Beauty: What is the difference between retinol and retinoids?

In the search for radiant, smooth skin, one ingredient keeps popping up: retinol. This line of active ingredients remains the most researched anti-aging ingredient on the market, and for good reason:

"Retinol stimulates collagen production, promotes cell turnover, strengthens skin, improves the appearance of wrinkles, and balances pigmentation," Josh Zeichner said. Medical PhD

But in the vast world of beauty products, finding the best version of retinol for you can be confusing. That's why we enlisted two of Manhattan's best dermatologists to help:

Who needs retinol, retinoids, and how do we know when? All details below. Are retinol and retinoids the same thing?

“‘Retinoids’ is the collective name for the various forms of vitamin A compounds used in skin care,” says Bhanusali. "Retinol is a type of retinoid."

The easiest way to keep them on track, he adds, is that you can buy retinol over the counter, while you can only prescribe retinoids because they are stronger .

"The difference between over-the-counter and prescription medications is effectiveness," Zeichner said. "Retinal is the most potent over-the-counter retinoid because it requires only one step to convert to its active form.

Pure retinol requires two conversion steps and retinyl ester requires three conversion steps. Retinol Retinyl esters like propionate are the mildest and most stable, so they are a good choice for people who are just starting to take retinoids or for people with sensitivities.”

What is the most important thing to consider when using retinol or retinoids? “Retinoids are known to cause skin irritation within the first few weeks of use,” says Zeichner.

"This period is called retinogenesis, during which the skin becomes accustomed to retinoids. To minimize this risk, use only a pea-sized amount, apply moisturizer, and apply as often as your skin tolerates. Apply once a day. Like your skin."

You can use it more often as the effects adjust. Retinol thickens the deeper layers of the skin but thins the outer layers of the skin. This gives the skin a better glow but also makes it sensitive to sunlight. "So if you use retinol, sunscreen is a must."

Can Retinol or Retinoids be Used to Treat Problematic Skin? "When the skin is inflamed, I usually have patients focus on healing the skin barrier first," says Bhanusali. "Avoid exfoliating ingredients or retinoids, which can cause irritation."

Can retinol or retinoids be used on sensitive skin? "For sensitive skin, the goal is to start slow and work your way up," says Bhanusali.

"Once you can tolerate it every night, switch to a prescription medication, starting slowly again and increasing the amount over time." Dermatologists also have the option of mixing preparations or creating custom formulas.

Bhanusali founded a skincare company called Skin Medicinals dedicated to this tailored approach after having an adverse reaction to retinol. “We can combine retinol with ingredients that help with inflammation (niacinamide) or hydration (hyaluronic acid) to help patients with tolerability issues.”

Meet the experts. Joshua Zeichner, MD, is a board-certified dermatologist, product developer, and director of cosmetic and clinical research in dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City

Dhaval Bhanusali, MD, is a board-certified dermatologist and product developer in New York City.

Why trust ELLE Beauty? As the leading publisher of fashion, lifestyle and beauty content, is dedicated to highlighting the best products across categories by personally testing the latest and most innovative products, interviewing countless experts and reviewing customer-favorite items.

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