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Retinol, Retinal, Tretinoin: Navigating Through Vitamin A Derivatives

As much as I love to care for my skin, there’s one thing that I have to admit — the world of skincare can be confusing. Especially when it comes to potent ingredients such as vitamin A derivatives. You’ve probably already heard of them — retinol, retinal, and tretinoin. However, what do you really know about them? Sure, by now most of us know a thing or two about retinol. It’s a fairly common ingredient that can be found in a lot of commercial anti-age products. But when is retinol alone not enough? And how to know it’s time to switch to something more potent? We’re going to find out in today’s article.

Retinol: Beginner Friendly

Let’s start with retinol, shall we? Considered the gentle giant of the vitamin A world, retinol is a skincare superhero known for its anti-aging prowess. Derived from vitamin A, retinol is converted into retinal, and finally retinoic acid in the skin. That’s means that it won’t work right away, instead, it first has to complete the transformation process to become potent. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing, especially not if you have sensitive skin. Retinol is typically well-tolerated by most skin types, making it an excellent choice for beginners who are just dipping their toes into the world of vitamin A derivatives.

Retinal: The Middle Child

Next up, we have retinal (or retinaldehyde) – the middle child of the vitamin A family. Sitting between retinol and tretinoin in terms of potency, retinal is a slightly more advanced option for those looking to level up their skincare game. Like retinol, retinal is converted into retinoic acid in the skin, but to do that it just needs to go over one round of conversion. Which means that it can deliver better results. It also has antimicrobial properties, which could be a great benefit for people with acne prone skin. With its ability to stimulate collagen production, improve skin texture, and fade hyperpigmentation, retinal is a powerhouse ingredient. But also the most potent form of vitamin A that you can get over the counter.

Tretinoin: The Heavy Hitter

Last but certainly not least, we have tretinoin – the heavy hitter of the vitamin A world. Also known as retinoic acid, tretinoin is the most potent form of vitamin A available in skincare. Prescription-strength tretinoin is widely regarded as the gold standard for anti-aging, acne treatment, and overall skin rejuvenation. It works by speeding up cell turnover, unclogging pores, and increasing collagen production. This leaves your skin feeling smoother, cleaner, and more youthful-looking. But only if you tolerate it!

Sadly, not everyone’s skin will react positively to ingredients as potent as tretinoin. In more severe cases, it can cause dryness, redness, peeling, and a damaged skin barrier. Also, getting your hands on tretinoin isn’t easy (for good reason). In most countries, you will need a prescription from your dermatologist. So, if this is an issue for you, we would strongly encourage you to stick to other vitamin A derivatives. Remember, it’s the consistency that’s important, and not necessarily the potency of the product.


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