A Guide to the Different Kind of Retinoids and How They Benefit Your Skin

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A Guide to the Different Kind of Retinoids and How They Benefit Your Skin

Photo by Nati Melnychuk on Unsplash

Retinoids represent Vitamin A derivatives. These include products sold over the counter and prescriptions. The former is the gentlest, with prescription products being the most potent. There are different types of Retinoids. Some of these include:

  • Isotretinoin
  • Retinol esters
  • Retinoic acid esters
  • Retinol
  • Tazarotene
  • Retinaldehyde
  • Trifarotene
  • Adapalene
  • Tretinoin

Retinoids are skincare routines used as anti-aging skin care products. Regular use of retinoids results in you having fewer wrinkles and lines. Retinoids also give you an even skin tone and much firmer skin, allowing you to have fewer breakouts. 

Retinoid vs. Retinol

Both retinoids and Retinol are forms of vitamin A Retinol is a form of retinoids. It is the most common and proven. Since research on its effectiveness has taken decades, dermatologists refer to it as the gold standard of retinoids.

In Retinol, retinol acid is the active form of Vitamin A. Retinoic acids glue to retinoid neurons in people’s bodies. They normalize cellular renewal processes and repair them. Retinoids work on wrinkles, dark spots, and other imperfections through this process.

Tretinoin and isotretinoin are the most potent retinoids. They are pure retinoic acids, and they are by far the most bio-active retinoids. They begin to change your skin tone immediately. The retinoid’s side effects are significant. As a result, retinoic acid remedies are only available only by prescription.

Over-the-counter retinoids are much gentler. Enzymes in the skin must transform into retinoic acid by enzymes before anyone can benefit from them. 

Types of Retinoids

According to Single Care, there are three types of retinoids:

First-generation retinoids

These are natural, and their structure is closest to Vitamin A. Though naturally occurring, they have toxic effects compared to newer generation retinoids. Examples include retinal, retinoic acid, Retinol, alitretinoin, and isotretinoin.

Second Generation Retinoids 

Though their structure is similar to first-generation retinoids, they are synthetic/artificial. They bind poorly to retinoic acid receptors while activating all of them. They are more tolerable than first-generation retinoids since the body easily eliminates them. Examples include etretinate and acitretin, which is its metabolite.

Third-generation retinoids’

systemic design attaches them to particular retinoic acid receptors more explicitly and proficiently (such as retinoid x receptors). These have clinical relevance in epidermal T-cell lymphoma and skin problems, among other skin-related conditions, targeting particular forms of retinoic acid receptors. Examples include tezarotene, adapalene, and bexarotene.

Fourth Generation retinoids

The most common is trifarotene. It is more potent and targets specific retinoic acid receptors. Its use causes lesser skin irritation, and it is more tolerable than earlier retinoid generations. 

The Hierarchy of Retinoids

There are three main categories of retinoids: retinyl esters, retinoic acids, Retinol, and retinaldehyde. While retonic acid is only available in prescription, the other three are over-the-counter products.

Over the Counter Retinoids

Retinyl Esters

Compared to other retinoids, esters have milder side effects. It is the least form of retinoids according to skin wellness. They are the best for first-time users and people with very sensitive skins. 

Though they are the weakest forms of retinoids, they can help with skin lines and wrinkles, uneven skin tones and textures, and even acne in a milder form.


They are the most popular form of retinoids. They are popular because of their anti-aging and skin-renewing capabilities. Retinols play a role in cell turnover regulation. 

They also ensure efficient exfoliation, protect against acne and even dark spots. Additionally, they control oil, seamless fine lines, and wrinkles and unclog your skin pores.


They are also called retinal. These retinoids are the strongest over-the-counter retinoids. Compared to retinyl esters and Retinol, they are the most potent. 

Retinaldehyde is similar to Retinol since they promote cell turnover making your skin tone lighter and more even. Additionally, they also prevent acne and smoothen your wrinkles and fine lines.

Retinoic Acid Esters

It is a relatively new form of retinoids. It falls between Retinol and retonic acids on the irritation and efficacy scales. Though they are very gentle, they are very effective in dealing with skin concerns. 

Doctors consider them more active than Retinol though they do not irritate. Rhetoric Acid Esters promote cell turnover, stimulate collagen, aid in treating acne, tenderize wrinkles, fade discoloration, and offer the skin a youthful appearance.


Adapalene is a synthetic form of retinoids. It comes from napthoic acid. Before becoming active, it does not need conversion. Adapalene’s acquisition is either through a prescription or over-the-counter. Adapalene products available are reasonably priced. 

Adapalene reduces inflammation while regulating cell turnover. As a result, it treats acne by lowering its formation. It also evens your skin tone and texture while reducing the redness resulting from acne. Medics consider it the weakest and most gentle form of all retinoids available. It acts as a great market entry solution for people with skin prone to acne.

Prescription Retinoids

Retinoic acid

It is the most potent form of retinoids. Retinoic acids treat severe skin conditions such as cystic acne, hyperpigmentation, aging, and melisma. To reduce fine lines, they cause an increase in collagen production. They also induce new blood vessel formation in your skin, improving skin tone.


Another name for it is Retino-A. Tretinoin is a subcutaneous kind of retinoic acid, which is already active. As such, it doesn’t require conversion on your skin. Given its potential benefits on premature aging and skin breakouts, it’s among the most famous sources of vitamin A for using topically. 

It is also one of the most researched forms of retinoids. Tretinoin treats comedonal acne to smoothen skin pigmentation such as melasma and post-inflammatory skin discoloration. It also treats fine lines and wrinkles without surgery. 

The use of tretinoin has some side effects, including dry patches, mild flaking, redness, and purges of acne legions. To ensure the product acclimatizes to your skin quickly, you should use non-comedogenic moisturizers when applying it.


Commonly known as Accutane, it is the most potent retinoid. Isotretinoin is the oral form of retinoids. Due to its potency, its use is limited in treating severe and resistant acne conditions. Oral use of Accutane reduces the size of oil glands and the production of oil glands. 

However, it is the only acne treatment that gives you long-term benefits for your skin. Side effects resulting from its use include dry skin, muscle aches, dry lips, eyes, and nose.


It is a newer prescription used in the treatment of acne. Trifarotene is distinctive in that it’s the only pertinent retinoid that selectively targets the gamma retinoic acid receptor, the most widespread retinoic acid receptor found in the skin. “It removes dead skin cells, unclogs skin pores, and aids in the prevention of new acne.


Also known as Tazorac, tezarotene is the strongest form of topical retinoids. Tazarotene adsorbs to the skin’s beta and gamma retinoic acid neurons. It treats skin conditions such as acne, photodamage, and psoriasis. 

It works by decelerating skin cell outgrowth and reducing skin cell inflammatory reactions, which can cause these issues.

Advantages of Using a Retinol

Retinols and retinoids promote healthy skin. Retinols reduce wrinkles and aging as a result of exposure to UV light. Dermatologists use others in the treatment of dermatological conditions. Some of these conditions include: 

  • Acne
  • Rosacea
  • Psoriasis
  • Scalp folliculitis
  • Keratosis pilaris
  • Post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation
  • Actinic lentigines
  • Hyperpigmentation
  • Cutaneous T-cell lymphoma
  • Kaposi’s sarcoma
  • Chronic hand eczema
  • Cutaneous lupus erythematosus
  • Warts
  • Melasma


Retinols also exfoliate your skin, increase skin cell turnover, and stimulate collagen synthesis. Dermatologists consider Retinol as the benchmark for anti-aging due to its skin-clearing benefits. Retinol changes the behavior patterns of older cells, making them look younger.

When integrated into anti-aging skincare procedures, it minimizes the imbalanced appearance of the skin and makes the skin appear more toned. According to Medicine Net, you can apply Retinol to any body part. Topical application of vitamin A compound as Retinol has the following advantages:

  • Retinol is best known to have anti-properties because it fuses to retinoid neurons on your skin. The fusion increases cell turnover, thus stimulating the creation of elastin skin proteins.
  • It stiffens the inner skin layers, improving the skin’s water retention abilities, reducing visible wrinkles while enhancing the appearance of youthful, flawless skin.
  • Clears out skin imperfections, reduces wrinkles, and improves the glow and tone of your skin.
  • It helps normalize oil gland functions and follicles, which is beneficial in treating acne.
  • It aids in the softening of fine lines and the lightening of dark spots in specific areas or across your skin.
  • Retinol is cost-effective, dependent on your budget. Its availability over the counter and also on prescription makes them more accessible. Its availability also gives you more options depending on your skin reaction to application.

Side Effects of Using Retinol

There is a growing concern that Retinol causes skin thinning. This is not factual. Since Retinol leads to collagen production, it actually causes your skin to thicken. Without taking proper considerations, Retinol has potential side effects including:

  • Causing reddening of the skin and irritation
  • There can be skin breakouts, dryness of skin, and flakiness.
  • Results in increased sun sensitivity dry and skin peeling


When it comes to skincare, one size cannot fit all. Different needs require different products. If you need products with minimal irritation because of your skin’s sensitivity, look for products that reduce irritation.
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