Retinol Versus Retinal: What's the Difference?

If you’re a skincare fanatic like us, you’re probably already pretty in the know about retinol. If not, please catch up here, but the bottom line is that retinol is the derivative of vitamin A that stimulates the metabolism of skin cells and encourages collagen production. In short, it’s a powerhouse wrinkle buster, and it can make your skin brighter, plumper and all-around dreamier than ever before.

However, you might’ve also noticed that as our beauty shelves see an increase in the number of products that contain retinol, there’s also been an increase in products containing retinol-like ingredients. Case in point? Retinal (often pronounced as “retin-a”). Whilst you might be forgiven for thinking that these ingredients are the same, there are, in fact, differences between the two.

We reached out to Megan Felton, skincare consultant from Lion/ne who helped explain the difference to us. “The benefits of both retinol and retinal are pretty much the same, but it is more the speed in which each product works that is the difference,” she says. Mark Curry, co-founder of The Inkey List adds, “In short, retinal gets there quicker; however, it can be quite harsh and could cause inflammation easier because it gives most of the active benefits quickly versus traditional retinol, which actually slowly converts it over time.”

So who would retinal be suitable for? A study carried out by Medik8 found that retinal can work up to 11 times faster than traditional retinol. This makes it good for mature skin types who want to see a significant improvement in fines lines and wrinkles as quickly as possible. Of course, taking a more-aggressive approach to skin rejuvenation isn’t suitable for everyone, so those with younger skin or more sensitized skin may want to stick with retinol for now.