin may even need to start just once or twice a week. As your skin gets more and more used to it, you can apply topical retinoid or retinol products more often.

If you are confused about when to add a retinol in your skin care routine, it’s best to ask for professional advice. To find out whether you need retinol, please join us at BIALife. We can evaluate your skin needs and curate a personalized plan using medical-grade products for you.

How you use retinoid vs retinol depends on your skin type

Retinoid vs Retinol: How Do You Use Them?

When you first start using retinoids or retinol, it’s important to start slowly and build up gradually to reduce skin irritation. Here are some tips on how to use retinoid or retinol safely and successfully.

1. How Much Retinoid Cream or Serum Should You Use?

Use a pea-sized amount on the entire face when you start out. You can layer moisturizer on first to reduce skin irritation.

Here’s the trick to using retinoid or retinol: if you don’t think you applied enough, you have the correct amount on. But, if you feel like you’re getting good coverage, you probably used too much. Less is more when it comes to retinoid vs retinol.

2. How Often Should You Use Retinoid?

As we mentioned before, how often you use retinoid or retinol products will depend on your skin type. We recommend starting every other day or every two days. And then you can increase the frequency if you are not irritated after about 1 – 2 weeks. Slowly build up to every night over the course of 4-6 weeks as tolerated.

3. What Time of Day Should You Use Retinoid?

Most retinol and retinoid products get deactivated by the sun. You should apply these at night to receive the maximal benefits from topical retinol or retinoid. 

However, some retinoid products aren’t affected by sunlight. You can use these whenever you’d like.

4. Retinoids and Other Skin Care Products

In what order should you apply skin care products when you use retinoids? If your skin is prone to irritation, use moisturizer before retinol. But, if your skin isn’t that sensitive, use retinoids first, and then moisturizer. Using moisturizer is critical when you use retinol. You can prevent skin peeling and inflammation with it.

When you get a facial, a laser treatment, or waxing treatment, let your provider know that you’re on retinol or retinoids. They can adjust their treatment plan to minimize unnecessary skin irritation.

Lastly, be careful with using topicals with exfoliative effects. Products like alpha and beta hydroxy acids can exfoliate your skin even further. And using them with retinol together can lead to a lot of peeling.

5. When Should You Expect Results?

Our final advice for your retinoid treatment is to be patient. When you start using anti-aging serums and creams containing retinol, it will take time. The changes to your skin are deep and long-lasting. With consistent application, it could take at least 12 -16 weeks to see noticeable improvements in your skin quality.

Consult a Dermatologist Before You Use Retinoid or Retinol

If you’d like to use an effective anti-aging skin care treatment, retinoid or retinol-based products are a great asset to your regimen. Due to their potency, it’s crucial to understand how they work. You need to know how to use them safely and effectively. And if prescription retinoids right for you at all. 

If you start a retinoid treatment too aggressively, you risk causing intense irritation, peeling, and redness to your skin. And you won’t reap the amazing benefits you heard about. To make sure you’re using retinoid and retinol products correctly, consult with a qualified dermatologist.

At BIALife, we strive to make your skin care experience as easy and relaxing as possible. You can access expert advice from the comfort of your home. Trust our expertise to create a personalized skin care ritual for you. We’ll work with you to recommend the best products based on your skin type, lifestyle, and budget. 

Are you ready to see the difference? Begin using retinoid and retinol products for better skin, with the confidence of BIALife.

With love, Janelle & Shasa

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