Everything About Retinoids
(age on your own terms Sista!)

which retinoid is right for moi

So you’ve decided to add retinoids to your skincare routine? Well good for you girlfriend! So let’s take the first step and learn which retinoid is right for you! 

Don’t be a momo like me and just grab the first retinoid you see because you can end up either becoming red and scaly and stopping before you begin, or picking one too weak wasting valuable money and time (and I’m sorry to tell ya, the clock is a’tickin’).

Retinoids are your strongest line of defense against aging skin (after sunscreen, of course) so it’s not a matter of if, but when you add them to your skincare regimen. Why not start today?

Retinoids in Skincare can:

Add Elasticity To Your Skin

Improvement in Skin Elasticity Before and After Tretinoin Treatment

Improvement in Skin Elasticity Before and After Tretinoin Treatment

Smooth Out Wrinkles and Lines (slows down the aging process!)

Twin on your left uses retinoids. Twin on your right does not.

Twin on your left doesn’t use retinoids. Twin on your right does.

Smooth Stretchmarks

stretch marks before and after tretinoin

Stretch Marks (A) Before and (B) After Tretinoin Treatment

Even Out Your Skin Tone

Skin Tone Before and After Tretinoin

Skin Tone Before and After Tretinoin (Obagi brand)

Minimize the Look of Large Pores

Smooth Acne Scars

Acne Scars Before and After Tretinoin Treatment

Acne Scars Before and After Tretinoin Treatment

Control and Prevent Acne

acne before and after tretinoin-compressed

Acne Before, During and After Tretinoin Treatment

So, let’s start with a little known but important fact. Retinoids and retinol are not the same.

Retinoids vs. Retinol

retinoid and retinol are not synonymous

So many articles use the terms ‘retinol’ and ‘retinoid’ interchangeably, so I’m not blaming you if you think they’re the same thing, but they’re not.

Retinol is another name for the vitamin A molecule (a powerful antioxidant that fights off free radicals that damage the skin as well as repair damage that has already taken place). Retinol = Vitamin A

Retinoid is the category of all molecules that can be converted to retinoic acid. Since retinol is vitamin A and vitamin A converts to retinoic acid, retinol is a retinoid and all retinol products are retinoids.

But, as not all flowers are azaleas, not all retinoids are retinol.

This is important to know since there are many retinoids to choose from <this is the time to pay attention>, some being way stronger than others. It’s important to start with the right one so you don’t gee up your skin and give up before you start.

Types of Retinoids

The retinoids that you need to know about when it comes to skincare are:

        • Retinyl Palmitate & Retinyl Acetate (aka retinyl esters) – the least irritating retinoids (20% weaker than retinol) and are best to begin with if you have dry or super sensitive skin.
        • Retinol – the second weakest retinoid (about 20x less effective than retinoic acid), but is also a good place to establish your retinoid baseline.
        • Retinaldehyde (aka retinyl) – stronger than retinol but one step weaker than the retinoic acid and a good way to work up to it.
        • Retinoic Acid (aka Tretinoin, Retin-A, Renova) – the strongest , most effective retinoid (about 100 x stronger than retinol) and can only be obtained through a prescription from your doctor.

beautyblackbook tipsTretinoin (retinoic acid) is the form of retinoid that does all of the work. Every other retinoid must first convert to tretinoin before it is effective.

When a retinoid is applied to the skin it ultimately converts to a retinoic acid. Retinoic acid is the effective part of retinoids. A retinoid MUST convert to retinoic acid before it can be effective in skincare.

The strength or effectiveness of a retinoid depends on how many conversions it takes to become retinoic acid.

retinoid chart

If you refer to the chart above you’ll see that retinyl palmitate & retinyl acetate, once applied to the skin, must first convert to retinol → then to retinaldehyde before it becomes → retinoic acid.

That’s 3 conversions making retinyl the weakest form of retinoid.

Retinol takes two conversions (retinol → retinaldehyde → retinoic acid) , making it a bit stronger but retinaldehyde just takes one conversion making it stronger than retinyl.

Think of it like this. Each conversion takes energy and the more energy exerted, the less energy is left to do the work it needs to do to be effective.

beautyblackbook heartIn Arizona speak, if you’re on a hike and your dog gets chased by a coyote would you  rather have the guy that’s just starting his hike help you run after the dog or the guy who hiked 10 miles already and is tired help rescue Fido?

The first guy would probably be more effective, unless of course the second guy happens to be Usain Bolt, but you get the point. 😉

Choosing Your Retinoid

Retinoids are LONG TERM, homies! You have to use them for them to keep working and you’re not going to use them if they wreak havoc to your skin.

Listen to what I’m about to tell ya and you have nothing to worry about, your skin will be happy and you get to enjoy the ultimate benefits of your retinoid!

For Sensitive Skin Start With a Retinyl

If your skin irritates easily or has a propensity towards dryness, you may want to start with a retinyl palmitate or retinyl acetate.

Retinyl palmitate and retinyl acetate are retinyl esters, a storage form of vitamin A. Retinyl acetate is the vitamin A found in our skin and retinyl acetate is the synthetic alternative.

There’s a cool foamy retinyl palmitate peel  by HydroPeptide that may be good start if you’re skin shy. I gave one to my tomboy girlfriend who’s just not ready to “commit to a daily skincare routine”. She’s been using it twice a week for a month and asked me what else she should be doing for her skin!

HydroPeptide Anti-Wrinkle Polish

The HydroPeptide Anti-Wrinkle Polish $78 only stays on your skin for about 8 minutes and is a cool way to acclimate super sensitive skin. It’s also got lactic acid and vitamin C for exfoliation and brightening so it’s not a sissy way to start either.

