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Retin A, Tretinoin and Retinol: Are They the Same?

by Ella Goodman 10 Dec 2019

When it comes to skincare, your options are many. You have choices between skincare products that line the shelves of your local drug store, special formulations by your favorite skincare companies that can be found online, and an array of solutions provided by prescription only. Your options are plenty, and so are the number of ingredients (both active and inactive) that you’ll find in these products.

Honestly, choosing the right products and skincare ingredients can be more than a little overwhelming. In fact, it can feel like you have too many options when all you really want is a great skincare product that will work wonders for your skin. Being the diligent consumer that you are, you take to the task of researching skincare ingredients, only to find that it’s more confusing than you thought – especially when some of the names sound so much alike.

Such is the case with Retin A, retinoids, and retinol. My guess is that you’ve heard of all these before, and probably don’t have a clear idea of how they’re the same, how they’re different, and what exactly they do for your skin. You’ve heard you need a prescription for Retin A yet can find retinols on the shelf at your local drug store. What gives? Here’s a quick primer on the differences.

Starting with the Basics, What Are Retinoids?

If we’re to look at retinoids, Retin A, and retinol, we’d see that retinoids are the “mother” of the group. Retinoids are a class of compounds that are both naturally and synthetically derived from vitamin A. Retinoids are the heroes of the skincare industry – they work to treat and heal practically the whole spectrum of skincare issues, from acne to dry, aging skin.

Retinoids do an incredible job enhancing the health of your skin. This is because their small molecular size makes it easy for them to penetrate the surface and impart their benefits in the deeper layers of the skin. Retinoids have been shown to increase the production of collagen and elastin – two things that are important for firm, supple skin.

Retinoids also enhance cellular turnover and unclog pores. This helps smooth the complexion, reveal fresh, vibrant skin, and keep pores unclogged. It’s these multiple pathways of action that make retinoids so effective for a range of skincare issues.

What About Retin A?

As mentioned, retinoids are a class of compounds, meaning that there is more than just one retinoid floating around out there. There are 5 main types of retinoids used in skincare. These include retinaldehyde, retinyl palmitate, tazarotene, retinol, and tretinoin. Of these, tazarotene and tretinoin are the most potent and available only through a prescription.

When looking at prescription strength retinoids, tretinoin is by far the most popular and the one that is most commonly prescribed. You may or may not be familiar with the name tretinoin but if you follow skin care trends, chances are good that you are familiar with one of tretinoin’s brand names – Retin A.

So, Retin A is a brand name of one specific type of retinoid. Retin A is a retinoid, but the category of retinoids is large enough that we can’t use the name Retin A synonymously with retinoids in general.

What Are Retinols and How Are They Different?

The simplest way of explaining retinols is to say that all retinols are retinoids but not all retinoids are retinols. The class of retinoids includes retinols that are generally less potent, and don’t require a prescription from your dermatologist to use.

Retinols have been available in over-the-counter skincare products since the mid-80s. They’re used in a range of products and are generally used to treat the very same conditions as their more powerful retinoid counterparts. The main difference is in the potency.

Retinols are milder than retinoids, which means they come with fewer side effects. Many people who use prescription-strength retinoids experience a brief period of dryness, peeling, and/or irritation. This is normal for many, but fortunately it tends to be short-lived. Retinols are gentle enough that they rarely produce the same side effects. In most cases where side effects of retinols are reported, the cause is improper (usually too frequent) use of retinol products or mixing them with other irritating skin care ingredients.

The downside (which may not even be considered a downside depending on how you look at it) of retinols is that they often take longer to work. Note that this is a difference in the time it takes to see noticeable results, and not necessary a decline in the actual results themselves. A prescription strength retinoid may be more well suited for someone suffering with painful, inflamed acne that requires more immediate relief, while a retinol product will work just fine for smoothing and evening the skin tone, as well as reversing the effects of time.

Retin A, Retinoids, or Retinol – Which Is Right for Your Skin?

Wondering which type of retinoid product will work best on your skin? It’s rarely a bad idea to start a formulation which has been shown to be both gentle and results oriented. Admire My Skin Clinically Effective Retinoid Cream is a non-prescription retinoid cream that contains retinol as well as additional proven skincare ingredients for maximum effectiveness. By choosing the right products and following usage directions, retinoids will help you achieve the beautiful, radiant complexion you deserve.

 Looking for a Retinol product that is proven to work? Click here.

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