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Hyaluronic acid vs Retinol – What’s better for you?

In the Skincare industry, these two names, Hyaluronic acid & Retinol have been taken repeatedly. Very honestly, Both the ingredients are bomb, but they are pretty opposite in nature. You’ll see how.

Let’s know the sweet Hyaluronic acid up-close

Hyaluronic acid is a humectant that basically pulls the water/moisture onto the surface from within the deep layers of the skin. It hydrates the skin keeping the lipid barrier strong which means, no loss of moisture from the skin (epidermis) resulting in healthy & youthful skin.

Hyaluronic acid helps skin look so very hydrated & plump? How? `By holding 1000 times its weight in water, it makes the skin look very plump & dewy.

Model showing what Hyaluronic acid looks like

Hyaluronic Acid- a lightweight serum

What does Hyaluronic acid do for our skin?

This is quite impressive. So read on:

  • It is known for its calming nature therefore any kind of redness, or irritation caused by acne medications or in general are taken care of by this darling product.
  • When your skin is fully hydrated after using Hyaluronic acid, aging automatically slows down a bit. Dry skin is the biggest reason for fine lines & wrinkles.
  • Improves skin’s rough texture by making it smooth for makeup application.
  • Hyaluronic acid is the friendliest & sweetest acid in nature hence no clashes if layered or paired with any other acid, medicine, or serum.
  • Anybody can use it. Hyaluronic acid is suitable for all skin types-oily/dry/combination/normal/sensitive Voila!
  • It’s affordable! Something so amazing with enormous skin benefits. (Try from The Ordinary)

Always be the boss of your product & know how to use it perfectly

How to use Hyaluronic acid in your skincare routine?

  • Always layer Hyaluronic acid with a nice moisturizer & seal the skin. If you don’t & if the air around you is dry, it draws moisture from deep layers of your skin and makes the skin drier; leaving it uncomfortably sort of tight. So don’t forget the moisturizer!
  • When using other ingredients, acids or serums, use Hyaluronic acid as the last serum before the moisturizer followed by sunscreen.
  • Apply Hyaluronic acid on clean damp skin, it absorbs amazingly well on damp skin.

Now you have a good knowledge of Hyaluronic acid. Great job but our hero ingredient is coming up next.

Who is it?


It is the Star ingredient, The Tom Cruise of the beauty industry!! In the skincare industry, there is no substance more googled, loved, praised & misunderstood than Retinol. ha-ha.

(After reading this article, you’ll know how you can slow your skin aging. Not kidding. Just try & stick for your skin’s sake).

Know it scientifically first, Retinols are derivatives of Vitamin A. Retinols are frequently confused with retinoids (also a derivative of vitamin A) but in easy language, Retinols are comparatively mild to retinoids hence they are easily available over the counter, while retinoids need prescription.

Because they’re mild, they work slower compared to retinoids yet they are effective in treating all our skin concerns.

  • Stimulates Collagen production by speeding skin cell turnover.
  • To Treat acne problems & acne scars.
  • Works wonders for all skin aging signs like fine lines, wrinkles, and sagging skin & also helps with treating hyperpigmentation. What more could you ask for from a single ingredient, right?

A girl showing Hyperpigmentation stages with consistent use of Retinol

Hyperpigmentation stages with consistent use of Retinol

But nothing this good comes without a catch, using retinol comes with a strict set of rules one needs to follow while applying it otherwise it can backfire!

You can take maximum benefits out of Retinol by sticking to these tried & tested tips

Retinol – Pro Tips to incorporate into your skincare routine

A girl with over flaky or over peeled skin due to exceeding the amount of retinol usage

Skin flaking when you exceed the Retinol amount

  • Wear sunscreen when you’re out during the day. Using retinol makes your skin highly photosensitive, which means the skin is very sensitive to UV light.
  • Only use it at night time.
  • Do not mix Retinol with any other ingredient without first reading about it thoroughly as it doesn’t gel up with most of the ingredients.
  • Use it at some distance from your eyes, mouth & nose.
  • For sensitive skin types & newbies, always start with the lowest concentration, like .025% – 0.1%, 2-3 times a week. When you become a pro, you can go up to 1%.
  • Pls, do not exceed the quantity of more than a pea size. Too much does more harm than good just like makeup.
  • Don’t forget to use it on your neck as well, the neck area ages even faster than your face because of thinner skin.
  • Don’t use Retinol on damp skin. Pat your skin dry completely & then apply.
  • Don’t forget to layer it with a moisturizer followed by sunscreen.
  • It may take up to 8-12 weeks to produce visible results so be tolerant. Once you start this journey, you won’t stop.
  • Try & avoid any other potential irritants like acids or chemical exfoliants into your routine when you’re starting your retinol journey. This can at least cut down the chances of over-exfoliation.

Who should not use Retinol?

  1. Pregnant/Nursing women
  2. People with Rosacea & eczema, unfortunately, can’t use retinol. It will make the dry skin worse.

When should you start using Retinol?

The starting age for using it – early 20s is just fine with proper precautions and low concentration.

Extra pro tip when using Retinol? (Only if you are experienced)

To experience the deepest level of skin penetration, you might want to use it after you exfoliate, so your skin is maxed receptive to it.

Now, Let’s see how this charming ingredient works on our skin. FYI: This is the most interesting & satisfying part according to me.

