Tretinoin vs retinal. Tretinoin vs retinaldehyde. Should I use tretinoin or Retinal? How much stronger is tret than Retinal?

Tretinoin vs Retinal: Anti-Ageing Potency & Effectiveness Comparison

In Anti-Ageing & Protective Skincare by Cheryl Woodman MChem

Tretinoin vs. retinal. Tretinoin vs retinaldehyde. Should I use tretinoin or retinal? How much stronger is tret than Retinal?

These were some of the amazing questions I didn’t get to answer in my expose on The Ordinary’s new retinal emulsion. Both Katherine and Lucy asked it…

How does retinal really compare to prescription tretinoin?

Will this retinaldehyde really do anything you can notice after using tretinoin?

…for ageing and clearing blemishes?

You’ve got questions and I have the science-proven answers, so come take my hand… you’re about to discover why retinal could be your ultimate holy grail retinoid.

Tretinoin vs retinal. Tretinoin vs retinaldehyde. Should I use tretinoin or Retinal? How much stronger is tret than Retinal?

Tretinoin vs. Retinal: What’s the difference?

Before I dive into the exciting comparison science on tretinoin vs. retinal – it’s important to know the difference between these anti-ageing superstars.

Both tretinoin and retinal belong to a family of skincare ingredients called – retinoids.

Retinoids bond to anti-ageing (and anti-acne) receptors inside your skin cells – wahoo.

These anti-ageing and anti-ance receptors – which I love to think about like wine glasses – can only receive and recognise wine retinoic acid.

Retinoids get transformed in your skin to retinoic acid.

Retinal for example gets transformed directly into retinoic acid.

Whereas another well-known retinoid – retinol – must first be transformed to retinal and next transformed to retinoic acid. That’s multiple transformation steps and slurps of wine get lost along the way 😉

Tretinoin however is the OG beast – tretinoin is retinoic acid. Tretinoin is directly poured into your skin’s retinoic acid receptors where they go ding, ding, ding.

Tretinoin vs. Retinal: Potency & Effectiveness

You’ll see hundreds of whispers online about tretinoin vs. retinal potency and effectiveness – but here at Honesty For Skin, we rely on published science only. Wahoo.

In my hours of investigating tretinoin vs. retinal for anti-ageing, I’ve discovered an awesome clinical trial directly comparing their potency and effectiveness.

This amazing study compares formulas of;

  1. 0.05% retinal (also known as retinaldehyde) – this was supplied to the researchers by Avène
  2. 0.05% retinoic acid
  3. The base formula without retinal or retinoic acid (this is the ‘control’ cream)

The super helpful conclusion…

At week 18, a significant reduction of the wrinkle and roughness features was observed with both retinaldehyde and retinoic acid.J Am Acad Dermatol 1998;39:960-5

This amazing study proves retinal skincare can be just as effective for anti-ageing as tretinoin. Both retinal and tretinoin creams have big anti-ageing benefits with retinal actually outperforming tretinoin on two counts.

Should I Use Tretinoin or Retinal?

This is a really important question because the decision of whether you try tretinoin or retinal could get you an amazing glowy, smooth skin or it could get you redness, flakiness, burning and skin sensitivity.

See the big issue with Tretinoin is its high irritancy potential and its ability to make your skin feel super dry, red and sensitive.

The amazing study I just shared tells us that over 70% of volunteers using the retinoic acid cream (Tretinoin) experienced unpleasant side effects. In many of these cases, the treatment protocol had to be changed i.e. the volunteers used the cream on fewer days to help prevent the irritation.

In beautiful contrast over 70% of volunteers taking the 0.05% retinal cream did not experience side effects.

Isn’t that amazing? Retinal is potent, effective and gentle to your skin.

How Much Stronger Is Tret Than Retinal?

Tretinoin is heroed as THE strongest, most effective retinoid you could ever use, but this clinical trial shows us differently.

Retinal shows slightly better results, especially during winter.

Pretty awesome eh.

It’s likely retinal’s able to give a superior smoothing of your skin because in comparison Tretinoin has a significant drying effect and when your skin’s dry it’s especially prone to wrinkles and roughness. Simply hydrating your skin is an amazing anti-ageing hack.

Tretinoin vs. Retinal: Why is Retinal Gentler?

How can retinal be just as effective as Tretinoin and also gentler for your skin?

Tretinoin irritation can be a double-edged sword because it’s nice to ‘feel’ like skincare’s working. Many of my clients tell me stories of using tretinoin, seeing major side effects and being told – to just push through it. This ultimately leaves them struggling with an incredibly poorly skin barrier that’s causing hypersensitivity symptoms – now their skin seems unable to tolerate even basic skincare.

Important: Irritation isn’t something to tough out— irritation can actually exacerbate acne and accelerate ageing (in science we call this inflammageing).

Bottom line: Effective skincare shouldn’t ‘feel’ like it’s working. Effective skincare is quiet as a ninja, building you an amazing gradual change that 3 months from now has friends asking you – wow, you look amazing, what have you been doing?

We think Tretinoin is so crazy irritating because it’s causing…

an “overload” of the retinoic acid–dependent pathway with non physiologic amounts of exogenous retinoic acid in the skin.J Am Acad Dermatol 1998;39:960-5

The human explanation: we think tretinoin is super irritating because it causes those wine glass receptors in your skin to overflow. Suddenly they’re exposed to high levels of retinoic acid which are completely unnatural… and your skin gets ‘drunk’.

But not drunk in love… more like sick in love.

Whereas with retinal, this overloading is prevented. But why?

Why Retinal’s Gentler Than Tretinoin (but just as effective)

You ask all the right questions 🙂 Remember how retinal first gets converted into retinoic acid so it can be absorbed into your skin’s anti-ageing retinoic acid wine glasses for amazing results?

Well, your skin only has just a limited capacity to transform retinal into retinoic acid.

It’s a bit like the Weetabix challenge – your mouth can only hold so many Weetabix and your skin can only transform so much retinal.

See here (and don’t worry if this sounds like a drizzle of science-gook, I’ve got your hand and will explain everything after…

Only epidermal cells at the pertinent stage of differentiation
are capable of oxidizing retinaldehyde to generate the active retinoic acid ligand. This would result in a more controlled delivery of retinoic acid, and possibly reduce the side effects, as compared with direct application of retinoic acid.J Am Acad Dermatol 1998;39:960-5

Epidermal is a super fancy way of saying skin – and what this super science quote tells us is that as your skin cells grow (they have about a 30-day lifetime) – they can only convert retinal to anti-ageing retinoic acid in a specific stage of their growth cycle. This means your skin doesn’t convert all of your retinal cream into retinoic acid instantly.

This effect is like your skin’s natural version of a time-releasing formula.

An amazing, natural way to protect your skin from drunken retinoid acid receptors so you can get glowy, bright, smooth skin without redness, irritation or sensitivity. Pretty impressive eh.

Discover how to anti-age your skin in the most effective ways possible, get your free copy of my 5 Best Anti-Ageing Actives cheatsheet. Download yours for free here.

Love your scientist friend,

Cheryl xo