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Retinol vs. Retinoid vs. Retin-A: The Ultimate Guide

Retinoids are among the most popular and widely researched ingredients available for anti-aging. These derivatives of vitamin A are justifiably known as super-effective cosmetic medications. Read on to learn what makes them such powerhouses and get the facts on the the “retinoid vs. retinol” debate.

Retinol vs. Retinoid vs. Retin-A: explaining the difference

The retinoid family consists of vitamin A (also known as retinol) and natural derivatives of the vitamin such as retinaldehyde, retinoic acid (tretinoin, Retin-A), and retinyl esters, along with a wide variety of synthetic derivatives.

Retinoids play a key role in various dermatological conditions and are also involved in reproduction, embryogenesis, growth, inflammation, and vision.

Retinoic acid (also known as Retin-A and tretinoin) and Retinol are effectively used to treat various skin conditions such as wrinkles, fine lines, large pores, acne, etc. It’s a common assumption that retinol is less effective than retinoic acid because retinol acts as a precursor molecule for the production of retinoic acid. This means an additional step is required for the conversion of retinol to retinoic acid. 

It’s been found that the efficacy of retinol is about 20 times less than retinoic acid; however, in other studies, it was demonstrated that the effects of retinol on the skin are similar to the effects of retinoic acid.

The ingredient that is used to deliver retinol plays a vital role in determining its efficacy because retinol is very unstable and easily degrades into an inactive form if exposed to air and light.

Retinoic acid (also known as Retin-A and tretinoin) and Retinol are effectively used to treat various skin conditions such as wrinkles, fine lines, large pores, acne, etc.

There are derivatives of retinol that have been developed to enhance its chemical stability. Retinol derivatives such as retinyl propionate, retinyl palmitate, and retinyl acetate are extensively used in various cosmetic products in place of retinol.

Generally, you may purchase ordinary retinol preparations as over-the-counter products, whereas retinoic acid products are available by prescription.

How retinoids affect the skin

Retinoids work by counteracting the free radicals present in the skin that cause collagen damage. Collagen plays a vital role in keeping your skin young and strong. As you get older, your body starts producing less elastin and collagen. Your body also begins the breakdown of elastin, collagen, and subcutaneous fat. All of this may lead to sagging and thin skin, fine lines, and wrinkles. 

Retinoids also help prevent the formation of new wrinkles. Hence, they form an integral part of anti-aging skincare.

Apart from preserving your body’s stores of collagen, retinoids may also enhance the production of new collagen. They also induce thickening of the epidermis and affect the molecular and cellular properties of both the dermis and epidermis; thereby, improving the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. They also help prevent the formation of new wrinkles. Hence, they form an integral part of anti-aging skincare.

While using retinoids, there may be a visible improvement in the following:

  • Skin texture
  • Skin tone
  • Overall pigmentation
  • Hydration of the skin
  • Age spots

Certain systemic retinoids may effectively treat acne, psoriasis, manifestations of deficiency of vitamin A, and mycosis fungoides.

What are the side effects of applying retinoids?

The most frequent and common side effects of applying retinoids topically are the occurrence of itching, redness, peeling, and a sensation of burning in the areas of application. These side effects occur more commonly while applying retinoic acid in comparison to ordinary retinol.

You may reduce the risk of getting adverse effects by applying products that contain retinoid in a lower concentration and then gradually increase the strength of the product as required.

Your skin may become sensitive to the rays of the sun at the start of the therapy. Hence, while using retinoids, you should avoid excessive exposure to the sun’s rays and take necessary measures such as applying sunscreen (broad-spectrum) to protect yourself from the sun. After using retinoids for a couple of months, the sensitivity of your skin to UV rays may return to normal. Irritant conjunctivitis may occur in some cases if you apply the topical retinoid very close to your eyes.

You may reduce the risk of getting adverse effects by applying products that contain retinoid in a lower concentration and then gradually increase the strength of the product as required. If you don’t tolerate retinoids even in the lowest concentrations, then you should discontinue the treatment.

It’s better to avoid retinoids during pregnancy or if you are breastfeeding.

Retinoids in food: what to eat to get more vitamin A

Your body can’t synthesize vitamin A; hence, you have to supply it to your body by external food sources. Retinoid is a preformed vitamin A and is present in various animal products including:

  • Salmon
  • Eggs
  • Beef liver
  • Fish
  • Dairy products including milk, cheddar cheese, and butter
  • Shrimp
  • Cod liver oil

Carotenoids are preformed vitamin A and are present in various plant products including:

  • Carrots
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Tomatoes
  • Fruits such as apricots, plums, and mangoes
  • Leafy green veggies

You may also get vitamin A from supplements. However, according to the WHO, vitamin A supplementation isn’t recommended for pregnant women.

Greatest retinoid myths debunked

The following are the greatest myths about retinoids:

Myth 1: All types of retinoids are similar

Retinoids are an extremely large family of ingredients that are derivatives of vitamin A. There are several forms of retinoids ranging from over-the-counter products to prescription varieties.

Myth 2: Retinoids thin your skin

The opposite of this is true. Retinoids stimulate the production of collagen, so they help to thicken your skin.

Myth 3: Young individuals can’t apply retinoids

Retinoids were originally used in the treatment of acne and were given to many young individuals. In the 1980s retinoids began to be marketed as anti-aging compounds when it was discovered that they can soften fine lines and wrinkles and lighten hyperpigmentation. However, anyone can use retinoids without any age restrictions depending on their skin condition.

Myth 4: They produce results in four to six weeks

It may take between three and six months for complete results to appear depending on the product you are using.

Myth 5: You can get results only by using prescription-strength retinoids

Many over-the-counter retinoid products are available that provide excellent results.

Retinoids are very popular ingredients used in anti-aging cosmetic products. Anyone can use them without getting into the retinol vs. retinoid debate. Keep in mind that you may have to wait for up to six months for any visual improvement. If you don’t get the desired results even after using retinoids for several months, visit your dermatologist.

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/B9780080552323610530?via%3Dihub

https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/jocd.12193

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2699641/

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26069148

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5136519/

http://ijpsr.com/bft-article/a-brief-review-on-systemic-retinoids/?view=fulltext

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3905635/

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3648723/

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