Retinols v Retinoids: What’s the Difference

essellesse talks retinoids and retinols - what's the difference? • Dear Brightly retinoid

I talk a lot about retinoids here on essellesse. It is something that has completely transformed my skin.

Retinoid & retinols are “hot” words in the skincare world. Before I got a prescription for mine last year, I would look for the r-word in skincare. I didn’t really know what I was looking for or why but I knew I wanted it.

You can buy retinol OTC in both drug stores & Sephora – they are pretty easy to find these days. However, it was my friend Corrin was actually the one to really educate me on retinoids. She told me, point blank {& I’m pretty sure we were in CVS looking at random skincare products that siad “retinol” on them at the time}, I won’t get what I’m looking for with retinols, I need a prescription retinoid.

What was I looking for? Youthful, bouncy, clear skin. Easy enough, right?

I should also mention my skin {prior to retinoids} is acne-prone, combination {super dry at times or super oily}, with plenty of scarring {bad habit of picking at my skin}. Also, I wanted something that could help minimize my pores. I should also mention that I don’t believe in botox or “preventative botox”. Post on this for another day, but I bring that up because whenever I mention my skin goals, the first thing people tell me is Botox & that’s not an option for me.

Corrin helped me get my first prescription & since then I’ve been using Dear Brightly. I LOVE DEAR BRIGHTLY because they give you back time {both literally and topically – ha}.

Seriously, instead of making an appointment, talking to a dermatologist for like an hour, then getting an prescription, then picking up said prescription – they are a service that takes no more than 10 minutes to get a prescription grade retinoid without ever talking to anyone face to face.

You will out a questionnaire, take a few selfies of your skin, they send it to a dermatologist & then you get a retinoid delivered directly to your door & completely formulated just for you. I am a huge fan, have worked with them numerous times and they will forever be my source for getting my prescription retinoid. Check Dear Brightly out here & you can use the code: GLOWLIKESLS for 10% off your custom formula.

So what exactly are retinols & retinoids?

essellesse talks retinoids and retinols - what's the difference? • Dear Brightly retinoid

I touched a bit on it here.

One of my favourite descriptors I’ve read on retinols is “time exfoliant” from my friend Katey.

Yes, they are great for anti-aging prevention, but they also exfoliate the skin.

For starters, let’s talk phrasing: retinoids can be an umbrella statement and includes retinol; retinoic acid, tretinoin, and isotretinoin.

Retinol is basically a derivative of Vitamin A. Vitamin A is key for the body to boost cell turnover. SO- by applying it topically, that turnover is epic: think brighter skin, rejuvenated skin, reduce acne, & boost collagen production. {I also like to drink and bathe in collagen}

You can buy retinol OTC in both drug stores & Sephora. It works, but it’s much weaker than prescription strength retinoids. The results I was wanting would have taken me a LOT longer to achieve {talking months or even years vs 6 weeks}.

essellesse talks retinoids and retinols - what's the difference? • Dear Brightly retinoid

A prescription retinoid has a much more potent concentrate of the active retinoic acid ingredient. To put it simply, upon skin contact, retinoic acid is converted by your skin to promote cell turnover which brings the results outlined above. Since retinol is basically a weaker product, more conversions are needed to become usable reinoic acid & at this point, isn’t really absorbed by your skin. . Not to mention, most OTC retinol is already mixed in with a moisturizer or other products to help “dilute it” to avoid the “retinization” stage aka irritation as your skin adjusts to the turnover.

To really simplify things: retinoids & retinols do the same thing, but the potency of retinoic acid is what differentiates them. Retinoids work faster and more effectively, retinols much more gradual & take significantly longer.

Basically, when you hear the term “retinoid”, especially from dermatologists, they are referring to the prescription grade retinoids.

essellesse talks retinoids and retinols - what's the difference? • Dear Brightly retinoid

A few other questions I got on Instagram regarding retinoids:

Q: I’m in my 20’s, am I too young to start using retinoids?

Not at all! In fact, I wish I started using mine in my 20s, especially when I was dealing with acne. Again, I don’t believe in “preventative botox” & think truly, the best way to prevent the signs of aging, is getting a prescription retinoid in your 20s-30s.

Q: What was your skin like before you started retinoids?

