Retinol and Tretinoin: What’s the difference between the both?

Retinol and Tretinoin: What’s the difference between the both?
Published : Feb 04, 2024
Last Updated : Feb 07, 2024

Have you ever considered dermatological interventions for treating your wrinkles or acne problem? If yes, then you must have come across two popular products i.e., Retinol and Tretinoin. 

Both Retinol and Tretinoin are formulated from vitamin A and belong to the same retinoid medication family. You need to know that Retinol and Tretinoin are used as topical creams in order to treat wrinkles and fine lines effectively.

Remember Retinol and Tretinoin are prevalent anti-aging skincare routines. Still, there are differences between both the products.

As you age, your skin care priorities also tend to change and you start concentrating on improving and avoiding the appearance of wrinkles, fine lines, and dullness. 

In case, you wish to transform your skin then it is vital to know the difference between Retinol and Tretinoin.

Retinol and Tretinoin: Know the differences

It is important for you to know that both Retinol and Tretinoin Gel are derived from Vitamin A, but there are some differences between them.


When it comes to skin care products, Retinol is the most popular active ingredient added. Just like tretinoin, you don’t require any kind of prescription for using Retinol, and can be easily found in several over-the-counter beauty as well as skin care products.

Retinol is effective in offering you soft, smooth, and bright skin by boosting your collagen growth. In this way, you easily attain youthful skin. This is the reason, Retinol is extensively popular in the beauty industry.

One of the major differences between Retinol and Tretinoin is that Tretinoin works directly with your skin cells but Retinol does not affect your skin directly even though it is used right on the skin.

Retinol is absorbed and goes through a metabolic procedure by using your skin’s natural enzymes. This further converts retinol to retinoic acid. You need to know that retinoic acid works directly with your skin.

Although this procedure is not quick, making necessary for you to stick with your treatment to experience the best results.   

Factors that impact how effective Retinol will be:

  • In a product, how much concentration of retinol is present
  • How old the product is as degraded retinol does not offer effective results
  • Your personal biology

When compared to Tretinoin, Retinol is often a slower active ingredient. It might take six months or even more to offer you effective results. While with tretinoin, you can notice results in just a few weeks only.

Retinol is often added to various over-the-counter acne treatment creams but is not the active ingredient in acne treatment. It is popular for its anti-aging properties. When it comes to acne treatment, Tretinoin is the go-to ingredient.  

What are the possible side effects?

Though Retinol is extensively popular, but like other active ingredients, it also comes with a few side effects. Usually, the side effects of Retinol are not bothersome. There are some factors which determine the amount and seriousness of side effects:

  • Exposure in sun
  • Improper use
  • Retinol concentration
  • Underlying skin issues or sensitivity

Some of the common side effects of Retinol are:

  • Sun sensitivity that makes you suffer from peeling, dry and flaky skin
  • Skin irritation or reddening
  • Dryness, flakiness, or acne breakouts

If you wish to reduce the side effects and get the most out of retinol then it is always better to begin with the lowest concentration and avoid direct exposure to sunlight.


Tretinoin is also called retinoic acid or Retin-A. It is a prescription medicine that is helpful in treating skin damaged by sun and acne prone. You can find Tretinoin in both gel or cream form and is applied topically. 

At medical stores, you can find tretinoin under different brand names, either as a single ingredient or combined with various other non-medicinal ingredients.

Tretinoin is best for fine lines as well as dark spots that are caused by prolonged sun damage. This medication is effective in smoothening the texture of your skin and is extensively prescribed by the doctor for treating hyperpigmentation problems.

It acts as a pleasant skin lightening agent, Tretinoin often targets dark spots. Though it is acidic and an exfoliant, Tretinoin is helpful in improving surface wrinkles but will not work effectively for your deep wrinkles. Remember Tretinoin is a prevalent prescription acne medicine skincare product available in the market.     

The possible side effects of Tretinoin

You must know that Tretinoin is not meant for everyone. Some possible side effects of this medicine are:

  • Discolored skin
  • Increased sensitivity to sunlight
  • Peeling, scaling, or extremely dry skin
  • Skin rashes or worsening acne

Thus, irrespective of your skin type or issues, both Retinol and Tretinoin must be used only after the prescription by the doctor. Consult the doctor and know which skin care plan is best for you.


Retinol and Tretinoin are both derived from Vitamin A and belong to the same retinoid family, but they have different effects on the skin. Retinol is more popular in terms of anti-aging benefits, while Tretinoin is better suited for treating acne or dark spots caused by sun damage. It's important to understand the differences between these two products before deciding which one will work best for you. Remember to always consult your doctor before starting any new skincare routine with either of these ingredients to ensure that it'll be safe and effective for your particular skin concerns.