Understanding the Differences between Retin A, Retinol, and Tretinoin

Understanding the Differences between Retin A, Retinol, and Tretinoin


The terms Retinol, Retin A, and Tretinoin are often used interchangeably. Continue reading the blog to learn more about their benefits and uses! 

Let's be honest- How many of you had a puzzled look on your face after reading the title? While their familiar-sounding names might make you scratch your head in confusion, the functions they perform are not so similar.  

As you age, the visibility of fine lines and wrinkles increases. This calls for an upgrade to your beauty and skincare routine.  But with the variety of anti-ageing products flooding the market, where do you even start? As you shop for such products, it is natural to have heard about buzzwords like “Retin A”, “retinol”, and “tretinoin” being hurled around.

Thankfully, understanding the ingredients only requires some basic research and not a degree in dermatology. When the choice is between relative ingredients, a little understanding of their key benefits can go a long way. Read on to find out all about Retin A, retinol, and tretinoin and how they affect your skin.

What is retinol?

Retinol is an evergreen ingredient when it comes to skincare. It offers a lot of benefits that you might not have tapped on. It's often referred to as that must-have product to get young skin that lasts for a long time. Which skin problem are you experiencing? Sun damage? Wrinkles? Acne? You name the skin condition, and retinol can solve them all! It does not have as severe side effects as Retin A. Since it is a milder formulation, it is more effective in minor and moderate cases of acne and blemishes.

Key benefits of retinol

Are you curious to learn why retinol needs to be included in your routine? We've highlighted some of the benefits of this magical ingredient-

1.Reduces fine lines and wrinkles

Here’s a little-known secret, retinol helps you achieve younger-looking skin by tackling the signs of ageing. How? Through the production of collagen, an essential protein. Foxtale’s retinol anti ageing night serum contains 0.15% encapsulated retinol, which improves collagen production to give you radiant and wrinkle-free skin. It also treats the signs of ageing 2x faster compared to retinol. This product deserves a spot on your skincare shelf! 

2.Treats acne

No one looks forward to acne, but what if we tell you that you no longer have to dread its arrival? Retinol reduces acne to a huge extent and inhibits the growth of new pimples and acne. Foxtale’s retinol serum contains kokum butter, which is known to treat acne and other skin inflammatory conditions. It also contains Betaine which helps soothe inflamed skin along with hydrating it! 

3.Exfoliates the skin

Are you curious to know the reason behind your dull complexion? It's dead skin cells that have accumulated on the upper layer of the skin. Don't worry! There is a way to get rid of them, thanks to Retinol. It encourages cell turnover and regenerates healthier skin cells, giving you fresher and plumper skin.  

If you have sensitive skin and are looking to start your retinol journey, here’s what you need to know: Using retinol for sensitive skin.

Side effects of retinol

The best thing about retinol is that it doesn’t have significant negative effects. Though it does the same things as tretinoin and Retin A, the side effects are negligible. It is suitable for all skin types. Some may initially experience mild itching and redness, but that goes away in a couple of weeks as your skin acclimates to the product.

What is Retin A?

Do you vaguely recall using a cream prescribed by your dermatologist for stubborn acne that just won't go away? Yup, that’s Retin A. It is a form of tretinoin that decreases the severity of acne and heals pimples/acne quickly. It is significantly stronger than the average topical treatment recommended for daily skincare. Retin A comes in a gel or a cream form and is only prescribed in severe cases of acne, and it is known to quickly heal such blemishes. It is known to function at the cellular level of the skin, which is probably why it takes a longer time to show results. It works by affecting the growth of skin cells. 

Key benefits of Retin A

1.Reduces fine lines and wrinkles

Whether you’re in your 20s or 50s, there’s a common enemy we all have – it is ageing. Retin A reduces the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles by boosting the production of collagen. How exactly? To put it simply, Retin A penetrates the upper layer of the epidermis, removing dead skin cells, and giving new skin cells a chance to take place. This gives you the youthful and glowy skin that you've always wanted.

2.Reduces hyperpigmentation 

Some areas of your skin may have an excess of melanin which is termed hyperpigmentation. How does Retin A come into the picture? When used for a longer period of time it helps even out your skin tone, reducing pigmentation! 

Side effects of Retin A

Often, when using retinoids, one needs to be slightly careful with it. Since it is a strong product, it can have many side effects. Users may experience scaling, itching, and peeling of skin in the initial stage, which is accompanied by severe redness.

