The #RetinolReview Series: Types of Retinoids

The benefits of retinoids are tried and true. They are great for acne, aging and pigmentation. With this in mind, I'm sure you're ready to get your hands on some.

Well, you have lots of choices. There are different types of retinoids used as active ingredients in different skin care products.

It depends on the strength and concentration of what you need. The strength of a retinoid depends on the type of retinoid.

In order of weakest to strongest:

Retinyl Palmitate

First off, we have retinyl palmitate, considered the weakest of the lot.

It's a combination of retinol (pure vitamin A) and the fatty acid palmitic acid. It's an antioxidant found naturally in our skin, where it helps to protect skin from UV radiation. We still need to use SPF tho.

Retinyl palmitate is in a lot of products usually labelled as ‘Vitamin A skincare’. I'd use most of these for moisturizing not aging.

You can try it in Bio Oil  and the Estee Lauder Advanced Night Repair Synchronized Recovery Complex available in Linton Beauty World.


Retinol comes next. It's in a lot of skin care. But many products are labeled as "retinol" treatments, even if there is only retinyl palmitate, not retinol, as an active ingredient.

Tres confusing if you don't know your retinyl palmitate from retinol coz they aren't the same thing.

You can try retinol in the Neutrogena Rapid Wrinkle Repair serum at Super Cosmetics or La Roche-Posay Redermic R at Good Life Pharmacy.


After retinol,  we have retinaldehyde. Avene is your best bet to try retinaldehyde in Nairobi. It's in the brand's lines D-Pigment, Eluage, Retrinal, Triacneal and Ystheal, in creams, gels and lotions.

Tretinoin/ Retinoic acid/ Retin-A

Then we start calling in the big guns, tretinoin or retinoic acid. It comes as a gel or cream in different concentrations - 0.025%, 0.05%, and 0.1%.

The 0.025% is the weakest version of Retin-A, while the 0.1% is the strongest. I found the 0.05% at Pharmaplus Pharmacy.


Tazarotene is the strongest of the bunch. I was told by a pharmacist that the doctor needs to prescribe this, you can't just go to the pharmacy and purchase fwaaa.

2 retinoids considered less irritating than retinol

Retinyl retinoate is a combination of retinol and retinoic acid. It's supposed to be less sensitising than retinol.

Hydroxypinacolone retinoate is a retinoid ester used in The Ordinary and Sunday Riley Luna oil. It's also gentler than retinol.

I haven't used any skincare with either of these yet but I'll keep you posted.

So what makes a retinoid stronger than another?

Well, for the skin to use retinol, first it has to be converted to retinoic acid. The closer a retinoid is to retinoic acid, then the stronger it is.

For example, Retin-A is retinoic acid, so it immediately starts working on the skin because it doesn't need to be converted. Retinyl palmitate has to be converted to retinol then retinaldehyde then retinoic acid before the skin can use it, so it's a weaker retinoid than Retin-A.

Retin-A is like 4G and retinyl palmitate is at E.

But, just because a retinoid is stronger doesn't meant you should start with it. In fact, it might irritate the skin. You can start with a lower strength retinoid, build tolerance or stick with it if it works for you. Long term consistent use is what works with retinoids.

Have you tried (4G) Retin-A? Share your experience in the comments below!

Skin Care ProductsClare Oparo