Retinol vs. Collagen: Everything You Need to Know

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Retinol and collagen are two ingredients taking the skincare world by storm. Many people have raved about their benefits for the skin. 

And with several products on the market containing one or both of these ingredients, their popularity has become undeniable.

Two serum bottles under water

However, these two aren’t exactly the same. While they have similar benefits, they work differently. One is better in certain situations compared to the other and vice versa.

Interested in knowing which one works best for you? This article will help you learn about what these two powerhouse ingredients are, how they can benefit your skin, and when to choose one over the other. 

Read on to find out everything you need to know about retinol vs. collagen! 

What Is Retinol?

Retinol is one of the many forms of vitamin A and is a less potent precursor to tretinoin. Retinol is a compound that has the ability to easily sink into the skin’s dermis and trigger collagen production

It’s well-known as a highly potent anti-aging skincare ingredient. It helps reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, fade hyperpigmentation, and minimize the appearance of blackheads. 

Retinol also helps retain the skin’s elasticity, resulting in younger, healthier-looking skin.

This ingredient is only one of the many retinoids that you can use, all of which vary in potency. 

Strong retinoids like tretinoin and isotretinoin are suitable for oily, mature, and acne-prone skin, while milder ones like retinyl palmitate are ideal for sensitive skin.

Compared to these other retinoid types, retinol is mild to moderate in potency, so it suits all skin types, even sensitive skin. 

Benefits of Retinol

Many swear by retinol, and its popularity as a skincare ingredient isn’t dying down anytime soon. It’s easy to tell why, though, given its many skin benefits. 

Here are some of its positive effects on the skin: 

Helps Clear Acne

Have you tried virtually all possible treatments for acne except retinol? This ingredient might be the answer to your problems. 

Retinol can help unclog pores and decrease excess oil production to clear up acne as well as prevent acne outbreaks and — by extension — acne scarring. 

Additionally, if you’re using topical medication for your acne treatment, retinol helps amp up its effects so you can maximize the benefits of the product you’re using. 

Has Potent Anti-Aging Properties

Despite initially being promoted as an anti-acne ingredient, retinol’s anti-aging properties are what it’s most known for today. 

But this isn’t just a fad; in fact, it’s one of the most extensively researched skincare ingredients for mature skin. 

Clinical trials have found that treatment courses that use retinol improve the appearance of the skin by reducing fine lines.

In short, everything we know about retinol today is backed by science.

Promotes Cell Turnover and Collagen Production

Retinol has exfoliating properties that promote skin cell turnover, which refers to the process of removing dead skin cells and replacing them with new, healthy ones. This helps your skin appear brighter and smoother. 

On top of this, because retinol also promotes collagen production, it can help your skin look smoother, thicker, and stronger. 

How To Use Retinol

Using retinol can be a bit more complicated than using collagen. While this sounds intimidating, once you understand it, it’ll be a breeze to reap the incredible benefits of this potent skincare ingredient.

3d render of retinol bottles with dropper over white

Here are some tips to keep in mind as you incorporate retinol into your skincare routine:

Begin With Weekly Use 

First, you need to get acclimated to this compound since it can be strong and irritating if you jump the gun. 

Start by using your retinol serum twice every week. The best time to do this is before you go to bed.

Start With a Low Concentration

Make sure to use a lower concentration as well, ideally between 0.2% to 0.5%. If you need to mitigate its potency, try mixing it with your nighttime moisturizer

However, if you choose not to do this, don’t apply the retinol on top of the moisturizer. The latter can act as a barrier between your skin and your product, which will prevent your retinol from penetrating your skin. 

Increase Frequency of Use

If you don’t experience dryness, irritation, redness, or flaking after two to four weeks of twice-a-week use, increase your usage to every other night.

If your skin tolerates this, increase to nightly use.

Increase the Concentration Slowly

Once you’re at a frequency of nightly use, slowly increase the potency of the retinol product you use. 

Ideally, once you’ve used up a full-sized container of your first retinol product, you can move on to a slightly stronger concentration. 

Don’t go for a drastic increase, though, as doing this may irritate your skin. 

Dos and Don’ts of Using Retinol

After introducing retinol to your skincare, you must keep in mind the dos and don’ts that you need to follow as you use retinol.

Here are a few important guidelines to follow for proper retinol use:

Dos

1. Make sure not to use harsh products or treatments for your face in succession.
Avoid waxing or using products with acids or chemical peels after using retinol. Otherwise, you’ll run the risk of irritating or, worse, burning your skin.

2. Choose a retinol product with the right strength. 

Make sure to get the type of retinol that fits your skin type. Using a retinol product that’s too strong for your skin to handle may result in irritation. 

