Retinol vs Retinal: What's the Difference?


If you’re looking to address signs of ageing, pigmentation, and/or acne, you’ve likely considered integrating Vitamin A into your routine. With numerous derivatives available, it's easy to feel overwhelmed by the options.

Enter retinol and retinal, both potent forms of vitamin A with distinct characteristics. Understanding their differences is key to choosing which best suits your skin goals, so we’ve broken down the science of these two superhero ingredients.

What is Retinol?

Retinol, an increasingly popular anti-ageing ingredient, is a form of Vitamin A belonging to the retinoid family, is renowned for its efficacy in tackling fine lines, wrinkles, and uneven skin tone, retinol stimulates collagen production and accelerates cell turnover.

When applied to the skin, retinol undergoes a two-step conversion path, commonly known as the ‘vitamin A pathway’, first converting to retinal, and then to retinoic acid - the most bioactive form of Vitamin A, and the only form that our skin can absorb. As retinol sits earlier in the conversion pathway, it also means that it may take longer to see visible results compared to its more potent counterpart, retinal.

What is Retinal?

Retinal, or retinaldehyde, is another member of the retinoid family, but its proximity to retinoic acid in the skin's metabolic pathway translates into faster and more efficient results. This makes retinal a preferred choice individuals with advanced signs of ageing or looking to address specific skin concerns such as stubborn hyperpigmentation or acne, without the potential risk of irritation.

5 key differences between retinol and retinal

We recently upgraded our Vital A Elixir by incorporating retinal, creating a superior, COSMOS certified organic anti-ageing serum. Here’s why:

  1. Potency: Retinal undergoes a faster conversion into retinoic acid within the skin, making it more potent and efficacious compared to retinol.
  2. Conversion Rate: Retinal undergoes a quicker metabolic conversion process compared to retinol, leading to accelerated skin renewal and visible results.
  3. Lower risk of irritation: Despite its potency, retinal is proven to be gentle on the skin, allowing for a more potent product without compromising comfort and safety.
  4. Suitable for daytime use: While retinol is traditionally recommended for nighttime usage as it increases the skin’s sensitivity to UV, retinal is safe to use during the day, making it a much more versatile option.
  5. Pregnancy safe: Similarly, unlike regular retinols, retinal is considered safe for use during pregnancy and breastfeeding, providing mothers with a skincare option that delivers results without compromising safety.

By understanding these nuances, you can select the ideal vitamin A derivative for your skincare regimen, ensuring optimal results tailored to your needs and preferences.

Discover why our upgraded Vital A formula is fast becoming a customer favourite here.


Hi. Which layer or order would you use this in the morning? Currently I use day serum and marine serum. Should I continue and use just at night time?
Thank you

Liz Powell May 08, 2024

Thanks so much for this piece. I’m glad to hear that it is gentler and can be worn during the day. It’s so good to be educated about products in a world that promises products but only vaguely backs up the blurbs.

Annie May 08, 2024
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By Mukti

Mukti has been actively involved in the beauty and personal care industry for over two decades. Her varied career has encompassed a common thread focusing on health and wellness. Her aim is to reconnect people to nature, creating health and happiness via toxin-free lifestyles and beauty regimes.