Retinol vs. Tretinoin: What’s the Difference?

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Retinol vs. Tretinoin: What’s the Difference?

Retinol vs. Tretinoin: What’s the Difference?

The relationship that each of us has with our skin is personal. We are all different. A product may work well for one person but not for the other. You’ve probably come across both retinol and tretinoin if you’ve researched skincare or dermatological interventions, mainly to prevent acne or wrinkles. But what are these two products, and how do they differ? More importantly, which is best for you?  


What is Retinol? 

Retinol is one of the most popular skincare ingredients. It’s found in a variety of products, from cleansers to moisturizers. Retinol is an over-the-counter retinoid that does not require a prescription. Retinol penetrates the dermis, the layer beneath the epidermis. It works by neutralizing free radicals while boosting collagen production and elastin – the main contributors to the healthy, plump skin that we all want. Retinol can also work as an exfoliant, as it can assist in helping remove dead skin cells. Made from a natural derivative of Vitamin A, Retinol is typically less irritating than prescription-strength retinoids.  

What is Tretinoin? 

Tretinoin is a retinoid that is only available by prescription. Like retinol, it works to exfoliate the dead layers of the skin while also stimulating the production of collagen and elastin. It is typically prescribed to treat acne and sun damage, as it can significantly improve the appearance of wrinkles, fine lines, and age spots.  

Tretinoin is sometimes referred to as retinoic acid and is commonly known as Retin-A, a tretinoin medication used to treat acne as it speeds up the life cycle of skin cells - making them disperse and die faster - allowing for newer, healthier skin to take their place.  

The Primary Differences Between Retinol and Tretinoin 

While both tretinoin and retinol can help you achieve the goal of healthy, clear skin, there are some primary differences that you should be aware of. The most notable difference is that tretinoin is only available by prescription, whereas retinol is available over the counter. Tretinoin is more potent than retinol and has more immediate side effects.  

Retinol itself must work to change into retinoic acid before you can start seeing its benefits. Therefore, it takes longer to see the effects, which in most cases are minimal compared to tretinoin results.  

Tretinoin is retinoic acid, so the enzymes in your skin don’t have to take the time to break it down, hence its effectiveness.   

Which is Better: Retinol or Tretinoin?  

Honestly, neither retinol nor tretinoin is necessarily better than the other. However, because tretinoin is prescription-strength retinoic acid and works at a higher capacity than retinol, it is typically more effective at reducing redness and pigmentation.  

Retinol is much more accessible and is also effective for its intended purpose. Some people with susceptible skin may prefer retinol because it is less abrasive and irritating than tretinoin.  

These products reduce the effects of aging and mitigate fine lines, blemishes, and acne by making the epidermis thicker, stimulating elastin and collagen production, and minimizing cellular breakdown.  

Of course, we recommend starting with a retinol cream before considering tretinoin. If you don’t see any improvement, speak to your dermatologist about trying a stronger medication.  

Regardless of which product works best for you, you are on your way to a healthier you!  

Don’t forget to integrate Indigo Collagen into your skincare routine for maximum skin elasticity and hydration benefits. Learn more here 



Retinol vs. Retin-A – The Difference and Why You Should Use It. Retrieved from 

Rollins, A. (2021, July 17). Tretinoin vs. Retinol: The Difference Between These Two Popular Retinoids. Retrieved from 




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