Retinoids at a glance

  • Umbrella term used for vitamin A derivatives
  • Have been widely used since the 1970s
  • Skin-communicating and skin-restoring ingredients
  • Includes retinol, retinaldehyde and tretinoin among many others

Retinoids description

Retinoids are powerhouse skin-restoring ingredients used in skin care products for their anti-aging, firming, tone-evening and pore-minimizing benefits. Long recognized and researched, these vitamin A derivatives have a track record of proven effectiveness and also function as antioxidants. Although many think the terms “retinoid” and “retinol” are one and the same, they’re not. “Retinoid” is an umbrella term under which all vitamin A derivatives live. “Retinol” is an ingredient that sits under this umbrella, making it a retinoid. All retinoids must convert to retinoic acid in order for skin to be able to use them. The number of steps that a retinoid must take to reach retinoic acid varies from retinoid to retinoid, and how gently this occurs can be a highly individualized experience. Retinoids splashed onto the skin care scene in the 1970s with the arrival and US Food and Drug Administration approval of tretinoin (AKA Retin-A). Although this prescription retinoid is still widely used, more retinoids have since reached the mainstream, including: adapalene, retinaldehyde, retinyl palmitate and retinyl propionate, all available over-the-counter. This group of ingredients coaches skin on how to act younger, encouraging the visible firming of skin’s architecture, improving surface cell turnover and helping skin hold on to the essential substances it needs to look and feel healthy, amongst many other things. Individual retinoids can also accomplish other feats based on their structure, concentration and other ingredients used in the same formula. Retinoids appear as both prescription drugs and over-the-counter products, depending on which vitamin A derivative is utilized and its concentration. Beyond topical application, certain retinoids are also supplied as oral medications (like isotretinoin AKA Accutane). As raw materials, they have a distinct yellow color. Because they’re antioxidants, retinoids must be packaged in airtight, opaque packaging to prevent ingredient degradation.

Retinoids references

  • American Academy of Dermatology Association, Accessed June 2023, Webpage
  • Journal of Cutaneous Medicine and Surgery, January 2022, pages 71-78
  • Cells, December 2020, ePublication
  • Advances in Dermatology and Allergology, August 2019, pages 392-397
  • Clinical Interventions in Aging, December 2006, pages 327-348

Peer-reviewed, substantiated scientific research is used to assess ingredients in this dictionary. Regulations regarding constraints, permitted concentration levels and availability vary by country and region.

Ingredient ratings


Proven and supported by independent studies. Outstanding active ingredient for most skin types or concerns.


Necessary to improve a formula's texture, stability, or penetration.


Generally non-irritating but may have aesthetic, stability, or other issues that limit its usefulness.


There is a likelihood of irritation. Risk increases when combined with other problematic ingredients.


May cause irritation, inflammation, dryness, etc. May offer benefit in some capability but overall, proven to do more harm than good.


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Not rated

We have not yet rated this ingredient because we have not had a chance to review the research on it.