Our founder, board-certified dermatologist, Dr. Loretta Ciraldo, breaks down the difference between retinoids and retinol and how to welcome these powerful anti-aging into your skincare routine.
Q: What’s the difference between retinol and retinoids?
A: The term "retinoid" refers to a whole family of active molecules derived from Vitamin A that have amazing skin benefits when applied topically to our skin. Retinoic acid, also known as Tretinoin, is a prescription only product, whereas retinol is available in many strengths as an over-the-counter (OTC) product. Retinol gets converted to retinoic acid in the skin but since it takes a couple of steps to do this, it is generally less irritating than putting retinoic acid on the skin.
Q: What are the benefits of retinol/retinoids in skincare?
A: Retinoids support collagen levels to visibly improves skin's firmness and reduces the appearance of fine lines, wrinkles, and uneven skin tone.
Q: Should I only apply retinol/retinoids at night?
A: You can definitely use a retinoid product like low concentration retinol or retinoic ester in the daytime If you plan on using SPF in your daily skincare routine as retinoids can increase sun sensitivity in skin.
Q: How should I layer my retinol/retinoid products with my other skincare products?
A: Typically the order in which you will use your retinol/retinoid products will depend on the formulation. If you are using a retinoid serum, it should be applied under your moisturizer and if it is a moisturizer product, it is usually directed to go on after a serum or toner.
The one exception is the prescription Tretinoin which has been prescribed to be applied 20 minutes after you've washed your face (to minimize any irritation) and then you can follow with the rest of your skincare.
Q: How do I know if I’m a good candidate for retinol/retinoids?
A: With the right considerations, usage and time, all skin types could benefit from retinoid/retinol products. I believe that almost everyone should start with retinol instead of tretinoin. The younger you start the more preventative it will be in terms of reducing the formation of lines and wrinkles.
Everyone can potentially get irritation from any retinoid formulation if not used with care. If you have more pigmented skin, this redness and irritation can lead to post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation. I advise anyone with sensitive skin or is prone to hyperpigmentation from irritation to test out the retinoid by first applying it just one night a week to skin. By week two, go to two nights (like Monday and Thursday) and by week 3 you can do Monday, Wednesday, Friday. If all is going well, after a month or so, you can start a nightly routine since typically skin builds a tolerance to retinoids with continued use. Always apply in front of a well-lit mirror and never apply it to areas that are red, peeling or feeling irritated.
Lastly, I advise those who are pregnant to NOT use topical retinoids. There is an oral retinoid, Isotretinoin/Accutane, that is known to cause terrible birth defects so it is very important to stop topical retinoids in pregnancy as a precautionary measure.
Q: Are there skincare ingredients I should avoid while using retinol/retinoids?
A: As a basic guideline, don't apply a retinoid product at the same time as a leave-on acid, like glycolic or salicylic, although I have seen that most people tolerate a retinoid product with a glycolic or salicylic cleanser. I also highly recommend reading ingredient labels and avoiding using products that contain ethyl alcohol or witch hazel, both of which cause redness and irritation and will exaggerate any sensitivity from retinoid.
Q: What Dr. Loretta products contain retinol/retinoids?
A: The two retinoid actives I love for their benefits and very low rate of irritation are retinol and retinoic ester. Our Concentrated Firming Serum features 0.5% retinol in a silky base laden with skin-healthy lipids to counteract any redness and dryness typically associated with such a high percentage of retinol.
Our Concentrated Firming Moisturizer features retinoic ester, probably the most skin-friendly retinoid, and is in a jojoba and castor seed oil base.