Difference Between Retinol and Retin A

Main Difference – Retinol vs Retin A

Derivatives of vitamin A is more popular for preventing and reversing the signs of aging; therefore, these derivatives are highly used for pharmaceuticals and nutraceuticals. Retinol and Retin-A are two popular derivatives of vitamin A. There seems to be a lot of confusion over the difference between Retinol and Retin A. The main difference between Retinol and Retin A is that Retinol is a natural form of vitamin A whereas Retin-A is derived from retinoic acid which is an artificial derivative of vitamin A. Furthermore, Retinol is a chemical name whereas retin A is a trade name of tretinoin. In this article, let’s look at  the difference between Retinol and Retin A in terms of their intended uses and other chemical characteristics.

What is Retinol

Retinol is a diterpenoid and an alcohol, and it is known as an animal form of vitamin A. It is convertible to other forms of vitamin A, such as the retinal (retinaldehyde) form. Vitamin A is essential for vision, and retinoic acid is essential for skin health, teeth remineralization and bone growth. It is biosynthesized from the breakdown of β-carotene.

Difference Between Retinol and Retin A

Ball model of Retinol

What is Retin-A

Retin-A is derived from retinoic acid in pharmaceutical form. It is the most important medications needed in a basic health system and also used to treat acute promyelocytic leukemia. Retin A is a trade name, and its chemical name is known as tretinoin.Main Difference - Retinol vs Retin A

Difference Between Retinol and Retin A

The differences between Retinol and Retin-A can be divided into following categories. They are; 


Retinol: Vitamin A was first synthesized in 1947 by two Dutch chemists, David Adriaan van Dorp and Jozef Ferdinand Arens. Also, early 20th century, a laboratory in vivo animal or human experiments and epidemiologic observations identified the existence of this unique nutrient and its deficiency syndromes.

Retin-A: Retin-A was accidently discovered more than 25 years ago as a treatment for acne.

Naming Difference

Retinol: Retinol is a chemical name.

Retin-A: Retin –A is a trade name of tretinoin chemical compound.


Retinol: The IUPAC name of Retinol is (2E,4E,6E,8E)-3,7-dimethyl-9-(2,6,6-trimethylcyclohex-1-enyl)nona-2,4,6,8-tetraen-1-ol.

Retin-A: The IUPAC name of Retin-A is (2E,4E,6E,8E)-3,7-dimethyl-9-(2,6,6-trimethylcyclohexen-1-yl)nona-2,4,6,8-tetraenoic acid.

Chemical Formula

Retinol: The chemical formula is C20H30O.

Retin-A: The chemical formula is C20H28O2.

Molecular Formula


Difference Between Retinol and Retin A - formula 1




Main Difference - Retinol vs Retin A



Molar Mass

Retinol: Molar mass is 286.46 g·mol−1.

Retin-A: Molar mass id 300.4412 g/mol.

Melting Point

Retinol: Its melting temperature is 62–64 °C.

RetinA: Its melting temperature is 180 °C (356 °F).

Biological Role

Retinol: Retinol has the following biological roles;

  • Contribute to the growth and development of embryos and influences the process of cell differentiation
  • Influence the process of differentiation of stem cells to more committed fates
  • Play a role in vision cycle
  • Influence the production of human growth hormone
  • Play a role in immune system
  • Contribute to the correct functioning of epithelial cells

Retin-A: Retin-A plays a major role in human aging.

Medical Uses

Retinol has the following medicinal uses:

  • In cosmetic industry, this is used in anti-aging and stretch mark creams
  • Prevention of Night blindness, Keratomalacia, and Pale, dry skin

Retin-A has the following medicinal uses:

  • Treatment for Dermatology – This is highly used as a form of acne curing agent. Also sometimes use as hair loss treatment, slow skin aging or removing wrinkles. Furthermore, retin-A reduce can increase collagen production in the dermis thereby the appearance of stretch marks can be removed.
  • Treatment for acute promyelocytic leukemia


Retinol: Natural sources include Cod liver oil, Butter, Margarine, Liver (beef, pork, chicken, turkey, fish), Eggs, Cheese, and Milk. In addition to that, synthetic retinol or artificial retinol is marketed under different trade names such as Acon, Afaxin, Agiolan, Alphalin, Anatola, Aoral, Apexol, Apostavit, Atav, Avibon, Avita, Avitol, Axerol, Dohyfral A, Epiteliol, Nio-A-Let, Prepalin, Testavol, Vaflol, Vi-Alpha, Vitpex, Vogan, and Vogan-Neu. Furthermore, genetic engineering is used to develop genetically modified food rich in retinol. Example is golden rice.

Retin-A:  It is available as a pharmaceutical drug.Difference Between Retinol and Retin A - infographic

In conclusion, retinol and retin-A are metabolites of vitamin A that mediates the functions of vitamin A required for growth and development. Daily diet tends to have required amounts of vitamin A and they are essential nutrients to the human body.


Sommer A (2008). Vitamin a deficiency and clinical disease: An historical overview. The Journal of Nutrition 138 (10), 1835–1839.

Garcia-Casal MN, Layrisse M, Solano L, Baron MA, Arguello F, Llover D, Ramirez J, Leets I, Tropper E (1998). Vitamin A and beta-carotene can improve nonheme iron absorption from rice, wheat and corn by humans. Journal of Nutrition 128 (3): 646–650.

Stefanaki C, Stratigos A, Katsambas A (2005). Topical retinoids in the treatment of photoaging. J Cosmet Dermatol 4 (2): 130–134.

Huang M, Ye Y, Chen S, Chai J, Lu J, Zhoa L, Gu L, Wang Z (1988). Use of all-trans retinoic acid in the treatment of acute promyelocytic leukemia (PDF). Blood 72 (2): 567–572.

Image Courtesy:

Ball model of retinol” By GYassineMrabetTalk. This image was created with PyMOL – Own work, (CC BY 3.0) via Commons Wikimedia 


About the Author: Geesha

Geeshani has a BSc (Hons) degree in Food Science and Technology and Master's degree in Food and Nutrition. She is currently a PhD Student at the Massey Institute of Food Science and Technology. Sharing what she learned is a passion of hers and enjoys writing.