Retinol vs. Retin-A

by Kate Dee, MD 

What’s the difference? Why do I need them?

I’m often asked what is Retinol, what’s the difference between Retinol and Retin-A and why I recommend them.

How are they different? Retin-A (tretinoin) is the active form of Vitamin A. Retinol is a topical form of Vitamin A that must be absorbed into the skin cells and turned into the active form to have its effect. Both can cause redness and flakiness, especially when you start using the product, but Retin-A usually has much more of this side effect than Retinol. People with very sensitive skin will not be able to tolerate either one. Often we will start with a lower-strength retinol (0.25%) and increase that over time to .5 or 1%.

Why are they so great? Retinols and Retin-A are beneficial cell-communicating ingredients and antioxidants, helping skin cells become healthier by increasing the amount of skin support substances.  Both increase the skin’s collagen production and slow its breakdown, resulting in firmer skin with an improved texture, and enhanced barrier function. The work to decrease wrinkles and lighten brown spots caused by sun exposure. They also trigger more rapid epidermal cell turnover and exfoliation, making way for new cell growth beneath the surface. This is great for acne prone skin and for anti-aging!

Over-the-counter vs. Medical grade: Retinols are available in over-the-counter topicals but Retin-A is available by prescription only. The labeling of OTC Retinol products is not regulated– stay away from the retinol products at the beauty counter at the department stores– they can label the product as containing retinol when there is only a trace ineffective dose-- don’t waste your money! At Glow we carry only Medical grade Retinol products.

Want to know whether you should be using a Retinol? Schedule a consultation.

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