Retinoid, Retinol, Retinal, Retinoic Acids

Retinoid is an umbrella term aka the class

It is a derivative of Vitamin A and is actually a very well researched ingredient that has recently become rather trendy. Best to understand before diving in…



  • acne treatment

  • boost collagen production

  • stimulates faster cell turnover

  • minimize fine lines and wrinkles

  • even out skin tone

Common Side Effects:

  • irritation (redness, peeling, dry skin)

  • purging

  • increased skin sensitivity

Do I Need It?

  • Heavily consider if you have acne

    • was originally intended for acne treatment and proven to be extremely effective

  • If you do not have acne and just want for anti aging…

    • NOT necessary and some to do not tolerate well

    • definitely a much stronger ingredient for achieving desired results though

    • TL;DR: your choice 😊

When to NOT use:

  • pregnant

  • breastfeeding

  • allergies

Bullshit Myths:

  1. it thins out your skin

    • it actually thickens it

  2. you can’t use it during the summer

    • you can use it all year round, with moisturizing and sun protection

  3. you need to wash it off in the morning

    • just not true

  4. you cannot use retinoid if you have redness / rosacea

    • often helps those with rosacea

  5. purging over 4-6 weeks is normal

    • purging is actually not normal unless you’re using too much and too often! Some irritation is normal

    • if you have increased acne it should not last over 4-6 weeks or that is just plain irritation

The Conversion Process of Retinoids


Retinol Esters —> Retinol —> retinaldehyde (Retinal) —> Retinoic Acid (Tretinoin)

Least potent and irritating, to most potent and prescription

1️⃣Retinol Esters

Least to Most Effective

  1. Retinyl Acetate

    1. Least effective

  2. Retinyl Palmitate

    1. Controversial

  3. Retinyl Propionate

    1. 0.3% Retinyl Propionate = 0.15% Retinol (according to a study)


  • Not active, needs to be converted to active

  • Require 2 step conversion to become retinoic acid

  • Much evidence for anti aging and improving photo damaged skin,

  • 10-20x less potent than retinoic acid

  • Cosmetic, not FDA regulated to demonstrate uptake / stability

Consistent use of retinol has been proven to have similar effects as tretinoin

Sample Products

Usually comes 0.3%, 0.5%, 1.0%

  • Loreal Revitalift - 0.3%

  • First Aid Beauty Retinol Serum - 0.25% has oatmeal, ceramides

  • The Ordinary 1% Squalane - retinols love oil, might not leave to want to go into your skin

  • Cerave Resurfacing Retinol - unclear percentage, has licorice root extract and niacinamide to help with discoloration, hyperpigmentation, and red marks

  • Alastin - funky smell


  • only requires 1 step to become retinoic acid

  • usually slow release delivery / less irritating

Sample Products

  • Avene Retrinal for Eyes

4️⃣Retinoic Acid / Tretinoin

  • prescription strength

  • “holy grail”

  • Go to a dermatologist to get

    • Often not covered by insurance UNLESS it is for acne treatment purposes, anti aging and prevention is usually not covered

Sample Products:

  • Altreno - lotion base, elegant formula

  • Apostrophe, Curology, Agency

  • Dermatologist

5️⃣Other Forms

Retinoic Acid Ester

  • get converted into retinol AND retinoic acid

  • immediate and delayed effect

  • Comes in 2 forms:

    • Retinyl retinoate and Granactive (hydroxypinacolone retinoate)

      • Granactive is the trade name for hydroxypinacolone retinoate

      • if you are marketed 2% granactive, that is only 0.2% hydroxypinacolone retinoate

Sample Products

  • Granactive retinoid by The Ordinary

  • Inkey List Retinol

Synthetic Retinols

  • Adapalene (differin) - OTC

    • better for acne

    • more irritating

    • data is quite strong for improving sun spots

  • Tazorac - Rx

    • better for psoriasis

How to Introduce with minimal irritation?

Product Choice

  • Try Esters first, and then try moving towards retinols and retinoic acids

    • they are the least irritating and require several steps of conversion before becoming active

  • Go to a dermatologist or Curology/Agency/Apostrophe for a low concentration retinoid from a professional

Changes to make to your routine

  • Focus on hydration and simple skincare

    • Cicaplast Baume by La Roche Posay is EXCELLENT

  • Sun protection ALWAYS in the morning

    • your skin will become more sensitive

    • sunscreen should be used daily regardless

  • Stop using acids when trying retinoid products at first, and then slowly introduce if you are comfortable

    • Especially in the same routine, avoid using acids as it can increase sensitivity and cause irritation

    • This includes salicylic acid, glycolic acid, AHA / BHA, Vitamin C, Ascorbic Acid

  • Use over moisturizer or try “sandwich method”

    • Complete full skincare routine at night including moisturizer

    • Put retinoid on top

    • Put another layer of moisturizer

Frequency, When to Use in Your Routine

  • Use only at night

    • Most break down in the sun

  • Try once a week, then twice a week, then slowly graduate to multiple times a week

    • It is okay if you stick with a lower frequency for a long period of time

  • Use it when your skin is DRY

    • this often means waiting for your skin to dry post-moisturizer or cleanser before applying

    • a watery base will increase the chances of irritation

How Much to Use

  • Use a pea-sized amount - LESS IS MORE

Where do you use retinoids?

  • Avoid eye area, sides of nose, and mouth area

    • Protect eyes with some vaseline first (use carefully if you are prone to milia) to prevent migration and stinging

  • Avoid neck area as it can be sensitive for many

    • try retinol based neck creams instead

    • totally okay to use on back and chest

Key to Success


  • Not using too frequently and too much