Retinol vs. Retinoid: Here’s What’s What With These Similar-Sounding Ingredients

If you feel like your skin care journey always comes with a bit of a vocabulary lesson, you’re not alone. Similar-sounding terms abound in the skin care space, and this week we’re going to help make sense of two terms that refer to concentrated Vitamin A: retinol and retinoid. The short version is that a retinoid is a broad term, while retinol is specific to over-the-counter products.

The good news is that both these terms refer to a versatile skin care ingredient that can have major benefits for acne, fine lines and wrinkles, and other skin concerns. Both retinoids and retinol both stimulate the skin, helping skin to become brighter, clearer-looking, and more plump-looking.

These two terms actually don’t refer to different ingredients. All products with retinol are retinoids, but not all retinoids are Retinol. Simple enough? We’ll explain. Retinoid refers to concentrated Vitamin A, but certain retinoids with extremely high concentrations need to be prescribed for a dermatologist because they can irritate certain skin types, sometimes causing redness, flakiness, and drying. Retinol refers to a type of retinoid that converts to retinoic acid when it touches the skin, an extra step that makes retinol a gentler but still effective alternative to prescription retinoids.

Thinking about getting started with retinol-based products? We’ve got a few best practices to help you get the most out of this super ingredient. First, retinol products are best for your evening skincare routine. Using retinol at night can help your skin absorb the product more effectively, plus it can help you avoid redness or dryness caused by the sun.

Next, all retinol products are not going to play well with all skin types. One way to find out what works for you is to begin with a product that has a lower concentration of the ingredient and increase that concentration over time. Define Rx Age-Defying Treatment uses 2% AGP Retinol Complex, which makes it COSMEDIX’s gentlest retinol-based serum. Serum 16 Rapid Renewal Serum and Refine Refinishing Treatment are both a bit more powerful, while Refine Plus High-Potency Refinishing Treatment boasts our highest concentration with 8% AGP Complex and 1% retinol. Finally, there are a few reasons not to use retinol, such as pregnancy or breastfeeding. Bakuchiol Complete Plant-Based Retinol Alternative Serum uses a botanical seed extract to help brighten the look of skin and visibly improve tone and clarity, so it’s ideal for people who aren’t able to use retinol products.