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Active Ingredients: What’s Better Than Retinol?

When it comes to trending skincare ingredients, the rise (and rise) of retinol as a must-have product shows no sign of slowing. We take a look at what retinol is, why it’s so popular and what it can do for you. From retinol in over-the-counter night creams to more potent (and effective) retinoids such as tretinoin, there’s a formulation out there to suit you.

What is retinol?

Put simply, retinol is an over-the-counter form of vitamin A that’s applied topically to the skin. Retinol is part of the retinoid family – a large group of synthetic and naturally occurring compounds derived from vitamin A.

What does retinol do?

Retinol – and to a greater extent, more potent retinoids – increases skin cell turnover and has the power to clear, smooth and boost collagen production for a healthy, glowing complexion.

It’s an active ingredient that’s proven to fight acne but also support the skin’s ageing process. Whether your skincare concern is spots, pigmentation or dull skin texture, a retinoid in your skincare routine can make all the difference.

“Retinol – and to a greater extent, more potent retinoids – increases skin cell turnover and has the power to clear, smooth and boost collagen production for a healthy, glowing complexion.”

Retinol and retinoids

The main difference when we talk about retinol and retinoids is the potency of the active ingredient (vitamin A) when it comes to skincare

It takes more steps to convert vitamin A on your skin to retinoic acid (the ingredient that gives you the benefits you’re looking for) with retinol than it would a more potent form of vitamin A, like tretinoin.

So, is tretinoin better than retinol?

If your skincare criteria is efficacy – the most powerful ingredient to deliver the benefits you’re looking for then yes, tretinoin (that you may find in your personalised Daily Doser) is ‘better’ than retinol. 

The nuance here is what specific skin goals you’re looking to address and how committed you are to long-term progress and maintenance of healthy skin. There isn’t a hierarchy of ‘best’ active ingredients, but if there were, the ingredients with the most scientific evidence when it comes to results over short and long-term use would be at the top. With this in mind, retinoids like tretinoin fair incredibly well.

All retinoids need time to work on your skin to give you best results. You won’t see literal results overnight, but progress will become visible over months with regular use as part of your evening routine.

Maximising results and minimising reactions

Many dermatologists recommend starting on lower potency retinoids to minimise the risk of any slight (temporary) sensitivity and reactions associated with retinoids.

Skin can build tolerance to certain ingredients so that you no longer experience any mild reactions – think slight redness or temporary light skin-peeling associated with ‘retinoid purging’ or ‘tretinoin purging’. 

Rest assured that temporarily peeling or purging skin is a sign your skin is ‘spring cleaning’ it’s way to a fresher complexion. Retinoids increase skin cell turnover to reveal smoother, more youthful-looking skin. 

Just don’t forget your sunscreen. Using a high factor SPF 30+ is non-negotiable, especially when it comes to using retinoids, which can make your skin more sensitive to sun damage

Retinol, tretinoin and microdosing

If your skin goals are aligned with a more potent form of vitamin A than what you would find in off-the-shelf retinol, then (in the case of your Daily Doser personalised treatment) your Prescriber may recommend tretinoin

They will increase tretinoin concentration in your Daily Doser slowly over months of treatment so that your skin builds a tolerance for this active ingredient to ensure maximal results with minimal reaction. This slow increase of active ingredients over time in skincare is known as microdosing.

The right ingredient for your skin goals

A caveat here that everyone’s skin is different. From sensitivity levels to skin type, to any skin goals you want to reach for and the results you want to maintain, the right blend of active ingredients can help get you there.

If you want to address a myriad of skin concerns – from acne to skin-ageing – then retinol (or if prescribed, the next level of active ingredient retinoid such as tretinoin) makes a gold standard start.

Note: Retinoids are not recommended if you are trying to conceive, pregnant or breastfeeding. If your pregnancy status changes, please drop us an email at to let your Prescriber know.

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