What Is the Difference Between Retinol and Retin-A?

Retinol and Retin-A are essentially the same, except retinol is exclusively an over-the-counter solution. Both products are retinoids designed to promote skin cell rejuvenation, according to WebMD.

Retinoids are a form of vitamin A that were originally developed as an acne-fighting formula. Vitamin A promotes skin drying and exfoliation, which made it a popular choice for clearing up acne pimples. However, other cosmetic uses developed in time, and retinoids were used in many anti-aging products as well. While both retinol and Retin-A contain retinoids, they differ in their concentration.

Retinol and other forms, such as retinal and retinyl palmitate are found in many over-the-counter anti-aging creams. While these all contain a form of vitamin A, the concentration of retinoids is weak.

Retin-A is a prescription retinoid and is a brand name for tretinoin, which is the carboxylic acid form of vitamin A and was one of the early topical acne treatments. Retin-A is sold by prescription because its acid composition is much greater than in over-the-counter products.

Both retinol and Retin-A are designed to have the same effects on skin:

  • Prevent dead skin cell buildup
  • Promote healthy skin cell growth

Further, both products may produce similar side effects:

  • Dryness
  • Red skin
  • Irritation
  • Peeling skin
  • Sun sensitivity

Retinol is much weaker than Retin-A, and individuals seeking a skincare option should consult a physician.