What is the difference between Retinol & Retin-A?

By Dr. Randy Rudderman
In Medical Spa Articles

Among the multitude of anti-aging skin-care products on the market, one ingredient stands out: retinol. And it’s no surprise why. Dermatologists, plastic surgeons and aestheticians alike agree that this miracle ingredient (and its derivatives) has the power to make skin look younger, smoother and simply better. But with all the skin-boosting benefits of retinol, how do you know which type— be it a drugstore brand or a prescription-strength product—is right for you?

1. Over-the-Counter: The lowest level of retinol

Over-the-counter products that contain retinol can be found at drugstores, beauty boutiques and online, and usually offer retinol in low strengths. Over-the-counter formulas slowly convert retinol into retinoic acid, the active ingredient found in prescription versions. Most retinols are available as a serum (which is the best way for the skin to receive the ingredient) and are purchased through a retail outlet.

Who it’s for: All skin types and those who want to defy the first signs of aging

Who it’s not for: Those with serious acne and sun damage may benefit from something stronger

When to use: At night

2. Medical-Grade: Non-prescription-strength retinol

Stronger than over-the-counter versions but not as intense as prescription-strength products, medical-grade retinols are commonly found at doctors’ offices and can be obtained without a prescription. Medical-grade formulas slowly convert retinol into retinoic acid, which is the active ingredient found in prescription versions. For the most part, medical-grade retinols are available as serums, creams or in a gel-like consistency. Some medical-grade retinols do not actually contain true retinol but rather retinyl palmitate, a retinol ester. To tell if your product contains retinol or retinyl palmitate, just look at the color of the liquid—if it’s yellow, then it’s probably retinol.

SkinMedica’s Retinol Complex 0.50 is a favorite of Dr. Randy Rudderman, a Board Certified Plastic surgeon located in Atlanta, GA.  “Our patients rave about the results they see with SkinMedica’s Retinol Complex 0.50.  They feel it is strong enough to show real results, yet not so strong that it aggressively peels the skin.  It a very effective, well balanced retinol product.”

Who it’s for: Those who can tolerate a harsher concentration

Who it’s not for: Those with extremely sensitive skin

When to use: At night

3. Prescription Strength: The strongest option

Available only with a prescription from your doctor, these retinoids are the strongest option on the market and tend to provide results in about 12 weeks. Medically known as tretinoin, prescription-strength retinoids work quicker because they’re formulated as retinoic acid, so the body doesn’t need to convert retinol into retinoic acid. Retin-A has been the standard for aging skin, but it’s strong, and a lot of people can’t tolerate it, so I always recommend to use it slowly. Most prescription-strength retinoids take anywhere from eight to 12 weeks to see results.

Who it’s for: Those with acneic and sun-damaged skin

Who it’s not for: Those with sensitive skin

When to use: At night

 

 

Dr. Randy Rudderman

Dr. Randy Rudderman

Since 1989, Dr. Randy Rudderman has been in private Plastic Surgery practice in Atlanta, focusing on the full range of aesthetic procedures – eyelid surgery, breast augmentation and breast lifts, liposuction, abdominoplasty, facelifts and facial reconstruction, among others. He also has a distinguished career in the reconstructive surgery arena, including facial and breast reconstruction. He has worked as a key member of teams from several prestigious organizations – including the AO-ASIF (Association for the Study of Internal Fixation) Foundation in Davos, Switzerland, and has conducted research at Case Western Reserve University Medical Centers, CWRU Engineering School, and NASA – producing breakthroughs in joining the science of facial biomechanics and reconstructive Plastic Surgery with rapidly evolving technological innovations.

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