Difference Between Retinol and Tretinoin

Retinol and Tretinoin are key ingredients used to treat acne, sun damage, fine lines, and scars on the skin. Retinols are vitamin A derivatives used in the treatment of anti-aging and acne scars.

Tretinoin also known as retinoic acid used in the treatment of fine wrinkles, sun damage, and acne scars. They differ in their effectiveness, usage, and concentrations.

Retinol vs Tretinoin

The main difference between Retinol and Tretinoin is that Retinol is less aggressive when applied to the skin. It is very suitable for sensitive skin. It does not need any prescription for its purchase as it is an over-the-counter remedy. Tretinoin is suitable for oily and highly tolerant skin types. They need a prescription from the dermatologist specifying its usage and limits as well.

Retinol vs Tretinoin

Retinol is a kind of retinoid that is made from vitamin A. Retinol can penetrate deep from the epidermis to the dermis which forms to be the innermost layer of the skin.

It helps in the production of elastin and collagen that prevents the formation of fine lines, wrinkles, and large pores. They are also used to treat freckles, sun damage, uneven skin tone, loss of collagen, and photoaging.

Tretinoin is a synthetic version of vitamin A that is much stronger than Retinol. It can be purchased only through a prescription from a certified Dermatologist.

It is known as Retin-A that forms to be its brand name. It is potent as it contains retinoic acid. It is a key component in treating anti-aging. It is not much suitable for sensitive skin.

Comparison Table Between Retinol And Tretinoin

Parameters Of ComparisonRetinolTretinoin
DefinitionRetinol is derived from vitamin A which is an over-the-counter medication available for treating anti-aging, acne, and various other skin damages.Tretinoin is a synthetic version of vitamin A used to treat sun damage, acne, scars, anti-aging and they are the stronger versions of Retinol.
TreatmentRetinol is used in the treatment of acne, fine lines, wrinkles, age spots, freckles, photoaging, uneven sun damage, hyperpigmentation, and loss of collagen.Tretinoin is used in treating sun damages, improves the skin texture, appearance of fine wrinkles, decreases the dark spots, exfoliates the skin, and reduces inflammation of the skin.
PrecautionsWhile using Retinol we should be very cautious about exposure to the sun as it may cause sun damage. It is advised to wear sunscreen before getting exposed to the sun while using Retinol.Tretinoin usage is focused on minimized exposure to sunlight and sunlamps, wind and extreme cold, harsh skincare products, and products that tend to make the skin dry.
Pregnant womenRetinol is not recommended for pregnant women. As they can cause birth defects and miscarriage. In the case of Tretinoin, it is highly recommended to consult the doctor as there are no clear studies to either recommend or not recommend the usage of Tretinoin.
Side EffectsRetinol may cause dryness and irritation that depends and varies according to the various skin types. They may also experience redness and itchiness. These side effects and temporary and the skin gets adapted to it as per the usage.Tretinoin users have to contact the doctor if they experience blistering, crusting, swelling, excessive redness, persistent irritation, and skin pigmentation.

What is Retinol?

Retinols are Vitamin A derivatives that are over-the-counter products. They are the best version of skincare ingredients used. They are specifically used in treating anti-aging and acne that are their primary concerns.

There are various other OTC versions of Retinols such as Retinaldehyde, Retinoids, Retinyl Palmitate. Retinol is the strongest OTC version when compared to the other versions.

Retinols penetrate deep inside the skin and from the epidermis to the dermis and reduce the acne-causing agents. When it penetrates inside the skin in the middle layer it helps in boosting elastin and collagen in the skin.

Thus creating plumpiness that reduces the wrinkles and fine lines and helping in the anti-aging process.

Retinol helps in treating acne, fine lines, wrinkles, sun spots, freckles, photoaging, cures uneven skin texture, hyperpigmentation, large pores that are caused as a result of acne, oily skin, and collagen loss.

Retinol besides treating numerous skin issues it can also have side effects as well. Retinol may cause redness, itchiness, peeling skin, dryness, and irritation that are temporary and can be reduced with proper usage.

Retinol is advised to be applied at least 30 minutes after face wash to reduce skin irritation. They are most preferable during nights as that can reduce the exposure to sun and thus leading to protection against sun damage and sunburns.

Pregnant Women are advised to be very cautious about the usage of Retinols that has side effects for them as well.

What is Tretinoin?

Tretinoin is a derivative of Vitamin A. They are mainly used in treating acne, sun damage, and fine lines. They are available in a lot of brand names such as Renova, Retin-A, Refissa, Rejuva, Tretin-X, and Atralin.

They are also used along with various products such as Solage, Tri-Luma, Veltin, Ziana to make their active ingredients.

Tretinoin is a synthetic version of Vitamin-A, that is stronger than Retinol. They are not over-the-counter products as they are only provided when there is a prescription from a certified Dermatologist.

They are not much suitable for sensitive skin. Usage of tretinoin is very cautious towards exposure towards the sun as it may cause sun damage when exposed to an extent immediately after its application over the skin.

Tretinoin helps reduce inflammation associated with acne, preventing follicular plugging, and it deeply exfoliates the skin.

It also reduces wrinkles and fine lines, improves the sun-damaged skin, improves the skin texture and its tone, it also reduces the dark spots and pigmentation of the skin as well.

Tretinoin is not recommended for pregnant women as no studies are suggesting the same. If required they are advised to consult the doctor for its proper dosage.

They are also advised to wear sunscreen after the application of tretinoin to avoid sun damage to the skin. It also has side effects such as crusting, blistering, swelling, redness, and temporary skin pigmentation.

Main Differences Between Retinol And Tretinoin

  1. Retinol is a derivation of Vitamin-A that is in natural form, whereas Tretinoin is a synthetic version of Vitamin-A.
  2. Retinol is milder and less irritable for sensitive skin, whereas Tretinoin is much stronger and is not much advisable for sensitive skin.
  3. Retinol is an over-the-counter product and can be bought without any prescription, whereas Tretinoin is not an over-the-counter product and has to be bought only when there is a prescription from a certified Dermatologist.
  4. Retinol is advised to have a proper consultation with a doctor before using it for pregnant women, whereas in the case of Tretinoin has no studies suggesting its usage as good or bad for pregnant women so it is not much recommended for them.
  5. Retinol causes redness, itchiness, irritation, and dryness that are temporary, whereas Tretinoin can cause blistering, crusting, skin pigmentation, irritation, and redness as well.


Retinol and Tretinoin as derivatives from Vitamin-A differ in their forms where Retinol is a natural derivative, whereas Tretinoin is a synthetic version of Vitamin-A. Both Retinol and Tretinoin helps in treating acne, sun damage, and fine lines.

They exfoliate the skin deeply and nourishes the layers. Thus reducing the acne scars and fine lines.

Retinol and Tretinoin can cause sun damage when exposed to the sun immediately after its application.

So it is advised to use them either at night or wearing sunscreen before getting exposed to the sun is a good option from causing sun burns and sun damages. They are not advisable for pregnant women as they can cause birth defects and miscarriage.


  1. https://academic.oup.com/jn/article-abstract/132/9/2895S/4687694
  2. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0190962286702429
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