Retinol vs. retinoid: What’s the difference and which one is for you?


Retinol… retinoid… we’re seeing these words all over the skincare world – but what does it all mean? And what’s the difference? 

As it turns out, retinol is actually a type of retinoid. A retinoid is a Vitamin A derivative that has many subtypes, including retinol. Retinoids are stronger and more potent, which is why you usually need a prescription to attain them. Retinol is a less potent, gentler ingredient that can be found in common skin care products like serums.

  • What makes retinoids more potent than retinol?

The simple answer lies in the difference between how retinoids and retinol are processed on the skin. In order for skin to effectively use retinoids or retinol, they must be broken down into retinoic acid. The faster this process happens, the more effective it is on the skin. Retinoids generally take less time to be broken down into retinoic acid, making them more effective in treating skin concerns quickly. Retinol usually takes longer to be broken down, so it has a less potent effect on the skin.

  • When should I use retinol? 

Just because retinol is less potent than retinoids doesn’t mean it’s inferior. Retinol is still very good at treating common skin concerns like acne and ageing, plus it has a lower chance of irritating skin than retinoids. Retinol is recommended for common and moderate skin issues like routine breakouts, fine lines and wrinkles, and dark spots.

  • How do I know if my skin needs retinoids?

Retinoids should only be used for severe or chronic skin concerns and can only be attained with a doctor’s prescription. This is because they can be too harsh on skin that isn’t medically damaged or doesn’t need as much reparative care. If you think you’re a good fit for retinoids, talk to your doctor and work together to determine if it’s right for you.

  • How should I add retinol into my routine?

If this is your first time using retinol, remember the golden rule: take it slow. Retinol is a powerful ingredient; you don’t want to accidentally oversaturate it in your skin and cause damage. Start with a pea-sized amount, then gradually build up your usage until your skin gets used to it. Even then, make sure you tune into your skin, in case you need to dial it back.

  • For ageing skin, we love using a serum such as Dynamic Skin Retinol Serum. It’s formulated with a 3.5% Retinoid Complex that easily and effectively treats the 4 signs of skin ageing. Use this serum in the evening as part of your nightly regime.
  • For acne and breakouts, reach for Retinol Clearing Oil, which infuses reparative retinol with skin-supporting ingredients to clear and calm bumpy skin.


  • Do I need to use sunscreen with retinol?

YES, If you use retinol in the daytime, always remember to apply and reapply sunscreen. Sun exposure can heighten skin sensitivity and potentially irritate skin that’s already susceptible to damage due to retinol use. Never leave home without sunscreen. Make sure to top off your retinol treatment with a protective moisturiser. Try: Dynamic Skin Recovery SPF 50, as it helps seal in treatment while shielding skin from damaging irritants like sun rays and free radicals.

For more skin care tips, visit Dermalogica.