Which Miracle Working Retinoid is the Best for Your Skin?

Retinoids are impressive ingredients when it comes to preventing and reversing signs of photoaging like fine lines, wrinkles, and sun damage. It can even work magic with acne prone skin! They’re a workhorse, miracle-inducing ingredients that seriously change and improve our skin.

The challenge for many of us is finding a retinoid that works for our unique skin. Our goal should be to find a product that provides results with minimal side effects like sensitivity and irritation.

We’ll start with going over the different types of Retinoids and how they convert to Retinoic Acid, which is what we want. Before your skin can use your favorite Retinol it first needs to convert it to Retinoic Acid, allowing you to reap all the youthful benefits.


Retinol, Retinaldehyde, and Tretinoin are all types of Retinoids


Retinol is the most common over-the-counter form of Vitamin A and used in many popular formulas. If you have sensitive skin like myself, you may not tolerate it well and experience sensitivity. However, it is tolerated better than prescription strength by most. Retinol converts to Retinaldehyde then to Retinoic Acid, and some benefits will be lost during the conversion process.

Retinaldehyde (also known as Retinal) is gaining popularity due to its characteristic of being the least irritating yet potent Retinoid. Unlike its predecessor Retinol,  Retinaldehyde converts directly into Retinoic Acid. Because our skin skips a conversion step, we receive more benefit, and it’s a great option for sensitive skin types.

Tretinoin is prescription strength Vitamin A, like Retin-A and Renova. It’s already in the form of Retinoic Acid when applied, no conversion needed! It’s the quickest way to gain results, the downside being potential irritation, redness, and peeling. When most of us think of the negative side effects we’ve heard our friends talk about, or experienced ourselves, prescription strength Retinoids were likely the culprit.


So, the conversion goes like this:

Retinol → Retinaldehyde → Retinoic Acid


The less conversion needed the more collagen production, wrinkle reduction, hyperpigmentation blasting, acne begone benefits you’ll receive. The fewer steps your Retinoid needs to convert to Retinoic Acid, the better your results will be.

If your skin can tolerate prescription-strength Retinoids, by all means, go for it! For the rest of us who don’t want our faces falling off during the process, Retinol and Retinaldehyde are our best options.

When shopping for a Retinol or Retinaldehyde product look for encapsulated formulations. Most brands will mention it in their product description. Encapsulation allows your Retinoid to be released into your skin over a period of time, like a few hours, instead of all at once. It’s a gentle delivery approach for healthy ingredients that can cause potential irritation.

In my professional opinion, I believe it’s wise beginning with a more gentle, over the counter retinoid. From there, you can gradually build up to prescription strength. But only if your skin allows for it. If you’re new to retinoids or have sensitive skin, starting with retinaldehyde is your best starting route.


The Esthetician Approved Way to Use Retinol


Since I have sensitive skin, I prefer Retinaldehyde because it doesn’t cause dryness, irritation or increased sensitivity. To this day, I’ve never been able to use a traditional retinoid without negative side effects. My goal is to be able to use my retinoid frequently, so I can get the most benefit and reap the rewards of Retinoid magic!

Building up a tolerance with Retinol is something I’ve attempted many times but could never find a product I could use frequently. Even when using hyaluronic acid underneath as a buffer, I couldn’t get more than a few days of application. Any more than that and I experienced peeling or dry, itchy skin.

With Retinaldehyde, I can go 4 to 5 days in a row before I begin to feel dry. Even with minimal dryness, I haven’t experienced any sensitivity! It’s great for sensitive skin or if you want to gradually build up to a stronger retinoid.

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About Sarah Nicole

Sarah is a Denver based expert esthetician, known for returning abused sensitive skin back to a glowing state without harsh products while boosting her client's skin confidence and self-worth. Sarah has been featured in Allure, New Beauty, Greatist, NBC News, and D Magazine among others. You can follow her on Instagram @sarahnpayne.

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