Retinol vs Retinoids for Acne: Which is Better?

If you are interested in skincare, you may have heard the term “retinoid” and “retinol” thrown around. However, what is the difference between these two compounds, and what exactly do they do? Read on to learn more!

What Is a Retinoid?

Retinoids are a class of compounds that derive from vitamin A. Nowadays, these products are found pretty much anywhere you can purchase beauty products, including makeup stores, pharmacies, and grocery stores. The majority of retinoids are applied topically, while others such as Accutane are oral medications. Retinoids work by promoting collagen, visibly improve skin texture, and help reduce the appearance of wrinkles over time.

What is Retinol?

Retinol is a type of retinoid that is used in many over-the-counter products instead of prescription medications. While it is an effective ingredient, it is different from prescription-strength retinoids molecularly. Retinols contain a lower concentration of the active retinoic acid ingredient, while prescription retinoids have a higher concentration of the active ingredient. Plus, in over-the-counter forms, retinol is usually combined with other ingredients, so the concentration may not be as high.

Retinoid Benefits

Retinoids are an essential ingredient for successfully addressing acne concerns, and when paired with sun protection, are fantastic for combatting the visible signs of aging. Retinoids are often known as the gold standard in skincare.

Retinol Benefits

Retinol is a type of retinoid that Is commonly added to over-the-counter skin care products in concentrations of .5 to 1 percent. Retinol is perfect for individuals concerned with aging  and visibly evening out the skin tone.

How do I use retinol creams or retinoids?

If your dermatologist or provider has prescribed a retinol or retinoid cream, there are some steps you should follow to ensure you are getting the most out of your treatment. You should apply the cream in a pea size amount to the entire face once daily in the evening after you wash your face or shower. You should also be sure to apply a moisturizer afterward to keep your skin moisturized. Also, never apply retinoid or retinol cream at the same time as benzoyl peroxide, which may keep the cream from working correctly.

What are the side effects of retinol and retinoids?

Both retinol and retinoids can cause similar side effects. These include dry skin which can cause itching redness and sting, and sensitivity to sunlight, which is why it is important to wear sunscreen when outdoors. If these effects become bothersome to you, reach out to your provider to discuss possible solutions.

The Best Products

At Epicuren Discovery, our Retinol Anti-Wrinkle Complex is a synergistic blend of vitamin A and glycolic acid formulated to combat the visible signs of aging.  It can also be paired with our CXC Vitamin C Complex to create a great Prevention & Correction Duo.

Frequently Asked Questions

Should I start with retinoid or retinol?

If you have sensitive skin that is prone to irritation, over-the-counter retinol may be a good starting point, as it is not as potent as retinoids.

Which retinoid is best for acne?

Prescription-strength retinoids are the most potent and will clear up acne the quickest.  

What is better for acne retinol or tretinoin?

Both retinol and tretinoin are a form of retinoid. Tretinoin has been found to be more potent than retinol and will therefore show results more quickly.  

Is retinol good for clearing acne?

Yes, retinol helps to visibly unblock pores, making it a great option for acne.




Zaenglein, A. L., et al. (2016). Guidelines of care for the management of acne vulgaris. Journal of the Academy of Dermatology. 

Spierings, N. M. K. (2021). Evidence for the efficacy of over-the-counter vitamin A cosmetic products in improvement of facial skin aging: A systematic review. Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology.

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