What is the Difference Between Retinol, Retinoids, and Tretinoin?

what is the difference between retinol retinoids and tretinoin 642703de0f28e

There is so much confusion surrounding the difference between retinol, retinoids, and tretinoin that they are often used interchangeably by mistake. While these are all topical treatments that improve skin turnover and skin texture, they differ in strengths, benefits, and even drawbacks. Here is a quick guide on what these three skincare ingredients are and how they are similar yet different.


Retinoids are a class of chemical compounds related to vitamin A. Retinol and tretinoin are actually first-generation retinoids. Because of retinoids’ ability to increase cell turnover, the compound is used in the treatment of common skin conditions such as acne, psoriasis, and skin wrinkles. Retinoids come in cream, gel, and liquid form and are sold over the counter. Essentially, retinoid is the umbrella term; under it, you will find retinol and tretinoin.


Tretinoin is a medical-grade retinoid medication that is available in cream, gel, and liquid form. It’s widely used in the treatment of acne; it clears pores and prevents pimples from developing. It’s also used for anti-aging; it reverses sun exposure damage and treats wrinkles and rough skin.

Retin-A is such a popular tretinoin brand that it’s become the eponym for tretinoin in the same way people refer to tissue as Kleenex or a bandage as a Band-Aid. However, there are other tretinoin brands such as Avita, Tretin-X, Atralin, Refissa, and Renova. Generic tretinoin is also available and will likely cost less than a brand name tretinoin.

Like most medications, tretinoin comes in a range of strengths. A lot of people become obsessed with the strength of these products, thinking they need prescription-grade tretinoin to achieve results faster. However, stronger is not always better. Even in small dosages and strengths, tretinoin can have side effects that range from minor skin irritation and chronic peeling to severe adverse effects and long-term irritation. Though severe side effects are uncommon and minor side effects are temporary, you should trust your doctor when they prescribe a specific strength and dosage, even if it may seem low.


Retinol is the talk of the town because it is naturally gentle and has been used for over 30 years to help treat fine lines and wrinkles. Retinols are available in creams, oils, and serums. If there is any skin redness and irritation, it is typically minimal. While Retin-A (tretinoin) may be considered more potent in strength than retinol, this doesn’t necessarily mean it’s more effective. Ultimately, it boils down to what is most suitable for your skin. In general, retinol is best for those with sensitive skin.

Retinol has become the gold standard in skin care for its ability to minimize the breakdown of collagen, improve skin cell turnover, prevent and treat acne, and solve skin issues such as hyper-pigmentation, rough skin, old acne scars, and dryness.

Unlike Retin-A that requires a prescription, retinol is available over the counter. While it will come in lower strengths, retinol products also typically contain moisturizers or emollients that minimize skin irritation and other side effects common in tretinoin use.

Do you want to learn more about skin cell turnover, wrinkle prevention and reduction, skin texture improvement, acne, and collagen production? Contact CüR Laser and Skin for a free consultation. Call (604) 662-7368 or email [email protected]

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