In my 20s, it broke out often but my lifestyle also wasn’t the healthiest to say the least. In my 30s, I cleaned up my lifestyle {& drank a ton, A TON more water!!} and that helped my skin a lot. However, it was still on the dull side, prone to breakouts & scarring, and combination oil levels. I also had large pores and it was something that made me feel a little insecure. After the first month, I really saw the results of retinoids. I can easily say my skin looks better now than it ever has in my teens & 20s all thanks to retinoids!

Q: Did retinoids irritate your skin when you first started?

Yes, they did. That said, Corrin prepared me for it. In fact, I was going to London for about a week & started it then since I wouldn’t be around many people. In all my photos in London, you can’t tell {thx Facetune!! lol seriously tho}, but my face was totally red & peeling. This lasted me only about 2.5 weeks but can last for up to a month. Stick through it!!! It’s worth it. Moisturizer is very helpful to combat redness & peeling during this stage. Another reason why I love Dear Brightly is they create a formula completely tailored to your skin type. If your skin is more sensitive, the formula will be catered towards that & they make it easy for you to ease into your new retinoid.

Q: How often do I use retinoids?

I touched on this here but I basically do it every single night. I’m very much a “routine” person and can get robotic about things! That said, the only time I don’t wear mine is when I know I will be in the sun all day or on vacation. For example, my birthday vacation in 2 weeks will all be outdoors so I won’t be bringing mine. Whenever I take breaks like that, I’ll ease back into it every other day for the first week.

San Francisco based lifestyle blogger, Shannon Silver of essellesse, talks retinoids vs retinols & what's the difference • Dear Brightly retinoid

I hope I was able to answer some questions!! If you have any others, let me know.

For more posts on retinoids

+ All You Need To Know About Prescription Retinoids

+ How I Incorporate Retinoids in my Nightly Routine

Happy Tuesday! Hope you had a lovely weekend & productive start to the week. See you tomorrow!


+++ get your Dear Brightly here & code: GLOWLIKESLS for 10% off!

+++ ps if you like skincare, then you HAVE to check out these game changing Japanese face masks!

+++ want a fun skincare DIY? Check out my two ingredientwhipped tropical mango butter!

+++ if you liked this post, follow me on instagram & bloglovin!


  • happy Sunday 💙 just caught up on big little lies and I have soooo many theories 🌊 #momentswithsunday #biglittlelies #hbo
  • one of my fav things about aromatherapy is how different scents appeal to you depending on how you’re feeling. Eucalyptus smelling particularly good right now? it well help bring the clarity you’re craving . Chamomile for tonight? this will make it easier to decompress & relax. 🧖🏻‍♀️ I love the aromatherapy from @aeraforhome - I use the oils on my wrists & in the bath as well as with their seriously smart diffuser for home. It brings a nice luxe hotel vibe & can always set the mood. The diffuser is sleek, chic, & smart: you can connect it to wifi & Alexa to control and adjust! All of Aera’s scents are hypoallergenic, non toxic, cleans, & completely pet safe. Swipe through to see it the diffuser in action + a suuuper satisfying video 💆🏻‍♀️🔮 i have a full review on the smart diffuser {& why it’s so smart} and the aromatherapy oils on • link in bio ⚜️#aromaistherapy #aera #aeraforhome #ad
  • went to the beach 🏝 I know I say this all the time but I’m seriously obsessed with the sunset district. I mean how could you not be obsessed with a neighborhood w the name sunset in it, right? ⚜️ #slssf #sunsetdistrict
  • spent the weekend sans phone 📴 we got sushi at okoze in Russian Hill, ice cream at @swensens_sanfran {I got coconut + chewy sticky chocolate with a sugar cone - insane 🍨}, watched The Hangover, & went to the farmers market. Tonight we’re making “Pesce all’Acqua Pazza” & watching new @euphoria 😋🌉 happy Sunday 💜 #momentswithsunday #slssf
  • après golf golden hour w @erikschuchard ⛳️🔆 hope y’all are having a chill holiday weekend ! ⚜️ #lazyluxury #silveradoresort #goldenhour
  • candy caddy at @silveradoresort 🍭🌴 #silveradoresort #napavalley #cadillac
  • my @indianspringscalistoga recap is 「 live 」on 💘 link in bio - can’t recc this place enough if you’re planning a Napa getaway! {only 90 minutes from SF!} 🌴🌊 #slstravels #calistoga #winecountry #lazyluxury

Follow & say what's up!