Difference Between Retinol and Retinoid

As both retinol and retinoids are often found in cosmetics and dietary supplements, the terms are commonly used interchangeably. Anti-aging, acne-fighting, discoloration-reducing, and skin- brightening benefits have all been attributed to them. Because these substances are ineffective in sunlight, dermatologists recommend using them after dark. Both begin life as vitamin A and must be converted into retinoic acid before they can be used on the skin.

Retinol and prescription retinoids share the same first syllable, although retinoid is the more general name for them both. Nevertheless, retinol is more widely available since it is an OTC medicine despite having a lower concentration of retinoic acid. Nonetheless, retinoids are typically given because of their potency and potential for skin irritation. These discrepancies are explored in further depth below.

What is Retinol?

Retinol is a form of vitamin A that is naturally found in animal products such as liver, eggs, and dairy. Retinol is often used in skincare products due to its ability to improve skin texture, reduce fine lines and wrinkles, and enhance skin radiance. Retinol is less potent than Tretinoin and requires more time to see visible results.

  • Retinol should not be taken by people, hypersensitive to vitamin A, peanuts, soy, or having hypervitaminosis A, severe liver or kidney diseases..

  • The possible adverse reactions to retinol include headache, drowsiness, increased nervousness, gum bleeding, dyspnoea, vomiting, diarrhea, hepatosplenomegaly, yellowish and dry skin, menstrual disorders, fever, allergic reactions, anemia, bone and joint pain..

  • Retinol is a fat-soluble vitamin, essential for many processes in the body..

  • Alcohol and synthetic retinoids may increase the toxicity of retinol. Oral contraceptives may increase its levels in the body.

The oral dose for adults and adolescents is 2500 IU per day, for children from 1 to 14 years the dose is 1250 IU per day.

What is Retinoid?

Retinol is a type of Vitamin A that is found in animal products like liver, eggs, and milk. It is a yellow, fat-soluble substance that is used in many skincare products because of its ability to reduce fine lines, wrinkles, and hyperpigmentation. Retinol works by penetrating the skin and boosting collagen production, which helps to plump up the skin and make it look smoother and more youthful.

Retinoid is a broader term that includes all compounds derived from Vitamin A. Retinoids can be synthetic or naturally occurring, and they include both over-the-counter products like Retinol and prescription-strength products like Tretinoin. Retinoids work by increasing the rate of skin cell turnover, which helps to exfoliate the skin and reduce the appearance of fine lines, wrinkles, and dark spots.

Differences: Retinol and Retinoid

One of the main differences between Retinol and Retinoid is their potency. Retinol is a weaker form of Vitamin A compared to Retinoid, which means it takes longer to see results. Retinoid, on the other hand, is a stronger and more effective form of Vitamin A, which is why it is only available by prescription. Retinoids can cause skin irritation, peeling, and redness, especially when used in high concentrations. This is why it is recommended that you start with a lower concentration and work your way up gradually.

Another difference between Retinol and Retinoid is their stability. Retinol is a more stable compound than Retinoid, which means it is less likely to break down and lose its effectiveness over time. Retinoid, on the other hand, is a less stable compound that can degrade quickly when exposed to light and air. This is why Retinoid products are often sold in opaque packaging to protect them from light and air.

The following table highlights the major differences between Retinol and Retinoid −




Retinoic Acid Concentration

Retinol products contain lower concentrations of active retinoic acid (around 0.1 to 1 percent) as they are combined with other components such as moisturizers to lessen or prevent irritation or lighten the skin.

On the other hand, retinoids have significantly higher content as they come in purer form.


Retinol is a specific type of retinoid.

Retinoid is a large class of chemical compounds and is an umbrella term for prescription retinoids including retinol.


Retinol products are OTC as they are readily available in serums, creams, and other beauty products.

Retinoids need to be prescribed.

Sensitive Skin

Retinol is more appropriate for sensitive skin as there is less probability of side effects due to its milder concentration while retinoid is prescribed for less sensitive skin due to its more potent content.

Retinoid may cause itching, redness, burning, and peeling.

Food and Drug Administration (FDA)

Generally, retinoids should be first approved by the FDA as they are prescription drugs.

Retinol products are OTC; hence, some of these may not have been approved by the FDA.

Refund or Complaints

As compared to retinol, it is more likely to be able to have a refund or complain when the product is a retinoid since it is prescribed.

The concerned physician and/or pharmacist will most likely explain the effects of the prescribed retinoid; hence, there is more accountability.

As for OTC retinols, you can just buy the product and nobody is there to explain and be accountable for negative effects.


In conclusion, Retinol and Retinoid are two types of skincare products that have similar benefits but are quite different from each other. Retinol is a weaker form of Vitamin A that is available over-the-counter, while Retinoid is a stronger and more effective form of Vitamin A that is available only by prescription. Retinol is a more stable compound than Retinoid, but Retinoid is more potent and can cause skin irritation.

Both products have their benefits, and the choice between the two will depend on your skincare needs and sensitivity. It is always best to consult with a skincare professional before adding either of these products to your routine.

Updated on: 07-Apr-2023


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