What is difference between retinol and retinoid?

Retinol and retinoids are related compounds that are often used in skincare and dermatology, but they have some differences in terms of their chemical structure and how they are used.

Chemical Structure:

  • Retinol: Retinol is a specific type of retinoid and is also known as vitamin A1 alcohol. It is a naturally occurring compound found in animal-derived foods and is a precursor to other active forms of vitamin A in the body. Retinol is typically found in over-the-counter skincare products.
  • Retinoids: Retinoids are a broader class of compounds that include both natural and synthetic forms of vitamin A and its derivatives. Retinoids include retinol, but they also encompass stronger prescription medications like tretinoin (Retin-A), adapalene (Differin), and tazarotene (Tazorac).


  • Retinol is a milder form of vitamin A compared to some prescription-strength retinoids. It tends to be less irritating and is often used in over-the-counter skincare products for improving the appearance of fine lines, wrinkles, and uneven skin tone.
  • Prescription retinoids like tretinoin are more potent and have a stronger effect on the skin. They are commonly used to treat acne, as well as for anti-aging purposes. However, they can be more irritating and may require a healthcare provider’s prescription.


  • Retinol is usually found in a variety of skincare products, such as serums, creams, and lotions. It can be applied topically to the skin and is available without a prescription.
  • Prescription retinoids are typically used for specific dermatological conditions, like acne or severe signs of aging. They are prescribed by a healthcare provider and are applied topically as well.

Side Effects:

  • Retinol is generally considered to be milder and less likely to cause severe skin irritation compared to prescription retinoids. However, it can still cause some side effects like redness, peeling, and sensitivity when first introduced to a skincare routine.
  • Prescription retinoids are more likely to cause side effects, especially when used initially. They can cause significant skin dryness, redness, peeling, and increased sensitivity to sunlight. It’s essential to use them under the guidance of a healthcare provider and to follow their instructions carefully.

In summary, retinol is a milder form of retinoid that is commonly used in over-the-counter skincare products, while prescription retinoids are stronger and typically used to treat specific skin conditions. The choice between retinol and prescription retinoids depends on individual skin concerns and the advice of a healthcare provider or dermatologist.

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