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 workhouse, miracle-working ingredients that seriously change and improve skin.

The challenge for many of us is finding a retinoid that works for our skin type. 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. Skinceuticals 0.5% is a great one I talk about in my Retinol tips post. 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.


To recap, 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.


The Esthetician Approved Way to Use Retinol


I personally chose Retinaldehyde for my Preservation Serum because I wanted a formula the majority of us could use. The goal was to be able to use the serum frequently, allowing us to get the most benefit out of it, and reap all the rewards of Retinoid magic!

Building up a tolerance with Retinol is something I attempted, but every product I tried I could only tolerate a couple times a week. Even when I used 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. Or even worse, the times I gave myself a chemical burn because I forgot to apply the Retinol on dry skin…. whoopsie. Ha!


FYI: water pulls Retinoids into your skin and should be applied once your skin is dry to avoid irritation, dryness, etc.


With Preservation Serum, I can use Retinaldehyde 4 to 5 days in a row before I begin to feel dry. Even with the dryness, I haven’t experienced any sensitivity! I know it’s my own, but it’s a great serum for us with sensitive skin, or if you’re wanting to gradually build to a stronger retinoid.


What’s your favorite Retinoid product to use?? If you’ve tried different variations, what works best for your skin?? Drop the details in the comments! xx



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’s work 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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