Retinoid vs. Retinol: The Major Differences and Why It Matters

Ask a dermatologist what skincare ingredient they recommend for vibrant skin and chances are they will tell you to get on retinol. Considered a gold-standard ingredient by many experts, retinol has been well researched and offers truly transformational results. Why is retinol so highly lauded? What are its benefits for skin and health? And is there a difference between retinoids and retinol? Both terms are often used interchangeably, but they aren’t quite the same. Here, we’ll discuss the ingredient to help you make the most informed decision for your skin (if you choose to go this route). 

Retinoids Vs Retinol

Think of “retinoids” as an umbrella term, and “retinol” as one type that falls under it.Retinoids are chemically derived from vitamin A. Retinoid is a term that includes retinol, tretinoin, adapalene, retinaldehyde, retinyl palmitate and tazarotene. Retinol is a type of retinoid found in over-the-counter skin care products. Retinyl palmitate and retinaldehyde are also over-the-counter retinoids but less potent than retinol. 

The important thing to remember is that retinol is the OTC version that you will encounter in a variety of beauty products like serums. Retinoids like tretinoin, on the other hand, have to be prescribed by a doctor or dermatologist. 

How Vitamin A Plays a Role in Health

Vitamin A as a nutrient has been linked to vision, cell division, growth and immunity. There are two types of vitamin A: retinoids, or preformed vitamin A, and carotenoids, or proformed vitamin A. Both of these types are converted to retinol by the liver and then transported to cells throughout the body. Most people who eat a normal diet will get enough vitamin A. Vitamin A is also added to certain foods like milk and breakfast cereal. Research has further found that a diet high in carotenoids can prevent premature skin aging and skin cancer [1]. 

Vitamin A Deficiency Symptoms in Skin and Health

A vitamin A deficiency in the skin can result in over dryness. Dry skin often not only feels uncomfortable and tight, but is more likely to show signs of aging like fine lines and wrinkles. Vitamin A deficiency can also affect immunity and growth. In developed countries, vitamin A deficiency is usually not a problem but can be an issue in other parts of the world. 

What Does Retinol Do for Your Face? Vitamin A’s Benefits for Skin

Sure, making sure vitamin A is part of your diet is important, but applying it topically is what catches the attention of skincare enthusiasts. That’s because retinoids can treat both acne and the signs of aging.

Retinoids work by encouraging cell turnover, meaning it encourages older dead skin cells to slough away, so that new, healthier skin cells can emerge from underneath. Retinoids are also known to stimulate the production of new skin cells and promote collagen production [2]. Collagen is a protein that keeps skin firm and strong; we make less and less of it as we get older, which results in wrinkle formation and sagging. 

Moreover, retinoids can thicken deeper layers of skin, another factor that helps keep wrinkles at bay. Because it is over-the-counter, retinol is usually not as potent as prescription retinoids, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t work. As a plus, OTC retinol will also have less side effects as well. 

Retinol Side Effects

Retinol and especially prescription retinoids can cause several side effects. These often include redness, peeling, excessive dryness, flakiness, a stinging or warming sensation, tingling and sun sensitivity. 

These side effects are usually the worst during the first month after you begin using retinol or other retinoids regularly. Retinol causes lighter side effects and irritation than prescription retinoids, but if you have sensitive skin, even OTC retinol can be a problem. 

You can try to minimize these side effects by not applying retinol every day at first and by using a moisturizer before you apply the retinoids. If your side effects are severe, it may be time to discontinue use and consult your doctor. People with sensitive skin may be especially susceptible and experience extreme irritation. Retinol and other retinoids are best used at night because sun exposure may cause more sensitivity.

Is There Such a Thing as Organic Retinol?

Some consumers may shy away from retinoids because they are chemically produced, too harsh or simply prefer an all-natural route. Although traditional retinoids don’t come in “organic form,” if you want to go the more natural route, you can. Rosehip oil is one alternative that naturally has vitamin A in it. However, it should be noted that rosehip oil is not going to be as potent as retinol or other retinoids. Still, it will act as an important antioxidant to protect skin from free radical damage, soften skin and ultimately make wrinkles less noticeable. As a bonus, rosehip oil will not have any of the same irritating side effects as retinol. LUXE Botanics’ award-winning Marula Hydrating Serum contains rosehip oil among other botanicals to help restore radiance while nourishing and hydrating skin.  

 Click here to view the full LUXE Botanics range for supporting dry and damaged skin.

Naturally Yours, The LUXE Botanics Team

[1] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23246796
[2] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3834457/

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