Meanwhile, if you choose one that isn’t potent enough for your skin problems, you may not see any changes in your skin happen. 

Don’ts

1. Don’t use too many products at once. 

Avoid using too much retinol on your skin. Putting on a lot of one product won’t force the ingredients in them to work faster or better. Instead, it will just cause skin irritation. 

2. Don’t skip sunscreen. 

Never forget to put on UV protection after using retinol, your skin will be more sensitive to the sun’s rays, and you may find that you’ll get sunburns more easily.

So always wear sunscreen after using a product with this ingredient — preferably SPF 30 or more — every morning. 

What Is Collagen? 

Unlike retinol, a substance that our bodies can’t produce on its own, collagen is an integral structural protein that is naturally produced in the body. 

In fact, it makes up around 35% of the protein in the human body. It can be found in the bones, muscles, and other connective tissues in the body, like ligaments and tendons.

Of course, it is also found in the human skin. 

Known as the building block of our skin, collagen provides natural skin elasticity that results in a smooth, plump, and healthy look. 

While the body naturally makes collagen, the rate at which it can do so decreases as a person ages. 

Luckily, supplementing the skin with products that contain collagen can help you maintain healthy levels of it. 

Since this protein helps prevent skin sagging and the appearance of wrinkles, many view collagen as a fantastic anti-aging skincare ingredient. As such, it’s a common ingredient used in a wide array of skincare products. 

Benefits of Collagen for the Skin

Like retinol, collagen is also a popular skincare ingredient, thanks to its numerous benefits. 

Here are some of the positive effects of collagen products:

Helps Slow Skin Aging

Aging, sun exposure, and an unhealthy lifestyle can cause the production of collagen to decrease, making your skin lose its elasticity. 

When this happens, wrinkles, fine lines, sagging skin, and other skin issues can quickly appear on your face. 

Collagen products can help keep your skin firm and elastic, which can help prevent or reduce the appearance of the different signs of aging. 

Simply put, by using collagen, you can help maintain your skin’s youthful appearance. 

Minimizes Scars

The amino acids found in collagen help fade dark spots and scars from acne, hyperpigmentation, and other skin conditions. 

It does so by promoting healthy tissue formation. This process speeds up your skin’s ability to heal and repair itself naturally, making blemishes disappear more quickly. 

Keeps Skin Moisturized 

Lower collagen production can result in your skin looking and feeling dry. If you reintroduce collagen into your skin, it can provide the hydration your skin needs to stay smooth and radiant. 

How to Use Collagen

Using collagen is more straightforward compared to retinol. This is because it’s a milder ingredient compared to retinol, so there aren’t a lot of do’s and don’ts that you need to keep in mind. 

cosmetic serum liquid mockup in transparent bottle on acrylic cubes isolated on a yellow background

That said, it’s important to keep a few guidelines in mind when incorporating collagen into your skincare routine, such as the following:

Dos

1. Use collagen every day. 

Make sure to use a collagen product, whether as a serum or a night mask, on a daily basis. If you don’t, you may not see visible, long-term results. 

It’s safe to use with other skincare ingredients, so doing this won’t be too much of a hassle.

2. Use collagen before applying moisturizer.

You can use any collagen product at any time of the day before using your moisturizer. 

If applied first, the moisturizer will make a barrier between the serum and your skin. This prevents the collagen peptides from penetrating the skin.

So for best results, you should use a collagen serum after cleansing and toning your skin.  

Don’ts

1. Don’t lather up more product than needed. 

You should avoid applying too much of your collagen serum or mask as this does nothing but waste product. Putting on too much doesn’t mean the product will work faster or better. 

It’s recommended to use only one to two pumps or, at most, a pea-sized amount since collagen serums are highly concentrated products.

2. Don’t replace sunscreen with collagen products. 

While this ingredient does provide decent hydration, it doesn’t protect your skin against UV rays as well as sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher. 

Side by Side: Retinol vs. Collagen

While both collagen and retinol work for wrinkles, acne, and other skin issues, how you use them and what they can do for you can differ. 

So if you’re wondering whether you should use retinol or collagen for your face, here are some things to consider.

Similarities

As skincare ingredients, retinol and collagen bear a few similarities. These include the following:

  • Both are used topically, usually in the form of serums, lotions, and creams.
  • Both are used in different types of skincare products.
  • Both help improve your skin’s appearance, texture, and quality.
  • Both are advertised as good anti-acne products. 

Their similarities seem to end here, but they can work side by side. However, it’s important to understand the differences between retinol and collagen to reap their benefits to the fullest.

Differences

  • Retinol has smaller molecules, so when it’s applied topically, it can penetrate into the dermis effortlessly. 

