Retinol vs Retinal: What’s the Difference?

Retinol vs Retinal: What’s the Difference

No matter how similar retinol and retinal may sound and function, the way they behave when encounter skin makes all the difference. Both these ingredients work wonders for the skin and help manage the symptoms of aging skin. 

If you wonder what’s better for skin retinol vs retinal, the article will give a detailed insight. By the end of the article, you will be able to understand the basic differences between them, their benefits, side effects and what will be better for you. 

Keep reading!

Difference Between Retinol and Retinal


Retinol (1) is the alcohol form of retinal or Vitamin A. As this Vitamin helps in skin rejuvenation, all its derivatives work in the same manner. Retinol offers multiple benefits to the skin, making it healthy, glowing, and youthful. 


  • Stimulates skin cell renewal 
  • Encourage collagen production 
  • Improves skin radiance 
  • Enhances skin texture and tone 
  • Gives youthful glow 

When you apply retinol to the skin, it converts into retinal, followed by retinoic acid. Once it converts into acid, the skin cells’ renewal process starts, giving a noticeable result. 


Retinal (2) is the aldehyde form of Vitamin A, chemically termed as retinaldehyde. Since it converts into retinoic acid in just one step, unlike retinol, which takes two steps, it gives instant results. Besides, it offers many other benefits over retinol, making it a more effective ingredient between the two.


  • Stimulates collagen production 
  • Fades hyperpigmentation 
  • Improves skin texture 
  • Unclog pores
  • Boosts hydration 
  • Minimizes large pores
  • Offers anti-aging benefits 

However, there is a downside of retinal too. The faster it converts into retinoic acid, the faster it degrades as well. Also, it is tricky to stabilize. Due to these factors, it is difficult to find an effective retinal product in the skincare realm. 

The key areas where retinol and retinal differs include the following-

  1. Speed of work: Retinal works ten times faster than retinol, giving visible results early. 
  2. Antibacterial property: Among retinoids, only retinal possess antibacterial properties, making them suitable for acne-prone skin. 
  3. Skin irritation: When used in high concentration, all the derivates of retinoids can cause skin irritation. When retinal is used, it causes low irritation compared to others. Thus, it offers benefits without compromising comfort.
  4.  Hard to stabilize: The molecular formula of retinal makes it tricky to stabilize; thus, skincare products with retinal can lose their potency fast. 
  5. Lack of large-scale studies: Even though people experience skin benefits with retinal, large-scale studies are still lacking in the area. 

Below is the table differentiating between retinol and retinal under different aspects-

Chemical StructureRetinol is the alcohol form of vitamin A. It has an -OH (hydroxyl) group.Retinal is the aldehyde form of vitamin A. It has a -CHO (aldehyde) group.
FunctionRetinol is the storage form of vitamin A. It is converted to retinal before it can be used by the body.Retinal is the active form of vitamin A that is directly involved in the visual cycle.
ConversionConverted to retinal by retinol dehydrogenases.Converted to retinol by retinal reductases.
AvailabilityAvailable in dietary supplements and skincare products.Less commonly available in supplements; used more frequently in skincare products for its rapid conversion to retinoic acid.
Role in VisionRetinal is essential for the process of vision as it combines with opsins to form rhodopsin and other visual pigments in the retina.Retinol indirectly supports vision by serving as a precursor to retinal, which is then used in the visual cycle.
StabilityMore stable than retinal and less likely to oxidize.Less stable due to its aldehyde group, making it more prone to oxidation.

Retinol Vs Retinal- What’s Better for Blemished Skin?

When it comes to correcting the blemishes caused by acne, retinal will come in handy. The antibacterial properties of retinal make it suitable for fighting off the germs that cause breakouts. Thus, it gives blemish-free skin with a clearer complexion. 

Retinol Vs Retinal- What’s Better for Aging Skin?

Retinol Vs Retinal- What’s Better for Aging Skin

Since retinal converts into retinoic acid faster, it gives results faster too. It boosts collagen production, thus reducing the signs of aging, such as fine lines and wrinkles. Thus, people with mature skin should go for retinal. 

Retinol Vs Retinal- What’s Better for Sensitive Skin?

Sensitive skin is prone to skin irritation. Since retinal is an unstable molecule (3), it may lose its potency faster and cause skin irritation. While other skin types won’t be affected much, sensitive skin may feel the irritation. 

Retinol Vs Retinal- What’s Better for Young Skin?

Just like retinal helps improve aging and mature skin, it helps keep the young skin youthful for years. A regular application of retinal in young skin will prevent early aging and reduce the chances of developing fine lines and wrinkles. 

Using Retinol Over Retinal 

While retinal is the more active form or derivative of Vitamin A that promises multiple skin benefits with faster results, retinol can be used in two cases-

  1. Retinal is causing skin irritation 
  2. You prefer the oil-based liquid texture of retinoid 

Retinol Vs Retinal- Side-Effects

Retinol and retinal share same side-effects- dry and irritated skin. Therefore, it is always advised to start using them in low concentration. Once your skin adjusts to this new ingredient, you can gradually increase its strength over time. 

This way, the skin will adjust and adapt to the new skincare regime and stay safe from its potential side effects.  


Vitamin A and its derivates, retinol and retinal, are highly beneficial for the skin. However, while weighing them on the basis of their potency and effectiveness, retinal secures brownie points as it converts into retinoic acid fast and thus gives faster results. 

Always perform a patch test before starting retinoid products, and make sure to start with low concentration. 

Image Source : canva

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