Tretinoin Vs. Retinol: Which Reduces Wrinkles Better?

On the unattainable journey to the beauty standard, aging has always been a barrier. You can't look like an airbrushed filter with wrinkles and emotional maturity. As a result, many are on a quest to delay the inevitable. The skincare industry has responded to the outcry with products that have amassed almost $50 billion in the United States, in just 2020 (via Statista).

One product that's seemingly revolutionized the anti-aging industry is retinol, a vitamin-A derivative that neutralizes free radicals and reduces wrinkles by boosting collagen production (via Healthline). The ingredient has been touted by celebrities like Emily Ratajkowski and Jessica Alba, making it a trendy skincare buzzword. However, its benefits have been noted, and other versions of the ingredient, such as tretinoin, are also being recommended as an anti-aging treatment.

Considering tretinoin and retinol are very similar in the way that they work (and the fact that they're both vitamin A derivatives), it can be hard to figure out which one needs to be in your skincare routine. There are actual differences between the two.

Tretinoin is harsher than retinol

Retinol is a natural form of vitamin-A. It's milder and you can probably get it over the counter at your local drugstore. Tretinoin is also a derivative of vitamin-A, but it's a synthetic version that is known to be stronger than retinol (via Healthline). This means you'll usually need a prescription to put tretinoin on your skin. Both can help reduce the appearance of wrinkles, dark spots and acne while smoothing skin (via Harvard Health).

This is probably why they're marketed as miracle products, but Dr. Sara Palmer Hussey warns, "I don't use retinol products because they render the skin more sensitive to environmental aggressors like pollution and cigarette smoke that cause the kind of oxidative damage that speeds up aging" (via Evening Standard). A lot of the time, these products can give you short-term effects, and according to Dr. Hussey, "Synthetic ingredients or harsh ingredients like retinoids are counter productive."

Retinol may be a better alternative for you if you have sensitive skin, as it can be milder than tretinoin (via Healthline). However, multiple long-term studies on tretinoin reveal that your skin may improve with constant usage (via Strut Health). Regardless of the one you choose, it's important to wear sunscreen and consult your dermatologist regularly.