Both tretinoin and retinol are vitamin A skin topicals that can improve your skin’s texture, tone, and appearance. However, tretinoin is stronger and more effective than retinol, and it requires a prescription.
Retinol is available over-the-counter and can be found in a variety of skin products. It’s recommended to start with a lower concentration and gradually increase the dosage to avoid any potential irritation.
Your skin does a lot of work, from holding in hydration to blocking everything from pathogens to ultraviolet rays. But over time, your skin cells take a beating, and old, worn-out ones start to accumulate.
Retinoids, which are derived from vitamin A, help speed up your skin cell turnover. They make your old, damaged skin cells die, so newer, fresher cells can take their place.
This also helps even out your skin tone. Several studies have shown that tretinoin reduces pigmentation in both postinflammatory hyperpigmentation and normal skin (see the graphic below).
This is because tretinoin decreases the amount of melanin your body produces, which makes your skin appear lighter. However, you should always apply sunscreen to protect your skin while using tretinoin. And, don’t combine it with any other skin products that could cause irritation. Especially, avoid scrubbing the area where you’re applying tretinoin. This could be too harsh for your skin. It’s best to let your dermatologist recommend what skin products are compatible with tretinoin.
Exfoliates Dead Skin Cells
When your skin is healthy, the cells that form the outermost layer (the epidermis) turn over at a regular rate, moving to the surface and shedding older cells. However, as we age, this process slows down. Tretinoin works to speed up cell turnover, helping to shed dead skin cells more regularly and leaving the skin looking fresher and smoother.
Tretinoin also helps even out skin tone by preventing a common sign of sun damage: photoaging. This is a natural part of the aging process, but it can result in uneven skin texture, blotches and spots, visible small blood vessels, and more. Tretinoin reduces the appearance of this damage by blocking the breakdown of collagen and cellular proteins caused by UV rays (Guan, 2022).
One of the biggest misconceptions about retinol is that it can bleach or darken the skin. But studies* show that tretinoin is safe for Black and brown skin tones and won’t cause hyperpigmentation.
Evens Out Skin Tone
You’ve probably heard of the term “glass skin” to describe people with a nice dewy glow. While some of it comes down to genetics and lifestyle, effective skincare can also help.
Tretinoin can even out skin tone by dispersing melanin granules and causing new skin cells to replace old ones. It can also fade scars, age spots, melasma and hyperpigmentation leftover from inflammatory acne.
However, unlike bleaching agents like hydroquinone, it won’t lighten your skin past its natural tone. It will, however, help to disperse the dark pigmentation in these spots so they look more blended with your complexion.
If you’re a little wary of tackling tretinoin at full strength, you can always try retinol first before moving up to the prescription stuff. You can find retinol in serums, creams and moisturizers sold in drugstores and health and beauty stores – including Holland & Barrett. The best retinol products will be noncomedogenic, meaning they won’t cause your face to break out in acne or irritate it.
Tretinoin helps reduce acne by reducing excess oil and eliminating dead skin cells that can clog pores. It also helps improve problems that result from acne, like scarring and uneven skin tone.
When first using tretinoin, it is normal for your skin to break out and feel irritated. This is known as the purging phase and typically lasts 4-6 weeks as your skin adjusts to the medication. It’s important to stick with your treatment regimen during this time because stopping and starting again can prolong the period of purging and delay the desired results.
If you are experiencing a lot of irritation, talk to your dermatologist about adjusting the concentration of tretinoin or switching to a different product. It is helpful to remember that less is more when it comes to retinoids. Applying a pea-sized amount to your face is usually more than enough. If you are applying too much, your skin will be too irritated to reap the benefits. tretinoin vs retinol