I’d start with twice a week and if your skin doesn’t get crazy dry then I’d move up to a daily cream or even move up a step to a retinol.

Derma e Anti-Wrinkle Viatmin A Retinyl Palmitate Creme

Mr. BeautyBlackBook uses the Derma e Anti-Wrinkle Vitamin A Retinyl Palmitate Creme ($10ish) which keeps his skin moist and has made his first foray into the retinoid world pretty seamless.

beautyblackbook heartI would only choose a retinyl palmitate or retinyl acetate product if your skin is super sensitive. Otherwise, don’t be a wuss. Consider something stronger like retinol which is 25% more effective than any retinyl product.

Start with a Retinol

If your skin isn’t crazy super sensitive then you may want to start with a retinol product. You can find them over the counter at your local drugstore and they are more effective than the retinyl’s.

For the eyes, I love me some Roc.

The Roc Retinol Correxion Eye Cream ($15ish) is a cool start for your eye area.  I would also recommend trying it on the lip lines above your lips. This is serious stuff though so don’t go all hog wile with it because you’ll end up with temporarily crepey eyes and that is what we’re trying to avoid.

Use it once every three days to start. If it’s too drying them move it to once a week or mix it with a yummy creamy lotion like the Osea Eyes & Lips.

For the face and neck I love the Neutrogena Rapid Repair Moisturizer Night which would go on before or be added to your regular night cream.

Neutrogena wrinkle repair moisturizer

But if you’re also in the market for a night cream then check out the Radha Beauty Retinol Moisturizer Cream for Face and Eye Area ($20ish). 

Radha Beauty Retinol Moisturizer Cream for Face and Eye Area The SkinMedica Retinol Complex 0.5  is another good choice since it’s loaded with other good stuff like peptides, vitaman E, hyaluronic acid, green tea and ceramides.

SkinMedica Retinol Complex 0.5

The main thing to make sure of when buying a retinol, or any retinoid really, is that it comes in an opaque bottle. This protects it from light which can make it ineffective.

Air impacts the effectiveness too, so be quick everytime you open the bottle.  Or better yet, buy one with a pump. Store your retinoid in a dry cool place. I keep mine in a drawer away from the window.


Retinaldehydes are a more sensitive option to retinoic acids. I skipped those AND the retinol and hopped up to the big boys which was a BIG mistake (it cost me ten whole years of retinoid happiness!).

Retinaldehyde is the least commercialized retinoid but is important to know about since it’s just one step down from retinoic acid, is stronger than retinol, less irritating than retinoic acid, and can still be bought over the counter.

Here are a couple notable ones that don’t break the bank.

Eau Thermal Avene RetrinAL Eyes

Eau Thermale Avène RetrinAL Eyes Cream ($50ish) for the eye (and lip line) area, also has hyaluronic acid to hydrate and plump the skin, Collactin to reduce the appearance of wrinkles, and dextran sulfate to reduce dark circles.

And I’m sticking with the Eau Thermale Avene RetrinAL line for the rest of the face and neck.

Eau Thermale Avène RetrinAL 0.1 Intensive Cream

Eau Thermale Avène RetrinAL 0.1 Intensive Cream ($70ish) combines retinalhyde with a pro-elastin peptide to firm skin, and vitamin E to protect skin from free radicals.

beautyblackbook tipsWhen Retinoids are combined with other antioxidants, peptides, or other yummy stuff, it’s like turning it on supersonic mode.


Retinoic Acid (big girl retinoids)

tretinoin .05

Retinoic acid goes by many names (Retin-A, Renova, Avita) but the generic version is called Tretinoin, which is what I use.

Tretinoin is the strongest retinoid for your skin and comes in strengths of 0.025% (0.25 mg),  0.05% (0.5 mg), or 0.1% (1 mg), 1mg being the strongest. Retinoic acid requires a prescription from a doctor and a visit to your pharmacy.

I am currently rotating between the Tretinoin .05% in the gel form and the cream form, every other day that sexiness took about a year of the .025% first. I’d recommend starting with that.

Believe it or not my health insurances pays for my tretinoin with a $15 copay but without insurance it starts around $50. Best to check with your pharmacy. Stick with the generic (tretinoin) to keep the price down.

Also, get the smaller tube so it stays fresher longer.

How to Apply Your Retinoid


The second most important thing you have to consider when starting retinoids is how you apply them. Here’s the rule of thumb:

  • For the first couple of weeks use a pea-sized amount every three days. If it’s too strong then add a layer of moisturizer first (or mix it in with your moisturizer like I do).
  • Once your skin acclimates, about two weeks, amp it up to every other night. 
  • When your skin gets used to that (for at least 2 weeks) then move up to every night.
  • Next, jump up to a stronger retinoid,
  • so on and so forth.

Retinoids are not an immediate gratification thing. They work gradually and cumulatively. When you stop and then start back up, you may have, to a certain extent, go through the acclimation process again. So make it a habit and stick to it!

You’re going to be 80 one day so why not look younger doing it?

And one more thing before I leave you, I recommend using retinoids at night but not because retinoids make your skin sensitive to the sun because that’s a myth.

Retinoids do NOT make your skin more sensitive to the sun!

As a matter of fact, retinyl palmitate actually protects your skin by absorbing ultra violet B radiation. That’s actually the same way that chemical absorbing sunscreens work!

A clinical study at the Department of Dermatology at University Hospital in Geneva Switzerland put retinyl palmitate or sunscreen on the butt cheeks of volunteers and found that the retinyl ester was as efficient at blocking ultraviolet B as an SPF 20!

Retinoids become unstable in light meaning that the sun makes them inactive and they don’t work. So, you won’t get hella burned if you use it in the sun, but you will be wasting a good retinoid.

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