I’ve been using retinol since I was in high school. It was originally prescribed to me to combat teen acne, and it’s been an essential part of my skincare routine ever since. Only after I started using retinol to treat breakouts, I learned about its anti-aging effects and noticed significantly fewer wrinkles, better texture, and overall bouncier skin. With so many products on the market, though, I wanted to speak with an expert to get down to some questions I have about retinol versus retinoid and why it’s such a common ingredient recommended for youthful, glowy skin.
To find out more, I consulted Nancy Samolitis, MD, FAAD, a board-certified dermatologist who I frequently turn to with questions about all things skin. Ahead, she’s diving into exactly why retinoid is the ultimate youthful-skin hack, demystifying some of the questions I’ve had about it, and recommending her top picks to add to your skincare routine at every price point.
Why are retinoids the ultimate youthful-skin hack?
"Retinoids bind to a receptor inside the skin cells, leading to normalization of skin cell turnover, production of collagen, and reduction of inflammation. Skin cell turnover naturally slows down with age, which allows the buildup of damaged DNA. Normalizing that cell production helps the repair process be more effective, leading to fewer signs of aging."
What age do you recommend starting them?
"As early as possible! We use a lot of retinoids in the teen years to treat acne, so they are known to be safe at an early age and for long-term use. I personally have been using Rx-strength tretinoin for over 20 years."
What is the difference between retinol and retinoid?
"The term 'retinoid' is inclusive of the entire family of topical vitamin A derivatives. This family includes the over-the-counter retinyl palmitate, retinaldehyde, and retinol (in order of lowest to highest potency). Adapalene, formerly only available by Rx, is now also available OTC at 0.1% (the stronger 0.3% still requires an Rx). The other Rx-strength retinoids include tretinoin (aka retinoic acid), trifarotene, and tazarotene."
Shop Samolitis's favorite retinoids:
These are the top three retinols and retinoids Samolitis recommends. Here, she's sharing why they're ones that she always tells her patients to add to their skincare routines.
"This is a cosmetically elegant and well-tolerated retinol product that has published clinical studies proving its efficacy."
"This serum packs a combination of retinol with other potent antioxidants such as vitamins C and E."
"This potent but well-tolerated retinoid was previously only available by Rx. It's perfect to fight both acne and signs of aging."
Shop more retinols:
Typically formulated with a lower over-the-counter concentration of the active retinoic acid ingredient, retinol is a gentler, more gradual way to target signs of aging.
A gentle formula to use if you're getting started with retinol.
A lightweight formula that is infused with licorice root for a soothing effect.
This retinol is delivered in a potent serum.
This is formulated for skin types preconditioned to retinol treatments, so it is a good one to use if you've already been applying milder products.
If you're looking to target your neck, this is formulated to treat that specific area.
Shop more retinoids:
Retinoids typically have a higher dose of active ingredients. The more powerful formulas are recommended for people who have used retinol in the past who can tolerate a more aggressive treatment.
There's a reason this Sunday Riley retinoid serum has a cult following.
If you're a fan of oils, this is one to add to your nighttime routine.
In addition to retinol, this serum includes AHA to help with pigmentation.
A night oil infused with vitamin A and white beggar's stick flower extract to minimize lines and boost collagen.
If you're specifically looking to target your under eyes, this is the eye cream to add to your routine.