If you’ve been reading up on antiaging products, you’ve probably heard of retinol. It’s one of those buzzy ingredients that pops up in everything from facial oils to our favorite drugstore finds. Second only to sunscreen, it’s the best way to keep your face looking smooth, radiant, and wrinkle-free. When talking about this skincare staple, the terms retinol and retinoid are sometimes used interchangeably, but we’re here to tell you that there’s actually a difference between the two. A significant difference at that.
While both retinol and retinoid are vitamin A derivatives that are converted into retinoic acid, their strength differs. Retinol is found in over-the-counter products (aka any moisturizer, serum, or cream you can buy without a prescription). Because of its lower concentration of active ingredients, it may take longer to see results. Retinoids, on the other hand, have a much higher dose of the active ingredients and they require an Rx from your dermatologist.
So, which one should you choose? “If you have never used a retinoid before and have sensitive or dry skin, starting with an over the counter retinol might be a good place to start,” explains dermatologist Deanne Mraz Robinson, M.D. Plus, many retinols are formulated with other moisturizing ingredients that are designed to reduce irritation. “However, the real results come with the prescription-strength retinoids,” she continues, since they tend to begin working much faster.
Because retinoids have increased levels of active ingredients, you may experience some not-so-cute side effects at first. If you’re worried about flaking or redness, Dr. Robinson suggests easing into your retinoid routine. Her advice: week one apply it twice; week two, three times; and so on. “Continue working your way up to a place where the skin is able to tolerate daily use.”
WATCH: This is the Age to Start Using Anti-Aging Products, According to a Dermatologist
Ultimately though, deciding between a retinol and a retinoid is up to you. “At the end of the day, they do the same thing, however it will take you longer to see results with over the counter retinol than with a prescription retinoid,” confirms Dr. Robinson. “Depending on your skin and your goals, your dermatologist can guide you to the right treatment plan.”