Retinoids, Retinol And Retin A: Things You Should Know

Hands down, retinoids are considered the most effective, proven topical treatments for your complexion.

Retinoids are a class of compounds structurally-related to vitamin-A. For decades, they have been working wonders to treat acne, diminish wrinkles, reduce skin discoloration, improve skin texture and prevent “photo aging” (a fancy term for the signs of aging caused by sun damage.)

Without a deeper understanding of retinoids, consumers can be fooled into buying products that don’t measure up to the advertised claims. You see ingredients like retinyl palmitate and provitamin A and you think, “Yay, a retinoid! I want that!” Well, maybe not. Read on…

How retinoids work.

Retinoids work by unclogging pores and speeding cellular turnover while increasing the production of collagen and elastin and hyaluronic acid—the things we all want more of, especially as we age! Unfortunately, that aging process starts in our 20s.

The difference between Retin A and retinol?

Retin A and retinol are both retinoids, available in various strengths, gels and creams, which can be confusing.


Retinol is the natural form of vitamin A. It’s found in many products that don’t require a prescription. However, retinols are much weaker than prescription-grade retinoids. Unless vitamin A is listed as one of the top five ingredients, the over-the-counter retinol might not be all that effective.


Retin A is a brand-name for tretinoin, an acid form of retinol that requires a prescription. Considered the gold standard in topical skin care, including anti-aging skin care, tretinoin can be obtained in different strengths (.025% .05% and .1%) through your dermatologist or a medical spa like The Skin Center.

Dr. Brandy has formulated his own special tretinoin compound that contains 1% cortisone (a non-fluorinated steroid) that will not thin the skin or cause broken capillaries. Dr. Brandy’s HC-Compound is only available through The Skin Center at 1-800-421-1151.

12 Retin-A do’s and don’ts

1. You do need a prescription for Retin-A (tretinoin) to achieve the maximum benefit. If you want to try over-the-counter retinoids first, make sure the Vitamin A ingredient is one of the first 5 listed. Also be sure that the container is opaque since light is known to degrade retinoids.

2. Use at night. Again, since light renders this product less-effective and can cause skin sensitivity, use Retin-A only at night, ideally right before hitting the sheets.

3. Start slowly. Ease into Retin-A by using the lowest strength formula and follow your skin care professional’s recommendations for frequency of use.

4. Apply to a clean, dry face. It’s best not to apply Retin-A immediately after washing since water can cause irritation. Wait at least 15-20 minutes. Tip: Keep your Retin-A in your nightstand and use right before bed.

5. Don’t use too much. This is a powerful medicine. Only a pea-sized amount should be used for your entire face.

6. Don’t be afraid of using it on the upper and lower eyelids. This powerhouse product is also safe to use on the neck, chest, hands and body. But do keep it away from your mouth and nostrils—since moisture can cause irritation.

7. Go easy with your exfoliants. You won’t need vigorous scrubbing or strong exfoliant products since cellular turnover is already taking place.

8. Stop using Retin-A one week prior to getting a chemical peel.

9. Don’t stop at the first sign of peeling or breakouts. Redness, peeling and a surge of break-outs are common at first. This is actually a good thing. Stay the course as recommended.

10. Ditch the wax. When using Retin A, facial waxing may cause irritation. Tweezers are recommended, at least while your skin becomes accustomed to Retin-A.

11. Use an SPF. You should using a broad-spectrum sunscreen anyway. And since Retin A promotes faster cellular turnover, your skin may become more sensitive to the sun.

12. Use Retin A for life—except while pregnant or breastfeeding.  There’s a reason Retin-A has been prescribed for decades: IT WORKS! And as stated in our most popular blog, it’s never too late to start using Retin-A. Click here for “It’s Never Too Late…” blog details.

Book Now

We can't wait to treat you. To schedule a consultation or treatment, please fill out this form and one of our patient coordinators will reach out to you.

    • Please include non-medical questions and correspondence only. * All indicated fields must be completed.
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Accessibility Toolbar