Retinols vs. Retinoids: What are the Pros & Cons?

We're all on the hunt for them.

Those "miracle" skin treatments that will treat our most basic, and most frustrating, skin issues, including everything from acne and scarring to sun damage, hyperpigmentation, wrinkles, and more.

But do such miracle treatments really exist? And how, in a skincare market so thoroughly saturated with over-the-counter topical treatments, with each product branding itself as the indispensable, Holy Grail of skincare, do you identify the one that's right for you and your unique skin needs?

Two tried-and-true options that are spoken of with unparalleled reverence (and that are often recommended by dermatological experts) are retinols and retinoids.

What are the pros and cons associated with each treatment? And are these treatments available with or without a prescription?


Prescription or Over-the-Counter?

Varies depending on its strength

Select Retinoid Brands

  • Accutane (prescription)
  • Differin
  • La-Roche-Posay's Effaclar

Treatment Summary

Adapted from Vitamin A, retinoids are topical and (in some cases) oral skincare treatments that have been carefully studied by dermatological experts for decades, and are celebrated the world over for their unique abilities to enhance the tone and texture of your skin.

They're effective at combating wrinkles, hyperpigmentation and scarring, and much more. Certain brands can even help address chronic skin conditions like psoriasis and acne.

Some retinoids, like the enormously popular drug Accutane, are oral medications that must be prescribed by a doctor to access them. Price wise, retinoids run the gamut from affordable to ridiculously expensive. It all depends on the brand!

Please note: if you are pregnant or breastfeeding, retinoids are not recommended. Studies have shown that these medications contribute to birth defects if taken during gestation periods.

Pros & Cons

  • Pros - Can address chronic skin conditions; stimulate skin cell turnover and growth; generate significant results
  • Cons - Exorbitant cost; can be harsh on the skin (redness, scaling/flaking); risks depending on pregnancy status


Prescription or Over-the-Counter?


Select Retinol Brands

  • Alastin Skincare Renewal Retinol
  • Neutrogena Retinol Cream
  • RoC Retinol Correxion Face Serum

Treatment Summary

A member of the retinoid family, retinols are infinitely more accessible than retinoids, as they tend to be available in over-the-counter skincare treatments, and are thus less expensive.

One caveat with over-the-counter access, of course, is that retinols tend to be less strong than retinoids.

So, though they are easier to get, the results might not be as dramatic. Or, if they are, it might take a long time for you to see results, as the chemical concentration within retinols tends to be weaker.

Retinols treat many of the same basic issues described above (hyperpigmentation, scarring, wrinkles), but aren't a proper substitute for treatments that address sustained, intense chronic skin issues.

Pros & Cons

  • Pros - More affordable; not as harsh on the skin
  • Cons - Less strong (and, therefore, possibly less effective); take a longer time to see results; possible redness or scaling/flaking

Now that you're armed with all of this information, are you feeling empowered to explore the landscape of retinol and retinoid treatments? We hope so.

Remember, when in doubt, consult your doctor or dermatologist with any questions or concerns you might have. We at Hawthorne are wishing you the best of luck on your skincare journey!

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