Prescription Retinoids vs High Street Products

Apart from The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, none of us can escape the reality of ageing. As we age we develop wrinkles, changes in the skin’s pigment, loss of elasticity,  and our skin becomes more translucent.

Humans have sought to reverse the ageing process since time immemorial. Just walk into any high street supermarket and you’ll find so many “cosmeceuticals,” (cosmetic products claiming to have scientifically proven properties) it’s hard to know what to believe! However, there’s a big difference between prescription retinoids and the products you’ll find lingering on supermarket shelves.

Prescription retinoids vs high street products

Most products from your local beauty store will be less effective than prescription-strength treatments. This is because non-prescription cosmetics contain ingredients like Vitamin A derivatives or retinol in ester forms. These take extra steps at a cellular level to convert into skin-enhancing retinoic acid in comparison to prescription retinoids. This is why so many people seek to use Tretinoin.

It’s also important to bear in mind that cosmetic products don’t actually legally require any kind of testing to see if they do what they say on the packaging – for example, reduce fine lines. So be careful what you believe!

Difference between retinoids and retinol

Retinoids are a class of compounds derived from Vitamin A. They work by allowing the skin to turn over cells, to boost new cell growth. As well as this, they stimulate collagen production and thicken deeper layers of the skin – the source of wrinkles. Studies show that they can reduce the appearance of fine lines, wrinkles and pigmentation after 12 weeks.

Retinoids are effective for those looking to plump up their skin, reduce breakouts and are especially effective for people with sun-damaged skin.

The type of retinoid you should use depends on:


-Skin sensitivity

-Skin condition

-Whether you want to use it for acne or anti-ageing

For more information about which prescription-based retinoid best suits you, contact one of our customer service team. 

On the other hand, Retinol is a form of Vitamin A that occurs naturally in the skin. Retinol is commonly used in high street products. When retinol is applied to the skin, it is converted into retinoic acid – this is clinically proven to improve lines, discolouration issues and revitalise the skin. Retinoids and retinol-based products do the same thing – but it could take longer to see results with the latter, as they are weaker.

What works best: retinoids or retinols?

It’s important to remember that everyone’s an individual and seeks different things from their skincare routine. Some people may find that retinol-based products they can buy on the high street are perfectly adequate. However, for real, long-lasting results, prescription-based retinoids – such as Tretinoin – are highly effective. The best thing is to speak to a dermatologist, who will examine your skin and prescribe the correct strength to deal with your unique concerns.

Dr Tom King
Dr Tom King
Dr King is a dermatology specialist registrar working for an NHS trust in South Yorkshire. He is actively engaged in dermatology research and is involved in clinical trials for inflammatory skin diseases. Medical education is one of his keen interests, and he is currently studying for a Masters Degree in Medical Education (MMedSci) at the University of Nottingham.
Originally published June 13 2018, updated June 27 2019

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