Tretinoin vs Retinol: What’s the Difference?

Each and every one of us have different skin types, textures, and issues. Everyone’s skin is unique, but no one’s skin is immune to the adverse effects of the different factors surrounding us. With the different factors that cause skin issue-causing factors, there’s no doubt that you’ll start to look for ways to prevent and treat them. This is where tretinoin and retinol come into play. But what makes them different from each other? Let’s talk about it.


Tretinoin is a prescription topical cream or gel that you can get prescribed by your dermatologist to treat your acne, sun-damaged skin, and even photoaging. It produces faster outcomes and is more effective than over-the-counter retinol. 


Retinol is a less potent over-the-counter (OTC) retinoid than tretinoin since it does not require a prescription. Retinol is a type of vitamin A. Since it is a type of vitamin A, it can be added to certain skin care products. However, it may also be applied directly to the skin to clear up acne and even prevent breakouts.

What’s the difference between the two?

So, between the two, what’s their difference? Well, first and foremost, tretinoin is a lot stronger than retinol, seeing as you need a prescription for it. In terms of skincare, tretinoin is often seen as a more concentrated and strong version of retinol. So, if you have very sensitive skin, then you might want to start off with retinol first.

When used and incorporated into your routine, both retinol and tretinoin are used for a lot of different skin issues other than acne. They both can treat fine wrinkles, melasma, liver spots, sun spots, and many more. The only big difference is how fast they can treat it. Seeing as tretinoin is stronger than retinol, there’s no doubt that the results will be much faster with tretinoin. However, for some, being stronger isn’t always better, especially for those who have sensitive skin.

Since both products are quite similar, they also share some pros and cons, such as:

Pros and Benefits 

  • Increased collagen production – Both products increased collagen production which will help improve the skin’s elasticity. This will give you a more youthful and glowing look.
  • Helps to heal acne and acne scars – You might ask, “does tretinoin help with acne scars?” Both of these products are very effective in treating acne and acne scars. 
  • Slows down signs of aging – Tretinoin and retinol are known to decrease the appearance of fine wrinkles and even sun spots, which slows down the signs of aging of your skin.

Cons and Risks

  • Skin sensitivity – Using tretinoin, as it is stronger, means that you have a higher risk of skin sensitivity compared to when you use retinol. This means that you will need to avoid sun exposure since it increases your risk of sunburn. So, use these topical creams at night only, and never forget to use sunscreen.
  • Irritation – When you first start using these topical creams, you might experience irritation. So, always start out at a low concentration to get your skin used to it, and never forget to use moisturizer after.
  • More acne breakouts – Since these products can cause irritation, your skin might look and become worse before it can start to get better. But be patient with it. And if in 1-3 months, your skin is still having a hard time, you might want to go back to your dermatologist and get a lower concentration of the product.

Wrap Up

Between the two, there isn’t exactly a huge difference, just the strength and how you can get it (prescription vs OTC). But choosing between the two will depend on your skin type and what your desired outcome is. To help you decide, it’s always advisable to go to your dermatologist.