Your skincare and beauty regime calls for some extra boost with age as fine lines and wrinkles begin to show themselves on the skin. But with the variety of anti-aging products flooding the market, where do you even get started? 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 Retin A?

First things first, Retin A, retinol, and tretinoin, all are forms of vitamin A, derived from retinoids.

Talking Retin-A is a prescribed form of tretinoin which is significantly stronger than the average topical treatments recommended for daily skincare. It is only prescribed in severe cases of acne and is known to quickly heal such blemishes. It works by affecting the growth of skin cells.

Key benefits of Retin A

Retin-A is the brand name for prescription-only topical products to combat acne and similar skin concerns. It is primarily tretinoin- a more potent form of retinoid that is administered only when prescribed. It can significantly reduce acne scars, blemishes, and fine lines which in turn promotes skin elasticity. As a result, even the most severe cases of acne witnesses significant fading and you get brighter skin.

Side effects of Retin A

Being such a strong product, it comes with several side effects too. Users may experience scaling, itching, and peeling of skin in the initial stage that is accompanied by severe redness.

Often the side effects may continue even after several weeks of usage. As a result, it is not recommended for sensitive skin. Moreover, one must be very careful regarding hygiene while using this cream to avoid infection.

What is retinol?

Simply put, retinol is the milder retinoid that is available in over-the-counter skin care treatments. It does not have as severe side effects as Retin A. It is a form of vitamin A that can be taken orally as a supplement as well as a topical product. Since it is a milder formulation, it is more effective in minor and moderate cases of acne and blemishes.

Key benefits of retinol

Retinol is effective in treating early signs of aging, dark spots, and hyperpigmentation. It promotes cell turnover which in turn improves the elasticity of your skin. It is particularly effective on mature skin where problems appear overnight. As we age, cell renewal slows down. Retinol helps to restart that process and make your skin more radiant than before. 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 experience mild itching and redness initially but that goes away in a couple of weeks as your skin gets acclimatized to the product.

What is tretinoin?

It is the ingredient found in Retin A and a potent retinoid available when prescribed only. 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. However, it is also used as an oral treatment for cancer.

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 which will help you determine the best for your skin concerns:

Retin A



It is the brand name for the prescribed tretinoin.

It is the 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 prescribed only for severe acne.

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