    Once the skin absorbs it, retinol stimulates collagen production and triggers cell turnover. Simply put, retinol needs to reach into the skin cells for it to work. 
  • On the other hand, collagen has heavier and larger molecules. It’s too big to sink into the skin’s pores, so it stays on and provides hydration and nourishment to the surface of the skin. 

    Collagen can’t penetrate the skin’s topmost layers, and it doesn’t trigger healthy skin regeneration. Instead, it works outside the skin’s cells to enhance its appearance. 
  • All in all, retinol is more potent than collagen. It yields better results in the long run, but it also has several side effects. Meanwhile, collagen is milder, but it still has noteworthy benefits for the skin. 
  • However, retinol is a better-studied ingredient with more proven benefits, so it’s likely and significantly more effective.

What To Choose: Collagen or Retinol?

So in the battle between retinol vs. collagen, which should you choose? Well, the choice will ultimately depend on your skin type and skin issues. 

Take a look below at the factors to consider when choosing between retinol and collagen:

Skin Aging

If you are over 50 and have mature skin, retinol may provide better benefits for you. Since it’s more potent than collagen, it works well and hard in fighting signs of skin aging that have already appeared on your skin.

Meanwhile, if you’re still in your 20s or 30s with youthful-looking skin and no visible signs of aging, collagen is the ingredient for you.

Acne

Retinol is effective for managing various types of acne, including hormonal acne, by unclogging pores and reducing inflammation. Its ability to regulate skin cell turnover and unclog pores can help manage acne lesions.

Collagen, while important for skin health, may not have a direct impact on acne. It is more associated with supporting the skin’s structure and preventing signs of aging, such as fine lines and wrinkles.

But you may use collagen if you want to fade old acne scars. Collagen’s benefit of skin cell turnover may also help diminish the appearance of scars.

Skin Types

If you have oily skin and are prone to getting acne, you should use retinol. This skincare ingredient can effectively help control sebum production, adding to how this ingredient prevents acne.

Meanwhile, if you have sensitive skin that’s prone to irritation, use collagen. This skincare ingredient is milder, so it doesn’t have side effects that cause the skin to get irritated. 

This is also a good ingredient to use for those with chronic inflammatory skin conditions, such as eczema and psoriasis. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Can You Use Retinol and Collagen Together?

Yes, you can use collagen and retinol together. They can be a dream team for improving your skin’s appearance and health if you use them together properly.

To get the most out of these two skincare ingredients, it’s best to use them during your nighttime routine

As a rule of thumb in skincare, use the thinner product first when layering them on your skin to ensure the active ingredients in both products get properly absorbed by the skin.

Retinol serums are typically thinner, so use retinol before collagen.

Retinol is photosensitive, so avoiding exposure to sunlight can help you reap its benefits without compromising skin health. 

On the other hand, collagen can help protect and reinforce your skin barrier. Since the body recovers while sleeping, your body can process plenty of collagen when you rest.

It’s safe to use collagen and retinol together, but to make the most out of it, you should know how to incorporate them into your routine properly. 

Can I Use Collagen or Retinol for Wrinkles or Under-Eye Bags?

Yes, because both collagen and retinol have anti-aging properties. 

However, retinol is a more potent anti-aging product, so it’s better for those with deep-set wrinkles. Collagen is better for those with fewer and finer wrinkles.  

You can also use either collagen or retinol for the bags under your eyes. 

Retinol vs. Collagen: Two Powerhouse Skincare Ingredients

If you’ve ever asked, “Is collagen or retinol better?” 

two serum bottles flatlay isolated on a white background

The simple answer is that it depends on your skin’s state and unique needs. While both ingredients are used to improve the health and appearance of one’s skin, the effects of using retinol and collagen can vary from person to person.  

To ensure that you can reap the benefits of these two ingredients, using them properly is the best course of action.

So if you’re ready to achieve your skincare goals, follow the guidelines above to help you choose between retinol vs. collagen for your skin and incorporate the best ingredient for your needs into your skincare routine today. 

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Authors

  • Ashley Pena

    Ashley Pena brings over 13 years of seasoned writing and editing expertise, fortified by her Bachelor of Science in Management. Esteemed in the beauty domain, her content captivates readers with its depth and authenticity. While she navigates a broad spectrum of beauty trends, Ashley shines particularly as our resident K-beauty guru. Her articles are a harmonious blend of passion and profound knowledge, inspiring readers on their unique beauty journeys.

  • Emily Zink

    With ten years in healthcare, Emily Zink bridges adult and pediatric medicine with cosmetic dermatology. A certified Family Nurse Practitioner, she's an expert in treatments like Botox, Dysport, and Sculptra, also diagnosing skincare concerns and offering wellness counseling. Specializing in neuromodulators and dermal fillers, Emily leads injections at her practice.

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