Retinol vs. Hyaluronic Acid: Which Is Better For Your Skin?

Retinol and hyaluronic acid are anti-aging superheroes. They are two of the most sought-after skincare ingredients right now, predominantly used to reduce signs of aging such as wrinkles and fine lines. But which one is better for your skin: retinol vs hyaluronic acid? And can you use them together in the same beauty routine?

First of all, there’s a good reason why these two ingredients are the skincare buzzwords. They are two of the most effective anti-aging ingredients, yet they’re completely different. While retinol helps reduce signs of aging, treats acne, and boosts collagen production, hyaluronic acid is more focused on improving hydration and strengthening the skin’s barrier. 

All in all, depending on what you want to achieve with your skin and what problems you want to target, you can pick either retinol or hyaluronic acid to help you out. With that said, it’s absolutely safe (and even recommended) to use them together to keep your skin healthy and happy. 

Before you decide between retinol vs hyaluronic acid, you should get yourself more familiar with their key differences, benefits, and drawbacks to understand which one is better for your skin. So here’s everything you should know about this dynamic duo. 

What Is Retinol and What Does it Do?

If you’re a fellow skincare addict like myself, you must have been tempted at least once in your life to give retinol a try. And why not? It is an incredible, potent ingredient that can do wonders for your skin health. So here’s what makes it so special.

Retinol is a type of retinoid, which is a derivative of vitamin A. Unlike other stronger retinoids (such as retinaldehyde and retinyl palmate), retinol is available without a prescription. With that said, retinol is the strongest over-the-counter retinoid available primarily used to treat acne and tackle signs of aging.

Recommended by many dermatologists and skin experts, retinol has countless skin benefits. It’s an antioxidant that speeds up skin cell turnover which is the natural process of skin shedding and regeneration. It also improves collagen and elastin production which can significantly improve the skin’s texture and make it firmer and thicker.

Here are some of the biggest benefits of retinol:

  • Anti-aging – Because of retinol’s ability to stimulate collagen production, it helps reduce wrinkles and similar signs of aging;
  • Acne treatment – It also helps treat acne and prevent future breakouts;
  • Acne scarring – Retinol is also powerful in smoothing out acne scars and helping the skin recover faster;
  • Hyperpigmentation – Just like with acne scars, retinol can help fade hyperpigmentation (dark spots and melasma) because of its ability to boost skin cell turnover;
  • Better skin texture – Retinol is overall a powerful ally in improving skin texture, evening out skin tone, and promoting a healthy appearance.

Related: Retinol before and after results

How to Use Retinol?

There are a few side effects you should be aware of before implementing retinol into your skincare routine. Retinol may cause irritation and dry skin, especially for first-time users. If not used properly, it can damage the skin’s barrier and cause itchiness, redness, or skin peeling.

The best thing about retinol is that it’s good for all skin types, even sensitive. Dermatologists swear by retinol as the best solution for major skincare concerns. The trick is to learn how to use it properly

If you’re new to retinol, it might be best to start slow and choose a low concentration product (around 0.2 percent) to prevent any serious redness or irritation. Apply it at night at first for optimal results. It’s suggested to apply a pea-sized amount of product and to avoid eyes and mouth when spreading it around your face. As with all skincare products, remember to patch test retinol out before going all in. 

What Is Hyaluronic Acid and What Does it Do?

Hyaluronic acid is another renowned skincare ingredient that can elevate your entire beauty routine. Also known as hyaluronan, hyaluronic acid is an incredibly hydrating substance naturally produced by your body. It’s a sugar molecule that’s found in the largest amounts in your skin, connective tissue, and eyes.

Because it can hold up to 1,000x times its weight in water, hyaluronic acid is the skin’s natural moisturizer. Don’t let the word ‘acid’ mislead you. Hyaluronic acid is not an exfoliating ingredient, rather a powerful hydrator that has the ability to draw water into your skin, keep it there, and nourish it.

Hyaluronic acid has plenty of incredible skin benefits.

  • Hydration – It helps keep the skin healthy and fresh by retaining moisture;
  • Anti-aging – Thanks to the hydrating effect, HA also helps reduce the appearance of wrinkles;
  • Elasticity – HA also helps improve the elasticity of the skin by keeping it well-hydrated and nourished;
  • Wound healing – HA’s anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial properties make wound healing faster and more effective;
  • Acne concerns – Similarly, by reducing inflammation, HA helps treat and prevent acne problems.

