Understanding Retinol Percentages and Retinoid Percentages

Understanding Retinol Percentages and Retinoid Percentages

Whether you are starting retinoids for the first time, have been on retinol and want to change to a higher retinol concentration, or you want to switch from retinol to a prescription strength retinoid, understanding retinol strength charts is important.

We can help you find the best retinoids for your Baumann Skin Type!

Retinol Strength Chart

When comparing strengths of retinoids, it is important to understand that each compound is different and has different potency. Retinol 0.025%, tretinoin .025% and tazarotene 0.025% are not the same strength even though they are all 0.025%. The chart above compares retinoid potencies when compared at the same percent. The chart shows that tazarotene and trifarotene are the strongest, followed by tretinoin. Adapalene and retinol are not as strong as tazarotene and trifarotene. Retinal (retinaldehyde) and retinyl esters like retinyl palmitate or not very potent and are considered weak retinoids because they do not penetrate well into the skin. 

retinol strength charts

Which Is The Strongest Retinol Prescription?

Retinol is not prescription, so you probably meant to ask “Which is the strongest prescription retinoid?” As shown in the table above, Tazarotene 0.025% is stronger than tretinoin 0.025%. Tazarotene comes in 0.025%, 0.05% and 0.1%. Although trifarotene is also a very strong retinoid To learn more about the basics of retinoids and the retinoid family of compounds click here.

The strongest retinol without a prescription is retinol 2.5%. However, there are many high strength retinols that are very effective that are 1% strength (these are also often called retinol 10x).

Is Tazarotene Stronger Than Tretinoin?

Tazarotene 0.01%, 0.025%, 0.05% and 0.1% cream were compared to tretinoin 0.05% emollient cream in a study that looked at effectiveness on aged mature wrinkled skin. The fastest and best results were seen with tazarotene 0.1% which produced significantly higher improvement of wrinkles than tretinoin 0.05% emollient Cream at week 12 and week 20. All of these retinoids (tazarotene and tretinoin) showed improvement of wrinkles, but tazarotene 0.1% showed the most improvement the fastest. At week 24 in this study, treatment success rates based on global responses were 67% with 0.1% tazarotene, 52% with 0.05% tazarotene, 36% with 0.025% tazarotene, 41% with 0.01% tazarotene, 55% with 0.05% tretinoin, and 22% with placebo vehicle. Retinoid side effects, as expected due to increased potency, were more frequent with the higher concentrations and were generally mild to moderate.

What Is The Most Effective And Strongest Retinol?

The strongest retinol is 2.5% in a formulation that contains penetration enhancers like hyaluronic acid and glycerin. However, this is way too strong when beginning retinol. To learn how to begin retinol click here.

Strongest Over the Counter Retinol

Retinol and adapalene are the most effective retinoids available without a prescription. (Adapalene is found in both prescription medication and cosmetic formulations). The best dermatologist recommended retinols for wrinkles are usually 1% concentration. These may also be called 10x retinol. However, these are too strong for retinol beginners.

There are many forms of prescription retinoids including tretinoin, tazarotene and trifarotene. The efficacy of these depends upon the concentration of retinoid in the formulation. The most effective of all the available retinoids is tazarotene 0.1%- which is available only by prescription.

What is Retinal?

Retinal is another name for retinaldehyde. Retinal has poor skin penetration and therefore is less effective than retinol. When comparing retinal vs tretinoin, tretinoin is much more effective at treating wrinkles and acne than retinal.


Retinoid Cream Vs Gel Vs Lotion- Which Is Strongest?

The formulation of the retinoid effects strength by increasing or decreasing absorption. In general, gels absorb better into the skin than creams; therefore, gels are more potent than creams. However, when the creams have glycerin, hyaluronic acid, and other penetration enhancers added, more will be absorbed, and they will act stronger because more gets into the target tissue in the dermis. These are often called emollient creams.

Here is an example:

There are many brands of tretinoin 0.05% on the market including many generic forms of tretinoin. This strength comes in creams, gels and lotions. Altreno is a brand of tretinoin in a lotion form that is 0.05% tretinoin and has glycerin. The fact that it has glycerin and sodium hyaluronate (hyaluronic acid) will make it slightly stronger than the cream versions because of increased penetration.

The strongest retinoid is tazarotene which is formulated in creams at 0.025%, 0.05%, 0.1% and in gel at 0.025% and 0.1%. The strongest retinoids on the market are tazarotene 0.1% - either the cream of the gel. In most cases tazarotene 0.1% gel is the strongest- especially when it is used before a moisturizer.

Common retinol percentage questions:

What percentage is prescription strength retinol?

There is not a prescription strength retinol. The strongest prescription strength retinoid is tazarotene 0.1% gel. 

What is the highest over the counter retinol concentration?

The highest over the counter retinol concentration is 3% but there is much more to the story about retinol strength than just the concentration or retinol percentage.2 Often the retinol percentage on the label does not match how much retinol is actually in the product.3 If retinol is not formulated, manufactured, bottled, and stored properly (which is often the case!!!) then the efficacy of the product is questionable. For this reason, you must seek help in deciding which retinol is best for you. If you take the Skin Type Solutions Skin Type Quiz, we will tell you the best retinols from many brands for your Baumann Skin Type® so you do not need to worry about understanding this complicated issue. We will also tell you how to use retinoids and when to use retinol in your skincare routine.

These are the most common doses of retinol found in the best retinol products: 

Low strength retinol = 0.025% or 2X and 0.03% or 3X

Mid strength retinol= .05% or 5x

High strength retinol =0.1% or 10x

Some products claim to be retinol 2.5% or retinol 1% or retinol 3%, however most of these products are not formulated correctly and therefore are actually not very potent. We recommend sticking with 0.025%- 0.1% retinol products and avoiding retinal or retinyl palmitate containing products.

What percentage of retinol is effective?

The higher the strength a retinoid is- the more effective it is. The best data we have on retinol and wrinkles is that 0.4% retinol was effective at improving wrinkles under the arms in elderly people after 24 weeks of 3 times a week use.4 We recommend staying at a low strength retinol like 0.025% and slowly increasing the strength as shown in the image below. See your customized skin care routine for specific retinol brands to use for your Baumann Skin Type®.

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  1. Kang, S., Leyden, J. J., Lowe, N. J., Ortonne, J. P., Phillips, T. J., Weinstein, G. D., ... & Gibson, J. R. (2001). Tazarotene cream for the treatment of facial photodamage: a multicenter, investigator-masked, randomized, vehicle-controlled, parallel comparison of 0.01%, 0.025%, 0.05%, and 0.1% tazarotene creams with 0.05% tretinoin emollient cream applied once daily for 24 weeks. Archives of dermatology, 137(12), 1597-1604.
  2. Baumann L. Ch 45 Retinoids in Baumann’s Cosmetic Dermatology McGraw Hill 2022 (3rd edition)
  3. Temova Rakuša Ž, Škufca P, Kristl A, Roškar R. Quality control of retinoids in commercial cosmetic products. J Cosmet Dermatol. 2021;20(4):1166-1175.
  4. Kafi, R., Kwak, H. S. R., Schumacher, W. E., Cho, S., Hanft, V. N., Hamilton, T. A., ... & Kang, S. (2007). Improvement of naturally aged skin with vitamin A (retinol). Archives of dermatology, 143(5), 606-612.

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