woman with acne looking outward with retinol cream on counter

Retinol vs Acne: What You Need to Know

Retinol vs Acne: What You Need to Know


When it comes to skincare, there are a million different products and ingredients promising to perfect your complexion. But what exactly does that leave you with? A pretty dizzying amount of information about all the different options for dealing with acne and other skin concerns.

It’s enough to make your head spin, especially if you’re trying to figure out which product will work best for you or which ingredients are most important. There are so many different skincare solutions on the market, but we all want the same thing: clear, healthy skin.

Luckily, there are a few key ingredients that can help get you there. Retinol is one such ingredient, and it’s also an extremely effective tool against acne and other pimples lurking beneath your skin. Let’s take a look at how retinol works against acne-prone skin, as well as whether it’s more effective than beta-carotene

What is Retinol?

Retinol is an over-the-counter (OTC) anti-aging ingredient that has been popping up in skincare products for decades. Developed by scientists as a synthetic version of Vitamin A, Retinol is found in many moisturizers and serums designed for aging or acne-prone skin.

It's used in the blissani Gemma Crema and Very Toney Anti-Aging serums. It’s one of the most effective ways to firm and brighten your complexion, fade dark spots, and prevent wrinkles and acne, too. If you’ve ever bought a Vitamin A supplement, you’ll know that it comes in two forms: retinol and retinyl palmitate. Retinol is the pure and concentrated form of Vitamin A.

Retinyl palmitate is a synthetic version of Vitamin A, meaning it’s a bit weaker than pure retinol. As such, retinol is the better choice for skincare as it’s much more concentrated and potent than retinyl palmitate.

How does Retinol work against acne?

Retinol is one of the most powerful antioxidants in skincare. Antioxidants work by fighting off free radicals — unstable molecules that damage our skin and promote aging. Retinol is particularly effective against acne thanks to p-Hydroxybenzoic acid (HBHA), a compound found in Vitamin A that helps fight acne-causing bacteria.

Once applied to your skin, retinol will fight off harmful bacteria that cause breakouts. It is also known to decrease sebum production which may result in a less oily complexion.

Retinol can also improve the overall appearance of your pores by strengthening the walls that hold in your natural oils. In addition to helping fight acne, retinol also exfoliates dead skin cells, making your complexion brighter and healthier-looking.

typical blemish life cycle diagram includes clogged pore, sebum and zit

Why is it more effective than Beta-Carotene?

Retinol is the pure, concentrated form of Vitamin A, while beta-carotene is a synthetic version of Vitamin A. Retinol is therefore the more potent of the two, and therefore the more effective skincare ingredient. Retinol can do more than just convert to Vitamin A — it is Vitamin A! As such, it’s a more active ingredient that’s more easily absorbed by your skin.

Retinol is also more effective than beta-carotene at reducing acne, making it the better choice between the two. When it comes to acne, Vitamin A is known to reduce sebum production, kill acne-causing bacteria, and reduce inflammation. Vitamin A also helps to exfoliate dead skin cells, making your complexion brighter and more evenly toned.

Are there any downsides to using Retinol on acne?

As with all skincare ingredients, there are a few potential drawbacks to using retinol against acne. Retinol is known for causing redness and irritation in some people, so it’s best to be cautious when starting to use it.

Retinol may also cause peeling, redness, and irritation at first, but these side effects should subside with time. You can minimize potential irritation by making sure to always patch test retinol products before fully committing to them, and avoiding prolonged exposure to sunlight when using retinol.

Despite these potential side effects, retinol is a highly effective skincare solution against acne and many other skincare concerns.  

Retinol for Anti-Aging: How Retinol Can Help With Fine Lines and Wrinkles

Retinol is a skincare ingredient that is often associated with anti-aging. This is because retinol is effective in reducing the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. Retinol works by boosting collagen production and increasing cell turnover, which leads to smoother, firmer skin.

Collagen is a protein that gives your skin its structure and elasticity, and it naturally decreases as we age. By increasing collagen production, retinol helps to plump up the skin and reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. Retinol can also help to reduce age spots and hyperpigmentation, which can add years to your appearance.

Retinol is one of the most effective anti-aging ingredients on the market. It is widely used in anti-aging skincare products, including moisturizers, serums, and eye creams. If you’re concerned about fine lines and wrinkles, incorporating retinol into your skincare routine may help to keep your skin looking youthful and radiant.  It's also great to understand the difference between retinol and retinoids.

How to Use Retinol for Acne and Anti-Aging

When using retinol for acne and anti-aging, it’s important to start slowly and build up gradually. This is because retinol can be irritating to the skin, especially if you have sensitive skin. Here are some tips for using retinol and how often to use retinol:

  1. Start with a low concentration: If you’re new to retinol, start with a product that has a low concentration (around 0.1%). You can gradually increase the concentration as your skin becomes more accustomed to the ingredient.

