A Comprehensive Guide to Retinoids, Retinol and Retinoic Acid

Posted by Monarch Plastic Surgery

Oct 20, 2017 7:01:00 AM

Untitled design-32.pngDon’t retinoids make you sunburn? I heard it thins out your skin? What even is a retinoid? Are retinoids and retinol the same thing? Does this even matter to me if I’m under the age of 40? Possibly one of the most confusing and misunderstood skincare products, here’s a comprehensive guide to everything you need to know about retinoids.

What Is It?

The anti-aging wonder, a retinoid, is a derivative of vitamin A that unclogs pores, boosts collagen and increases cell turnover to even out discoloration and smooth the skin. The difference between retinoids and retinol is over-the-counter products usually contain retinol and prescription products usually contain retinoic acid. While they basically do the same thing, it may just take longer to see the results of a retinol-based product. Retinol is more gentle than retinoic acid, but biochemically it does the same thing, just at a different rate.

The retinol you’re getting in an over-the-counter product contains a form of retinol in ester forms that need to be converted by the skin at a cellular level to use. Prescription-based retinoids contain a higher concentration of retinoic acid, requiring less conversions to get to the retinoic acid form and, therefore, making it stronger. To summarize, the prescription retinoid is stronger and faster acting than non-prescription retinol, but both produce favorable results.

When to Use Prescription vs. Non-Prescription Strength?

Patients dealing with severe sun damage or comedonal acne may want to consider the more potent option: a prescription retinoid. Companies have come out with products that are accepted better by a younger or more sensitive skin, like prescription Renova, which is available at Monarch Skin Rejuvenation Center. According to Marie Claire, skin cell turnover is just starting to slow down in the late 20s, so you don’t need the stronger prescription retinol.

When and How Much

First time users: note that you only need to use a little bit at a time. While a few of us may be guilty of slathering on the anti-aging cream in hopes of taking off years of sun damage at an accelerated speed, when it comes to retinoids, less is definitely more. Use just a pea-sized amount for the entire face.

Initially, we recommend applying it once daily in the evening when starting out. Your aesthetician may suggest applying it every other evening if you find your skin is sensitive to it. Apply it 15 minutes after washing your face. To avoid excessive dryness, layer with a nourishing moisturizer. We recommend Obagi Hydrate Facial Moisturizer or Hydrate Luxe.


Retinoids tend to increase your skin’s sensitivity to the sun, which is why we recommend incorporating it only in your evening regimen. We do strongly recommend you apply your daily face SPF, as always. We recommend EltaMD UV Clear.


The retinoic acid will enhance collagen production, which reduces the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, smoothes the skin and evens out pigmentation. To see the results, you need to stick with it. Retinoids will generally take around 12 weeks to start showing results. According to Allure, most people give up during the adjustment phase. Irritation is just part of the process. After two to three weeks, the skin cells will begin to adapt and accept the ingredient. If you are experiencing discomfort, contact your aesthetician to come up with a new plan of action. Otherwise, stay dedicated to see the results.


To introduce your skin to retinol, the Obagi360 Retinol 0.5 is recommended. It has a concentration of 0.5 percent retinol to boost cell turnover, minimize acne, fine lines, wrinkles and hyperpigmentation. It also contains jojoba oil and shea butter to hydrate and firm the skin. New to Monarch, we’re loving the SkinBetter Science AlphaRet Overnight Cream. This cream contains ethyl lactyl retinoate, without causing a serious irritation to the skin. Researchers discovered how to mix retinoids with lactic acid, which evens out the tone and texture. Together, they have a strong effect with no irritation. Tip: always be sure to extend your products onto the neck area.

For more information, call 913-317-9386 or to set up a complimentary skincare consultation with one of our aestheticians online, visit http://bit.ly/monarchskinconsult. We are proud to offer both prescription and non-prescription strength products.

Topics: Skincare

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