Tretinoin is particularly well known in the retinoid world, but it’s not the only one. There’s also retinol, retinaldehyde and adapalene to name a few.

This powerful group of Vitamin A derivatives have a multitude of benefits: targeting acne, fading hyperpigmentation and reducing visible signs of ageing.

Wondering where to start? We’re here to help. In this post, we’ll explain what retinoids are, and how our expert dermatology team chooses the correct one for your skin.

What are retinoids?

Derived from Vitamin A, retinoids are active skincare ingredients that play a crucial role in maintaining healthy skin. When applied regularly, they work by promoting skin cell turnover, which in turn prevents your pores from clogging, boosts collagen production and encourages the growth of new skin cells.(1) The result? Smoother, clearer and younger-looking skin in as little as 8 weeks.


Tretinoin is only available by prescription, and is one of the most talked-about ingredients in dermatology. Because it can directly bind to retinoic acid receptors in the skin, tretinoin doesn’t have to go through conversion processes in order to be active. This means it can get to work on your skin immediately, making it more potent than retinol or retinaldehyde.

Studies show tretinoin is also the most potent of all the retinoids. It works on both the surface levels of your skin, and deeper levels too, making it a versatile treatment for acne, skin ageing, hyperpigmentation, skin texture, UV damage, overall skin glow, or a combination of these concerns. (2)


Like tretinoin, adapalene can also directly bind to retinoic receptors in the skin. However, adapalene primarily focuses on the skin’s surface, and it’s gentler, more targeted approach helps reduce comedones, papules and pustules (3) while being less likely to cause irritation than tretinoin.(4)

Adapalene is often a dermatology expert’s first choice when prescribing topical acne treatment, especially if you have sensitive skin.(5) It’s only available by prescription in the UK.

When can I expect to see results?

With both adapalene and tretinoin, patience and consistency are key. You may experience some side effects when you start, but these should subside after a week or two. Changes are often noticeable after around two to four weeks of regular use, and although it can take up to four months to see visible results – the benefits are worth it.

Retinol and retinaldehyde

Retinoids don’t just vary in name and type, they also come in a variety of strengths.

Both retinol and retinaldehyde (retinal) are less potent types of retinoids because, unlike prescription ones, they have to go through conversions in the skin to turn into the active form, retinoic acid.(1) They’re available without prescription, and are used in many over-the-counter skincare products. The benefits are similar, but they’re up to 20x less potent than their prescription counterparts. (5)

Like tretinoin and adapalene, retinol and retinaldehyde are also backed by science to help boost cell turnover, collagen production and overall skin glow. You may choose to start with retinol or retinaldehyde if you’re new to retinoids, or have reactive skin. It may just take longer to see results.

How our experts make the right choice for your skin

With so many options available, it can be confusing to know which retinoid to choose because it’s important to consider your skin type, tolerance to ingredients, concerns and goals.

That’s why we always recommend a personalised approach. To find out which ingredient is right for your skin, our dermatology experts analyse the results from your free online consultation and photos. They then design a personalised formula and monthly treatment plan, at the precise strength to suit your skin type. Not only are our experts available to answer any questions you have, they also check in with you throughout your journey, and change and adapt your formula at no extra charge to optimise your results.

Ready to take the next step in your skin journey? Start an online consultation now and try your first month of treatment for just £2.90 (then £24.99 a month including free shipping).

1. Zasada M, Budzisz E. Retinoids: active molecules influencing skin structure formation in cosmetic and dermatological treatments. Advances in Dermatology and Allergology [Internet]. 2019;36(4):392–7. Available from:
2. Yoham AL, Casadesus D. Tretinoin [Internet]. PubMed. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2021. Available from:
3‌. Piskin S, Uzunali E. A review of the use of adapalene for the treatment of acne vulgaris. Therapeutics and clinical risk management [Internet]. 2007 [cited 2023 Oct 25];3(4):621–4. Available from:
4‌. Ellis, Millikan, Smith, Chalker, Swinyer, Katz, et al. Comparison of adapalene 0·1% solution and tretinoin 0·025% gel in the topical treatment of acne vulgaris. British Journal of Dermatology. 1998 Sep;139(s52):41–7.
5. Mukherjee S, Date A, Patravale V, Korting HC, Roeder A, Weindl G. Retinoids in the treatment of skin aging: an overview of clinical efficacy and safety. Clinical interventions in aging [Internet]. 2006;1(4):327–48. Available from: