There are different types of retinoids and different products with each type of retinoid as an active ingredient.
Retinol, retinaldehyde, adapalene, tretinoin, isotretinoin, and tazarotene are all various forms of retinoids. It can get pretty confusing but this list will hopefully clarify things:
From weakest to strongest.
- Green Cream (Buy)
- Level 3 - 0.3% retinol
- Level 6 - 0.6% retinol
- Level 9 - 0.9% retinol
- Neutrogena Healthy Skin Anti-Wrinkle Cream (Buy)
- RoC Retinol Correxion line (Buy)
- RoC Multi Correxion line
- Afirm Retinol (Buy)
- 1x - 0.15% retinol
- 2x - 0.3% retinol
- 3x - 0.6% retinol
- Alpha Hydrox Retinol ResQ - 0.15% retinol (Buy)
- Philosophy Help Me (Buy)
- Philosophy On a Clear Day (Buy)
- Jan Marini Factor A Plus Lotion (Buy)
- Paula's Choice Skin Recovery Super Antioxidant Concentrate Serum
- Biomedic Retinol (Buy)
- 15 - 0.15% retinol
- 30 - 0.3% retinol
- 60 - 0.6% retinol
- SkinMedica Retinol Complex (Buy)
- Replenix All-trans-Retinol Smoothing Serum - 2x, 3x, 5x, and 10x (Amazon)
- SkinCeuticals Retinol 0.5 - 0.5% retinol (Buy)
- SkinCeuticals Retinol 1.0 - 1% retinol (Buy)
- Noeva Retinol ME - 0.15% and 0.30% retinol (Buy)
- DDF Retinol Energizing Moistuizer (Buy)
(or retinal, vitamin A aldehyde)
(or retinal, vitamin A aldehyde)
- Avene Eluage Cream - 0.05% retinaldehyde (Buy)
- Avene Eluage Firming Gel - 0.05% retinaldehyde (Buy)
- Avene Eluage Eye Contour Care - 0.015% retinaldehyde (Buy)
- Avene Diacneal - 0.1% retinaldehyde (Buy)
- Avene Ystheal Cream (gel has been discontinued) - 0.05% retinaldehyde (Buy)
- Avene Ystheal Lotion - 0.05% retinaldehyde (Buy)
- Avene Ystheal Eye Contour Cream - 0.015% retinaldehyde (Buy)
- Avene Retrinal - 0.1% and 0.05% retinaldehyde (Buy)
- Avene Diroseal - 0.05% retinaldehyde
- Osmosis Skin Care Clarify - 0.075% retinaldehyde (Buy)
- Glytone Clarifying Night Renewal Cream - 0.05% retinaldehyde (Buy)
(or retinoic acid)
- 0.025% or 0.01% gel
- 0.1%, 0.05%, and 0.025% cream
- 0.05% liquid
- Retin-A Micro
- 0.04% gel
- 0.1% gel
- Renova - 0.02% cream
- Altinac - 0.05% and 0.1% cream
- Ziana - 0.025% gel (with clindamycin phosphate)
- Avita - 0.025% cream
- TRETIN•X - 0.0375% cream
- Refissa - 0.05% cream
- Stievamycin (with erythromycin)
- 0.01% mild gel
- 0.025% gel
- 0.05% forte gel
- Stieva-A - 0.025%, 0.05%, and 0.1% cream
- Airol - 0.05% cream
- Atralin - 0.05% gel
- Obagi Tretinoin - 0.025%, 0.05%, 0.1% cream
(synthetic retinoid) Isotretinoin
- Topical (not as strong)
- Oral (last-resort strong)
How are the types of retinoids different?
Retinol and retinaldehyde are available over-the-counter. The rest of the retinoids are only available through prescriptions, though some online pharmacies (Canadian, Indian, or otherwise) offer various generic versions without one. You usually need a doctor's prescription to legally order a generic of a brand name prescription product, but different online pharmacies operate under different policies, especially if they are in other countries.
Tazarotene is the strongest retinoid, while retinol is the weakest. The strength of a retinoid depends on the type of retinoid. Your skin is only able to use a retinoid when it's in retinoic acid form. Therefore, all types of retinoids are converted to this state by your skin before it can even be used. How does this have anything to do with a retinoid's strength? Allow me to explain.
When you apply a retinoid product that is retinoic acid (ex. Retin-A), your skin is able to use it immediately because it's already in the proper form. However, if you use a product with retinol, the retinol first has to be converted into retinaldehyde and then the retinaldehyde has to be converted to retinoic acid before your skin can use it. Therefore, retinol is weaker than retinaldehyde and retinaldehyde is weaker than retinoic acid. Retinol is the weakest because it takes your skin two extra steps for it to be converted to retinoic acid before it can be utilized. For each converstion step, there is also uncertainty as to how much active product was actually converted in the oxidation process. Therefore, the fewer the conversions to get to retinoic acid, the stronger the retinoid.
Aside from the type of retinoid, each individual product also has its own individual retinoid concentrations. For example, Retin-A comes in 0.025%, 0.05%, and 0.1% formulations. The 0.025% would be the weakest version of Retin-A, while the 0.1% would be the strongest. The formulation of the retinoid also has a factor in its strength, but you can read more about the difference between gel and cream vehicles here. It might also be helpful to familiarize yourself with how natural and synthetic retinoids are different.
So, which type of retinoid is the best?
Most dermatologists initially prescribe Differin for acne because it is the gentlest one out of all the prescription retinoids. However, if Differin isn't strong enough for you, you could try moving up to Retin-A. If you feel Retin-A isn't doing a good job, you could then give Tazorac a try. It takes trial-and-error to figure out which retinoid is best for you.
Things can get pretty confusing because there are so many different types of retinoids, percentages, and product formulations. Some retinoids are also used for acne treatments, while others target anti-aging. Dermatologists always have lots of samples, so make sure you test some retinoids out for a few weeks before purchasing the real thing. Having lots of patience and using retinoids the right way is the key to finding the best type of retinoid for your skin.
Thanks for reading! What do you think?