  2. Use it at night: Retinol can make your skin more sensitive to sunlight, so it’s best to use it at night. Apply a small amount of retinol to your face after cleansing and toning, and follow with a moisturizer.

  3. Avoid using too much: A little bit of retinol goes a long way. Using too much can cause irritation and dryness. Start with a pea-sized amount and increase gradually if necessary.

  4. Be patient: Retinol takes time to work. You may not see results for several weeks or even months. Stick with it and be patient.

Overall, retinol is a powerful skincare ingredient that can be beneficial for both acne and anti-aging. However, it’s important to use it correctly and be patient with results. If you’re unsure about whether or not retinol is right for your skin, consult with a dermatologist or skincare professional.

Retinol and Sun Sensitivity

Retinol can increase your skin’s sensitivity to the sun, which is why it’s important to use it at night and wear sunscreen during the day. Sunburn can lead to further skin damage and exacerbate acne breakouts. Make sure to apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher every morning, even on cloudy days.

Retinol and Pregnancy

Retinol should be avoided during pregnancy, as high doses of Vitamin A can be harmful to the fetus. If you’re pregnant or trying to conceive, talk to your doctor before using retinol or any other Vitamin A derivative. There are other acne-fighting and anti-aging ingredients that are safe for use during pregnancy, such as azelaic acid and glycolic acid.

"Hyaluronic Acid Pairs Well with Retinol AHAs Do Not" a bottle Gemma Crema and Very Toney Vegan Anti-Aging Serums

How to use Retinol for Acne-Prone Skin

If you’ve decided to give retinol a try for your acne-prone skin, there are a few things you should keep in mind to ensure you’re using it safely and effectively. The first thing to note is that retinol is a powerful ingredient, and it’s best to start slowly. If you’re new to retinol, begin by using a small amount of product and gradually build up to a larger amount as your skin becomes accustomed to it. Also, avoid using it too frequently at first as this could cause irritation.

It’s also important to note that retinol should be used at night, as sunlight can degrade the active ingredient and make it less effective. Apply a pea-sized amount of the product to your clean, dry skin, focusing on areas where you experience the most breakouts. Wait at least 20 minutes after cleansing your face before applying retinol to avoid any irritation.

If you experience any irritation, redness, or peeling while using retinol, scale back the amount of product you’re using or reduce the frequency of application. You can also try applying a hydrating moisturizer over the retinol to help soothe any irritation.

Potential Interactions with Other Skincare Ingredients While retinol is generally safe for most people to use, it can interact with other skincare ingredients and cause irritation or other negative side effects. For example, retinol should not be used with alpha-hydroxy acids (AHAs) or beta-hydroxy acids (BHAs) as they can increase skin sensitivity and cause irritation.

Retinol should also not be used with benzoyl peroxide, which is another common acne-fighting ingredient. Benzoyl peroxide can break down retinol and make it less effective, so it’s best to use these two ingredients separately.

If you’re not sure how to incorporate retinol into your existing skincare routine or have concerns about potential interactions, it’s best to speak with a dermatologist or skincare specialist.


Retinol is a highly effective ingredient for fighting acne-prone skin, but it’s important to use it safely and correctly. With the right approach, retinol can help reduce sebum production, kill acne-causing bacteria, and improve the overall appearance of your complexion. If you have sensitive skin, it’s important to start slowly and patch test the product before committing to using it regularly.

It’s also important to avoid using retinol with other acne-fighting ingredients and to apply it at night to avoid sun damage. If you have any concerns about using retinol, speak with a skincare specialist or dermatologist for personalized advice.

Bottom line

Retinol is a potent skincare ingredient that can help reduce acne, fight wrinkles, and promote a more even skin tone. It’s the pure, concentrated form of Vitamin A, making it a more potent choice than beta-carotene.

Retinol is also effective at fighting bacteria that causes acne and preventing future breakouts, making it a great choice for acne-prone skin. Retinol can cause irritation in some people, but it’s still an excellent skincare solution for both mature and acne-prone skin.

gemma crema natural and vegan anti-aging serum with hyaluronic acid and retinol


  1. Kim JH, Moon SH, Ko JY, et al. Retinol protects against cigarette smoke extract-induced cell death in normal human bronchial epithelial cells via the phosphatidylinositol 3-kinase pathway. Exp Ther Med. 2019;18(4):2745-2752. doi:10.3892/etm.2019.7878

  2. Mukherjee S, Date A, Patravale V, Korting HC, Roeder A, Weindl G. Retinoids in the treatment of skin aging: an overview of clinical efficacy and safety. Clin Interv Aging. 2006;1(4):327-348. doi:10.2147/ciia.2006.1.4.327

  3. Ozkanli S, Karatoprak G, Arica IE, Gul G, Yildirim F, Kircali B. The effects of retinol and aloe vera on wound healing in rats


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