How to Use Hyaluronic Acid?

Although people with dry and sensitive skin can benefit the most from adding HA into their routines, it’s good for other skin types as well. 

No matter the age, skin type, or skin problem, everyone can use some extra hydration and that’s what makes HA such an incredible skincare ingredient.

Since the body naturally produces HA on its own, it’s absolutely safe to use it in your daily routine without worrying about possible irritation or breakouts. Also, no need to stress about mixing it with other products because it pairs well with all skincare ingredients.

Which Is Better: Retinol vs. Hyaluronic Acid?

Both retinol and hyaluronic acid can make a great addition to your skincare routine, but which one is better?

Well, to answer that question, first you need to know what you’re trying to achieve. If you want some extra hydration and better barrier strengthening, hyaluronic acid is your best choice. 

But if you’re looking for a strong anti-aging ingredient that will help you tackle wrinkles, acne, or pigmentation, you should go with retinol.

The biggest difference between retinol vs hyaluronic acid is that retinol is an antioxidant and hyaluronic acid is a hydrator. This means that retinol helps protect the skin’s surface from oxidative damage and HA helps bring water to the skin.

Can You Use Retinol and Hyaluronic Acid Together?

Hard to choose between hydration and anti-aging? I totally get that. The good news is that you don’t have to choose!


You can absolutely use retinol and hyaluronic acid together and give your skin some well-deserved care. Mixing products with these ingredients is absolutely safe and is highly unlikely to cause skin irritation or any side effects. 

As a matter of fact, many dermatologists refer to these two ingredients together as one of the best skincare combinations.

Sure, both retinol and HA are amazing, there’s no doubt about it. But they can be even stronger when paired together. According to this research, a cream with retinol and hyaluronic acid improved wrinkles and age spots after 8-weeks of use.

Related: Can you use niacinamide with hyaluronic acid?

How to Layer Retinol and Hyaluronic Acid?

So is there any particular order in which you should layer retinol vs hyaluronic acid? The answer is yes. For optimal results, it’s usually recommended to apply retinol before hyaluronic acid.

Since retinol is an active ingredient, it works best when applied first and before other ingredients. On another hand, if you’re new to retinol, it might be best to start slowly and apply a moisturizer or serum first. 

In case you use HA as a serum, it’s perfectly fine to use HA then retinol in this circumstance. This will help dilute it and make it more gentle on your skin. 

When using retinol, remember that sunscreen is a must because retinol may make your skin more prone to sun damage. 

Retinol and Hyaluronic Skincare Products to Try

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This serum is a hydrating powerhouse. It contains 3 different forms of Hyaluronic Acid that penetrate deeper into the skin and provide intense skin hydration. It also features B5 which has moisture-attracting properties. This formula is ideal for those with dry or flaky skin.

The Ordinary Serum HA 2% is good for all skin types. It’s silicone-free, nut-free, vegan, and cruelty-free. 

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The Ordinary 0.2% Retinol contains 0.2% pure Retinol which is why it’s a good starting point for those with fine lines and hyperpigmentation. A lower concentration of retinol like this one can help you to build tolerance and introduce retinol into your skincare routine. 

This formula is highly stable, water and silicon-free. It’s also cruelty-free and vegan-friendly. 

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Neutrogena Hydro Boost contains Hyaluronic Acid and is a great solution for those with extra-dry skin. This gel-cream formula can provide rapid hydration to the skin with a long-lasting moisturizing effect. 

It’s also non-comedogenic which means it won’t clog your pores. Fragrance, dye, and oil-free, it leaves the skin supple and hydrated.

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La Roche-Posay is an excellent anti-aging serum for those with sensitive skin. It contains pure Retinol, Lipo-Hydroxy Acid, Glycerin, and La Roche-Posay thermal water. It’s formulated to reduce the appearance of wrinkles on the upper lip, forehead, and crow’s feet.

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Final Thoughts

Retinol and hyaluronic acid are both incredible ingredients that can complement your skincare routine perfectly. 

When it comes to choosing between retinol vs hyaluronic acid, it all depends on what you want to get out of your skincare products. Retinol is an excellent choice if your priority is reducing signs of aging such as wrinkles. For intense hydration, hyaluronic acid is your best pick. 

If you want the best of both worlds, using retinol and hyaluronic acid together is the combo to go!

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