Retinol vs Retin-A



  • Retinol is a non-prescription retinoid that the skin has to convert into its active form retinoic acid (tretinoin) before it can start working its anti-aging magic

  • Retinaldehyde (aka “retinol's gentle cousin”) is another over the counter/non-prescription retinoid. It goes through one less conversion before the it is in the active state.

  • Retin-A (Tretinoin) is a prescription strength, higher concentration retinoic acid that is already in it's active state so when it is applied topically to the skin it begins working right away. It tends to be good for people who have oily, more tolerant skin.

The conversion cascade looks like this:

Retinyl palmitate → Retinol → Retinaldehyde → Retinoic Acid (Tretinoin)

The less conversions a non-prescriptive retinoid has to go to before they become retinoic acid the more effective it is.

Retinol and retinaldehyde are good for people who have sensitive skin. They tend to have more emollients, antioxidants, peptides, etc which allows them to be much gentler on the skin. 

Personally, I have found retinaldehydes to be better tolerated than retinols in the majority of my patients and an added bonus is that it is gentle enough to be used around the eyes (upper and lower lids) and on the neck. This is a great retinaldehyde that also has antioxidants and peptides in it as well.

I assess all my patients individually to decide which retinoid is best for their skin.

If you're wondering why you should even use a retinoid at all or product recommendations? Click here!


how I tell my patients to start retinoids:

  • Only use them at night- no more than 3 nights a week initially.

  • Wash your face, let your face completely dry (wait 5 min just to be sure)

  • Apply a small (pea sized) amount of the retinoid

  • If you have very sensitive skin mix with a moisturizer

  • Your goal is to use it at least 5 nights a week. Don’t add an additional night of use until your skin feels completely back to normal with the consistent 3 nights a week of usage.

  • Your skin will flake, feel dry, and have some sensitivity. That is normal. Don’t stop using it or you will go through that every time you restart using retinoids. If you consistently use them 3 nights a week your skin will adjust.