Everything You Need To Know About Retinoids and Retinol

This post may contain affiliate links, which means I receive a commission if you choose to purchase through links I provide.

Everyone and their mother has heard of retinol. We all know that it is said to be a miracle worker for acne, discoloration, and wrinkles. But with all the choices and conflicting information, purchasing a retinol product can be overwhelming. To help you, we put together this guide so you can know how to use retinol and which specific products are the best for your skin.

Everything You Need To Know About Retinol

Retinol/Retinoids FAQ

What is retinol?

Retinol is often used as a catchall term for topical products containing any vitamin A derivative. Technically, retinol is a type of retinoid.

What is the difference between all of the retinoids?

There’s a huge variety of different vitamin A derivatives out there. Here’s a breakdown of a few of the most common types.

Retinoids: The name given to the whole family of vitamin A derivatives.

Retinoic acid: A prescription-only retinoid (more commonly known as Retin-A or tretinoin). It’s the most effective anti-aging ingredient available. Bonus: It is great for preventing and treating acne too.

Retinol: The most common and retinoid sold over-the-counter.

Retinyl palmitate: Is the weakest retiniod and is often found in drugstore formulas.

Adapalene: The strongest over-the-counter option that is specifically formulated to treat acne.

What are the benefits of retinoids?

As you age, skin renewal begins to slow. Retinoids give this renewal process a boost by increasing cellular turnover. With regular use over time, retinoids diminish the look of fine lines and wrinkles, reduces dark spots and discoloration, and leaves skin visibly more radiant.

When should you start using retinoids?

There are no true rules on how early you can start using a retinoid. Teenagers and anyone that suffers from acne can use retinoids like adapalene to treat breakouts. Once the acne stops in your 20s, you can start using retinoids to prevent wrinkles.

Which skin types can use retinoids?

Most people will be able to use a retinoid. Those that are pregnant or nursing should not use retinoids.

For skin that is more sensitive, look for products with smaller concentrations of retinoids.

What active ingredients should you avoid?

Retinoids are strong so it is best to stick to a simple routine when you use them. Mixing too many powerful ingredients at the same time may lead to irritation.

Make sure avoid benzoyl peroxide as it is extremely irritating to the skin when using retinol. Limit the use of other exfoliants, such as scrubs and acids as well.

What are the side effects?

 Typical side effects include dryness, tightness, peeling, and redness. These side effects usually subside after two to four weeks until the skin acclimates.

You can help curb some of the dryness by applying a good moisturizer when using a retinoid. If you notice excessive dryness, irritation, or skin peeling, stop using the product and talk to your dermatologist before you continue.

How do I choose which product to use?

Most retinol products come in multiple strengths; the most common are 1%, 0.5%, 0.3% and 0.25%. When choosing a retinol product for the first time, it’s best to start with the lowest concentration before moving up.

Your skin type is also a factor when it comes to deciding whether to use a serum or cream. Serums are lighter, less congesting and easier to absorb, so they are typically best for those with oily or acne-prone skin. Dry skin types, however, can benefit more from using retinol creams for extra hydration.

How should you use them?

Start slow. During the first one to two weeks, try applying two nights a week. After two weeks, slowly increase your application frequency to three times a week. After 4 weeks should have a good idea of how your skin is tolerating it before increasing to every other night. By week 8, you should be able to use your retinoid product nightly.

In the morning following make sure to apply SPF. Retinoois will make your skin more sensitive to light so SPF is a must.

Retinoid Recommendations

Differin Acne Treatment Gel $15

If you suffer from acne but can’t swing a visit to a dermatologist, this is the retinoid for you. Previously only available with a prescription, you can now buy that treatment at your local drugstore.

Olay Regenerist Retinol

Olay Regenerist Retinol24 $29

A common misconception about retinoids is that they have to be expensive. And while higher concentrations do come with a higher price tag, there are still plenty of affordable retinoid products, like this one from Olay.

SkinCeuticals Retinol Night Cream

SkinCeuticals Retinol 0.5 Refining Night Cream $76

With a powerhouse ingredient like retinol, sometimes it is worth paying a little bit more for a better formulation. This cream is enhanced with the latest stabilization and delivery technologies to preserve retinol potency and ensure maximum efficacy and stability. Plus, it is formulated to minimize irritation commonly associated with the use of retinol creams. 

What about bakuchiol?

Bakuchiol is found in the seeds and leaves of the Babchi plant, also known as Psoralea Corylifolia, so basically a plant extract.

Bakuchiol has no structural resemblance to retinol, but there was a study showing that it has similar effects on the skin.

Like retinol, bakuchiol works to turn over skin cells, making room for newer, fresher, better-appearing cells to come to the top. It also pushes collagen to the surface for more elastic, youthful-looking skin.

Before you get excited, keep the following in mind:

  • That was one study compared to hundreds of studies on the efficacy of retinoids.
  • Bakuchiol was not found superior in terms of effects, it was found equal.
  • There was less irritation in the Bakuchiol group, but not no irritation.
  • The study compared bakuchiol to retinol, which is less effective than retinoic acid.

Bakuchiol Recommendations

Bakuchiol Retinol Alternative

The INKEY List Bakuchiol Retinol Alternative $10

For a budget-friendly option, we suggest this bakuchiol moisturizer that also contains squalane.  While not as effective as a retinoid, this is a great budget-friendly retinol alternative.

Goodnight Glow Retin-ALT Sleeping Crème

Goodnight Glow Retin-ALT Sleeping Crème $55

With bakuchiol being a much gentler ingredient, unlike retinoids, it can easily be paired with other actives. Ole Henriksen’s Goodnight Glow Retin-ALT Sleeping Crème pairs bakuchiol with AHAs to help exfoliate skin and target discoloration.

Biossance Phyto Retinol

Biossance Squalane + Phyto-Retinol Serum $72

This clean beauty serum from Biossance is packed full of good skin ingredients. In addition to the bakuchiol, they have included niacinamide, squalane oil, and hyaluronic acid. The oil-based product brightens your complexion and diminishes the appearance of fine lines.

If you found this post helpful, you may enjoy these posts:

The Best Clean Skincare Products

Face Masks To Cure You Winter Skin

Tips and Tricks For Younger Looking Skin


I'm Holly, the creator of Feisty Life Media.

Let's Be Friends

Let's Stay In Touch


We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.

Leave a Comment