europa skin care : natural, organic & science-based skin care

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Retinol vs. Retin-A (tretinoin)

Retinol, a form of vitamin A, is found in many anti-wrinkle and skin rejuvenation products.

Retin-A, also known as trans-retinoic acid or retinoic acid, is a type of tretinoin.

Retinol and Retin-A are often confused - while they are related, they are quite different. Their relationship lies in that retinol eventually gets converted to retinoic acid.

Retinol and other forms of vitamin A, such as retinal and retinyl palmitate, do not have much direct effect on the skin. They first need to be converted by special enzymes into the active metabolite, retinoic acid.

Only Retin-A [retinoic acid] directly affect skin cells to reduce some signs of aging.

In theory, you should be able to apply retinol to the skin, wait till it gets converted to retinoic acid, however the conversion rate is low and varies greatly among individuals.

In addition, when exposed to air either during storage or use, most retinol oxidizes and degrades before it can become available for conversion to retinoic acid in the skin. Retinol products tend to have fewer side-effects than retinoic acid [tretinoin, Retin A] due to this lower biological activity.

tretinoin products

As a result, significantly less people respond to retinol creams than to retinoic acid [tretinoin, Retin A], and the degree of response tends to be less too.

Some companies have developed stabilized high-concentration retinol formulas that seem to be more effective. However, high concentrations of retinol can be almost as irritating to the skin as retinoic acid.


Pure Retinol doesn’t possess these side effects unless you have particularly sensitive skin. Therefore it is better to apply Retinol before you go to bed so that if there are any side effects they should disappear by morning.


Many skin specialists recommended starting with Retinol, especially because the potential side effects of Retin-A. If this is tolerated by the skin, then try changing to Retin-A.

Retin A (Renova and other brands) appears to perform better at eliminating fine lines and reducing wrinkles than the best retinol formulations.

Retin A, applying before bed time, after ALA and before moisturizer. If you experience skin irritation and/or chronic peeling try reducing the concentration by mixing with your moisturiser or get a lower concentration product. Alternatively reduce the frequency of application.

NOTE: In some countries, retinoic acid (tretinoin, Retin A, Renova) is available only with a prescription by a physician. Discontinue use of either product if irritation continues.