How Retinol Works on your Skin

  • When we start aging, our cells don’t regenerate as quickly as they did when we were young.
  • Now, Retinol directly affects our gene expression, regulating all our age-related issues by eliminating dead skin cells & allowing fresh, young skin cells to come up to the surface.
  • It goes deep into the layers of the skin & exfoliates it from within. It also clears up acne because it cleans up the pores & eliminates bacterial growth. 

Diagram showing impact of retinol usage over months

Stages of Retinol Use

Know some shopping secrets for Retinol (Most uncommon info)

Now that you have already come so far, you probably have a good enough idea of the term ’retinol ‘. So, let’s find out how to shop for it correctly.


Retinol packaging is literally everything, which surprisingly very few people know of & I really want you to be a pro when choosing or using your product.

Air Exposure means retinol death. We don’t want that pls!

There are 4 types of packaging in the market.

  1. Tubes (Best)
  2. Pump bottles (Better)
  3. Serum bottles (Okay)
  4. Jars (NAH)

Tubes are undoubtedly the best & the safest form to use Retinol. If you can’t find those, you can go for Pump bottle packaging but beware of the Jars with those big lids. They literally don’t make sense.

Storage – How to store Retinol to maintain shelf life

Retinol is not a very stable ingredient in nature & perhaps it likes to stay in cool, dark places, far away from sunlight, (almost like a vampire LOL). Hence your bathroom cabinets work just fine.

Formula concentration

Retinol is no joke you guys, it’s something that you can do serious harm or serious good, depending on how you use it!! So once again GO SLOW initially! With concentration, application size & frequency.

I have seen a few companies claim a whopping concentration of 2% retinol. Run ha-ha

What if Retinol doesn’t suit your skin at all & you still wish to use it for the obvious gorgeous benefits? I mean that’s kind of a sad situation, right? …Well, not really.


  • We have a cool new kid on the block whose properties are almost all same as retinol, but it’s derived from plants, Hell yes! It’s vegan & natural. It’s called Bakuchiol’. It is popularly known as plant retinol.
  • Very gently it takes care of aging symptoms like fine lines, wrinkles, and uneven skin tone.
  • It helps with skin’s firmness, minimizing the pores without any flakiness, dryness, or redness unlike in some cases of retinol.
  • So, it’s an all-win product for people who either can’t tolerate retinol, are pregnant, or are beginners.

Now that we know these superstars individually, let’s compare them face to face for an even clearer understanding.

Hyaluronic Acid Retinol
Works on plumping, healing & hydrating the skin on upper layer. Goes deep into the layer of skin & exfoliates from within. Increases collagen production of the skin by boosting skin cell turnover.
Results can be seen immediately Results take weeks-months.
Can be layered with any acid or ingredient without worrying Compatible with very few ingredients
Can get over the counter Can get over the counter though higher concentrations require prescription.
Not that effective for the treatment of acne Superb for treating acne
No worries about Photo-sensitivity Increases photosensitivity
Can be applied any time of the day Must be applied only at night
Almost no cases of major side effects Has side effects if not applied properly, doesn’t suit sensitive skin types, and doesn’t suit people with Eczema and Rosacea conditions.
Comparison table of Hyaluronic Acid and Retinol

Retinol Family Tree

Now here’s some bonus information from me to help you know a little bit about the Retinol family tree. (It will help you a lot with your confusion in buying retinoid products).

Diagram of the Retinoid family tree

I have made this diagram of the complete Retinoid family for your easiest understanding

Shopping tip All the Retinoids are divided into 3 classes

Retinoid is the head of the family if I put it in a clear easy way. It is divided into 7 main types (with recommended percentage) or has 7 children for easy understanding ha-ha.

  1. Retinol (the most popular child)-0.1% – 1.0%
  2. Retinyl palmitate (it’s almost pointless so don’t even bother)- 1%
  3. Retinal (not easy to find in products because of serious stability issues but alternative to retinol if you’re looking for something with more efficacy)-0.1%-1.0%
  4. Retinoic Acid or Retin-A (Gold standard retinoid, very commonly given as Tretinoin by doctors for treating mature skin issues. 20 times more powerful than Retinol. Only available by prescription)-0.01-0.1%
  5. Adapalene (Can get over the Counter. Solid effective in treating acne)-0.1%
  6. Tazarotene (Used for Hyperpigmentation & acne scars. Only available by prescription)-0.1%
  7. Isotretinoin (Oral retinoid you can say. It’s used to treat severe cystic acne).


Hence, the conclusion is if you are looking for an Anti-ageing & and acne-killer ingredient go for Retinol. If you’re looking for Dewy, hydrated, plump skin, choose Hyaluronic Acid. If you want all of that, for supple glowing healthier skin, combine both ingredients. Voila!

How do you apply both Retinol and Hyaluronic acid together?

  1. Wash your face with a non-comedogenic cleanser (which doesn’t block your pores)
  2. Pat dry
  3. Apply a few drops or a pea-sized amount of retinol & massage it evenly on the face & neck.
  4. Then, apply a few drops of Hyaluronic acid evenly
  5. Layer it with a fragrance-free moisturizer & you’re set.
  6. Don’t forget to apply sunblock the next day.

Have beautiful healthy skin you, guys. Love~ Beauty Stroll

By Aayushi S
By Aayushi S
Aayushi is a New York based freelance writer and a content strategist. She is a computer science graduate, a health and skincare fanatic and is also the founder of “Beauty Stroll “. She aims to make science-backed skincare easy to understand for her readers.

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