Vitamin A is a tried and true ingredient for anti-aging purposes. The various forms of vitamin A are confusing and cosmetic companies don’t make it easy to understand. I sent some time reading about the various forms of vitamin A in skincare and this is my general understanding of those forms, aka retinoids, in layman’s terms and in descending order from most effective to least effective, by my personal standards.

1. Retinoic Acid

This is the best form of vitamin a that the skin immediately recognizes and absorbs. Also known as tret or retin-a and only available as a prescription, except for Differin/adapalene, which is now available over the counter.

2. Retinaldehyde

Retinal takes one conversion step to turn into retinoic acid where it is recognized and absorbed into the skin. It is available in over the counter products but is infrequently used due to it being an expensive raw ingredient. The brands I have seen that carry it are Osmosis and Avene. Looking at the ingredient list for products under both brands, I lean more towards Osmosis’ serums because they include vitamin B3, whereas Avene supplements their products with squalane and mineral oil.

3/4. Retinol (TIE)

Retinol takes two steps to convert into a form that is recognized by the skin – first into retinaldehyde and then into retinoic acid. This is frequently seen in mid-range skincare products. The cons to using this ingredient, however, are numerous. It causes more irritation than retinal and HPR, and with a two step conversion, it’s not as effective. I see this in a ton of mass market, mid-range, and luxury products. It’s the retinoid I prefer the least, but if I were to use it, I would consider First Aid Beauty’s retinol serum or Sunday Riley’s A+ serum.

3/4. HPR Retinoid (TIE)

HPR is a new kid on the block. It’s an ester of retinoic acid, and could possibly perform just as good as it, but with less irritation. Because it is so new, there are not a lot of studies to back up its effectiveness and seems almost too good to be true. I would prefer this slightly more so than retinol, but I would like to see more studies confirming that it works as well as people claim it to, but it is very promising. This is available in The Ordinary’s Granactive Retinoid 2% serum, as well as mixed with retinol in Sunday Riley’s A+ serum. I wouldn’t buy it in any other product since it’s so cost efficient in The Ordinary’s product and cosmetically elegant.

5. Bakuchiol

Bakuchiol is a plant based ingredient which is supposed to mimic the same effects as vitamin A but without the irritation. It’s lauded as a clean vitamin A alternative, but there’s not enough information at the moment to be sure of that. It’s too new. I have tried it in Biossance’s Phyto-Retinol Serum and I liked the general formula a lot, but like HPR I would like to see much research done with this ingredient before using it instead of the more traditional retinoids.

6. Retinyl Palmitate & Co.

An ester of retinol. Essentially useless in my eyes.

Currently I am using Deciem The Ordinary’s Granactive Retinoid 2% every third night. In the future, I will increase it to 2 out of 3 nights usage, or upgrade to Differin or a retinal product if it becomes more affordable.