1.Skin irritation

When you introduce Retin A in your routine, you need to be mindful of other products you're using in your routine. Retin A will have no effects on your skin if you're using a product containing benzoyl peroxide. How and why, exactly?  When you apply two products that share a common purpose of fighting acne, they will cancel each other out, rendering it inactive. 

2.Strong reaction

Since Retin A is a strong product, your skin may show some reaction to it when introduced to it. Some of it may include redness, dryness, and mild burning. But the good news is that these side effects decrease with time(provided you are using them regularly). However, if your skin is still experiencing discomfort from the product, please consult your doctor's opinion. 


Applying an excess of Retin A may cause pilling. Now, what's that? Pilling occurs when the ingredients of the product don't blend well with the skin. This may result in flakes, which is definitely not something you look forward to. 

What is tretinoin?

You must have come across tretinoin if you're well-versed in skincare. It's one of the most powerful forms of vitamin A derivatives. It is the ingredient in Retin A and a potent retinoid available only when prescribed. Tretinoin is retinoic acid that works much more aggressively and independently compared to retinol. It is applied in lotion, cream, or gel form. For skincare, it is used in topical form only and has milder side effects. 

Key benefits of tretinoin

It targets major aggravators of pimples and acne, like clogged pores, inflammation, and excess sebum. It prevents all these causes of acne and hence prevents acne formation too. It improves blood flow to the sebaceous glands and prevents the formation of microcomedones. It is also effective on erythema and rosacea. Furthermore, it can treat deep wrinkles, promote collagen production, and reverse the effects of photoaging.

Side effects of tretinoin

The side effects of tretinoin are the same as those of Retin A, being essentially the same products. Most skin types experience irritation, flaking, redness, and inflammation.

If you’re pregnant or breastfeeding, we highly recommend checking with a doctor before using Retin A, retinol, or tretinoin.

A quick recap of Retin A vs retinol vs tretinoin

Now that you know the detailed differences that set apart the three products, how to choose the best for your skin? Here is a quick comparative review of the three ingredients that will help you determine the best for your skin concerns:

Retin A



It is the brand name for the prescribed tretinoin.

It is a mild, over-the-counter vitamin A derivative.

It is the ingredient used in Retin A and a form of retinoic acid.

It cannot be bought over the counter and is prescribed only for severe acne.

It is available easily and is the ingredient found in most anti-ageing products.

It is a prescription-strength ingredient recommended only in severe cases.

It can only be used topically.

It is available as a topical and oral supplement.

It is only for topical use. Oral supplements are meant for cancer treatment only.



Hopefully, the differentiation will give you clarity regarding which is the best option for your skin concern. It is wise to consult a dermatologist in case you want stronger products in your skincare regime.


1.My skin is sensitive. Will applying retinol damage the skin barrier? 

No, retinol does not damage the skin barrier. Want to know the trick to avail the benefits of retinol when you have sensitive skin? Use a product containing a low concentration of retinol, just like Foxtale’s Vit-A-lity Retinol Night Serum. It contains 0.15% encapsulated retinol, which enables it to penetrate deeper into the skin cells, reaping the best anti-ageing benefits without causing any purging. It also contains Allantoin — a moisturizing agent that helps soothe skin cells, making it the perfect fit for sensitive skin.  

2.Is retinol gentler than tretinoin on the skin? 

Yes, retinol is gentler than tretinoin. Tretinoin is more concentrated than retinol, which may cause severe side effects such as redness and inflammation. Meanwhile, retinol is a milder vitamin A derivative that is more soothing, hydrating, and causes minimal purging. 

3.What Is encapsulated retinol? 

Encapsulated retinol is the process in which an active ingredient is trapped within a carrier agent so that it can be released slowly to the targeted area. Its ability to penetrate the deepest layer of the skin aids in the reduction of fine lines and wrinkles. This mechanism ensures it delivers benefits to the skin without causing any irritation or dryness. It works at the root level to give you youthful, radiant, and supple skin.

4.Is encapsulated retinol better than regular retinol? 

Yes, encapsulated retinol is better than regular retinol. Encapsulated retinol boosts the production of collagen, which reduces the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. It also treats the signs of ageing 2X faster when compared to retinol. Regular retinol serums cause skin irritation and redness, but with encapsulated retinol, you can bid skin purging and other side effects goodbye! 

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