Retinol vs. Retinoids: When to Use Each and Why

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If ever there were a hero ingredient in our skincare routines, it would be retinol. The buzzy ingredient is clinically proven to treat both acne and wrinkles because of its ability to stimulate epidermal turnover and reveal fresh, healthy skin cells. But it’s a bit more complex than that: For starters, we often interchangeably hear the words “retinol” and “retinoids” to describe this skin savior, but it’s important to know that both terms aren’t one in the same. Think of the words more like cousins instead of clones—they’re related but different.

To learn a bit more about what sets these terms apart, we connect with Melissa Levin, MD, of Downtown Dermatology in Manhattan. Below she breaks down each, how to use them, when to use them, and which other products in our routine might actually make them less effective.

The bottom line: Speak with a dermatologist to determine if your skin can tolerate retinoids or if retinol is a safer bet, remember to apply them only at night, and sandwich it with a gentle cleanser and moisturizer.

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