What’s the Difference Between Retinol, Retinoid, and Retin-A?

Retinol, retinoid, and Retin-A are all variations of vitamin A. Retinoids are an umbrella term that covers all such compounds; Retin-A is a brand-name product, and retinol is an OTC solution.

If you feel like you need a chemistry degree to understand skincare these days, you’re not alone. Do all these technical names mean anything—or are they just for marketing?

More from Glowing Gorgeous: Find out here the Best Silicone-Free Moisturizers And Why Do You Care

We discuss the differences between retinol, retinoid, and Retin-A. Learn the facts behind this popular trio, and the best products to try for each.

Defining Skincare: What Does Each One Do?

You’ve probably heard talk of at least one of these three ingredients. Although they sound deceptively similar, they’re not—let’s dive in:


“Retinoid” is an umbrella term that describes all derivatives of vitamin A and biologically-related compounds.

Vitamin A boasts a unique claim to fame—it’s the first FDA-approved vitamin with proven wrinkle-fighting properties.

Different concentrations and formulations are accorded specific names. However, vitamin A holds remarkable properties that make it a choice cosmetic skincare ingredient.

Retinoids can influence natural processes in your skin for the better. These include:

  • Stimulating collagen production.
  • Strengthening your protective skin barrier.
  • Improving and retaining moisture.
  • Encouraging blood vessel formation.
  • Fading dark spots and discolorations.
  • Smoothing rough texture.
  • Speeds up skin renewal.
  • Calm acne lesions and prevent new ones from forming.


Retinol is a natural retinoid that’s lacking retonic acid. It’s non-prescription, meaning you don’t need to visit your derm to get access.


Retin-A is also known as tretinoin a prescription-strength, synthetic retinoid that contains retinoic acid.

The moniker “Retin-A” is the brand name; it’s produced as a topical solution to treat acne and other skin disorders.

Retinol vs Retinoid vs Retin-A

You already know retinoids aren’t a compound in and of themselves. They refer to all the vitamin-A-themed solutions found in various cosmetics and prescription treatments.

More from Glowing Gorgeous: Find out here Hyram’s Recommended Face Sunscreens For The Summer

So, what separates retinol vs Retin-A?

For one, retinol is natural and available over-the-counter in a range of cosmetics. Retin-A, since it’s more potent and synthetic, requires a prescription.

Since Retin-A is stronger, you might be more likely to experience more intense side effects. For example, skin burning or pain, difficulty swallowing, and redness.

Next, remember that retinol doesn’t contain retinoic acid, a substance that directly impacts skin cells to provide all those benefits we listed earlier.

However, one study revealed little difference between retinol and prescription Retin-A (or tretinoin). Both substances had positive effects on participants’ complexions.

Using Retinoids Safely

The advantages of retinoids are clear—they tackle almost all skin woes and work to improve your complexion overall.

At the same time, topical retinoids are powerful substances and can cause adverse effects.

The most common effects relate to skin irritation: dryness, peeling and flaking. Retinids can also make your skin sensitive to sunlight, which means a strong SPF is a must.

If you decide to use retinoids, you want to minimize the risk of these things happening to you by taking precautions.

Start slow with your routine: you’ll find many products warning you to space applications out, at least initially. If you notice your skin acting up, you should cut back or check in with your dermatologist.

Best Retinoid – LilyAna Naturals Retinol Cream for Face

We award this retinol face cream with over 15,000 ratings on Amazon the best retinoid overall.

It’s non-prescription, but don’t let that discourage you. The retinol concentration is 2.5 percent, and users rave about how effective it is.

It works to fade scars from acne and hyperpigmentation, and smooth out roughness. It also contains other skin-rejuvenating ingredients, such as hyaluronic acid and jojoba oil.

Although it isn’t wholly organic, it’s free of common toxins, gluten, and fragrances. It’s also lightweight, so it shouldn’t feel greasy or heavy.

Best Retinol – CeraVe Retinol Resurfacing Serum

A close second to the LilyAna face cream is CeraVe’s Retinol Resurfacing Serum. The formula is non-comedogenic, and contains encapsulated retinol to smooth out skin.

It’s ideal if you want to eliminate texture from scarring, UV damage, or fade age spots. In a study CeraVe performed in 2019, eight out of ten women claimed their skin appeared more refined after usage.

Other noteworthy compounds include niacinamide and licorice root for brightening. This serum also contains ceramides to strengthen your skin barrier.

Best Retin-A Substitute – Admire My Skin Clinically Effective Retinoid Cream

You won’t find true Retin-A in your local beauty shop or online. That’s for a good reason—it’s strong stuff, and requires dermatological supervision.

Clinically Effective Retinoid Cream by Admire My Skin is a decent substitute. This brand’s whole deal is clinical-grade skincare without a prescription.

It contains a 2.5 percent concentration of retinol. The formula also has plant stem cells ad hyaluronic acid to promote a smooth, unwrinkled complexion.


This article was taken from Cherie to make it available to all, credit to @Miranda.Brockman

Jen Roberts Glowing Gorgeous

Jen Roberts

Follow me

About our Chief Editor

Jen Roberts, is a passionate beauty specialist and blogger with a deep love for skincare and wellness. More about me here.


Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments