Retinol vs. Peptides: Which Is Better For Skin?

Retinol and peptides are two of the most amazing anti-aging ingredients in skincare. Both are well-known for their benefits for the skin. But retinol vs peptides, what is the difference, and which one is better?

Whether you’re someone facing natural skin changes due to age or someone taking a preventive approach, anti-aging products have probably already made it into your skincare routine. However, it’s beneficial to study and compare different ingredients to make safe and effective choices. 

This article will compare the all-potent retinol with the increasingly popular peptides!

Key Takeaways

  • Both retinol and peptides can help reduce aging signs like fine lines, wrinkles, as well as improve the skin barrier. 
  • Retinol and peptides stimulate collagen and elastin production, which increases skin firmness. 
  • Retinol is more potent than peptides and may have side effects for those with sensitive skin.
  • Retinol can take longer than amino peptides to show effect, but the effects are more profound and long-lasting. 

What is Retinol?

Retinol is a retinoid, which is a term for different kinds of vitamin A. It’s an active ingredient that is common in anti-aging creams, serums, and essences, as well as eye creams. 

Although potent, retinol is available over-the-counter, as opposed to a stronger retinoid, tretinoin, which is prescription-only. 

Our bodies don’t produce vitamin A on their own, but it’s essential for our overall health, especially our skin and eyes. 

Benefits of Retinol

Retinol has many benefits, most of which target skin aging. Here’s how this vitamin A benefits your skin:

  • As a retinoid, it can increase the production of collagen in the skin, which increases skin elasticity and firmness. As you age, skin cell turnover and collagen production reduces, so using retinol can stimulate that. 
  • It can help reduce fine lines and wrinkles, as well as improve skin texture. 
  • It also increases the turnover of skin cells, as it impacts skin on a molecular level when it turns into retinoic acid, as evidenced by research. Retinoic acid penetrates deeply into the dermis. 
  • As compared with other retinoids like tretinoin or tazarotene (a retinoid for acne), retinol is less potent and has a similar impact. 
  • It can also block inflammation pathways, so by extension, it can also help treat acne.

Related: Retinol before and after results


Side Effects of Retinol

Retinol is not as potent as some of the prescription-strength retinoids, but it’s still somewhat strong. It can have side effects, especially for sensitive skin. Common side effects include:

  • Irritation
  • Redness
  • Dryness
  • Peeling
  • Itchiness

The retinol in most skincare products these days is quite stable, but your skin may need some time getting used to it if you’re using it for the first time. These side effects may stop after a few weeks, but it’s best to proceed with caution and use it less frequently at first. 

What are Peptides?

Peptides, also referred to as polypeptides, are short-chain amino acids that help make proteins like collagen, keratin, and elastin. These proteins are produced by our bodies, particularly our skin. So peptides are naturally found in the skin, but they can also be supplied with topical skincare products. 

There are many different kinds of peptides used in skincare:

  • Palmitoyl Pentapeptide-4
  • Palmitoyl Tripeptide
  • Palmitoyl Tetrapeptide-7
  • Palmitoyl Tripeptide-38
  • Argireline
  • Copper Peptides

Benefits of Peptides

The very existence and purpose of peptides is beneficial for the skin, as they are the building blocks for some of the most important proteins for skin, especially aging skin. 

Here are their main benefits:

  • Peptides increase collagen production in the skin by directly communicating with skin cells and instructing them to produce more of it. 
  • They help make skin firm and help reduce fine lines and wrinkles, resulting in more young-looking skin.
  • Thanks to their antimicrobial properties, peptides can also improve and repair the skin barrier, protecting it from bacteria, toxins, and pollution. 
  • Copper peptides, which are peptides combined with copper, can increase collagen production and regenerate skin faster while also improving uneven skin tone. 

Side Effects of Peptides

Peptides in skincare are largely safe. However, for hypersensitive skin, there’s a slight risk of itching and redness. 

More importantly, peptides do not go well with acids like AHAs and BHAs, which are used for exfoliating. The reason behind this is that strong acids like those can break down the amino acids and counter their effects. 

Retinol vs. Peptides: Which is Better?

Retinol and peptides are both great skincare ingredients, especially for those looking for anti-aging benefits. Speaking of the benefits, both have a similar impact on skin, except retinol also has some level of exfoliating properties.


Although there’s no doubt about their benefits, the difference comes down to how strong and quick the impact is, which largely depends on the skin type as well. 


Retinol is more popular than peptides in anti-aging products, which is mainly because it’s a lot more potent. However, that very potency also results in some side effects, at least in the early stages of use. 

Also, just because it’s potent doesn’t mean it will work overnight. Retinol can take three to six months to show a reduction in wrinkles

On the other hand, peptides seem to work faster on wrinkles and fine lines, as evidenced by an International Journal of Molecular Studies research. Peptides showed improvement in wrinkles in just two weeks

Skin Compatibility

The efficacy of any skincare compound also depends on compatibility with skin type. As retinol is a potent ingredient, it may be too harsh for dry or sensitive skin. Such individuals can use peptides, which are milder in comparison. 

For other skin types, like normal or oily skin, both retinol and peptides are suitable. Since retinol also has acne-fighting benefits, it may also be viable for acne-prone skin

Can Peptides be Used With Retinol?

While there’s not much research on the use of retinol with peptides, it would be safer to alternate between the two ingredients if using them together in a skincare routine. For instance, one could be used in the AM and the other (retinol) in the PM, or even just on alternate days. 

If you want to use them together, it’s best to use them at night. You may enhance the overall benefits like reducing wrinkles and dark spots, but these are potent ingredients after all. 

Using both at the same time and that too regularly may be too harsh for the skin, regardless of the type. So it’s best to consult a dermatologist or at least do a patch test first to be extra cautious. 

How to Use Retinol and Peptides in Skincare?

Retinol and peptides are found in a wide range of products but are most common in serums and anti-aging creams. If you’re using both in the same routine, layer retinol first and then peptides. 


As retinol is strong, it’s best to use it every other night, at least in the beginning, as your skin gets used to it. Then, you may increase the frequency but still keep it once a day only. 

For eyes, it’s best to stick with a retinol-based eye cream than a serum as that may be too harsh for the thin under-eye skin. 

And as always, layer retinol and peptides serums with a moisturizer!

Best Skincare Products with Retinol

Here are our top retinol recommendations. 

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The Olay Regenerist Retinol 24 Max Moisturizer is a powerful hydrating moisturizer for nighttime that can fight visible aging signs on your skin and repair lost collagen. 

It’s a fast-absorbing moisturizer that doesn’t leave any oily residue on the skin and penetrates deeply. This one offers 20 percent more retinol than ordinary anti-aging creams. Plus, it has hydrating properties, which improve the impact this age-defying vitamin has. 

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For those looking for retinol in a serum form, the CeraVe Skin Renewing Retinol Serum is an apt choice. This formula doesn’t just target wrinkles but also strengthens the skin barrier. It keeps skin hydrated, thanks to hyaluronic acid

Like most CeraVe products, this one also has three essential ceramides. The best thing is that it doesn’t irritate the skin. However, it’s best for PM application or AM application only with moisturizer and SPF. 

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Best Skincare Products with Peptides

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The Neutrogena Rapid Firming Peptide Contour Lift Cream reduces fine lines and improves skin elasticity in a matter of weeks. The key ingredient in this lightweight cream is acetyl dipeptide-31, which are smaller in size and, therefore, penetrates even further. 

It’s a tried and tested product from a great drug-store brand that delivers visible results. If you’re particularly concerned with sagging skin, this product may just be what you’re looking for.

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The Asterwood Naturals Anti-Aging Serum with Hyaluronic Acid contains the peptides Argireline and Matrixyl 3000; the latter is a synthetic peptide known to stimulate collagen production. But that’s not all, as the formula also contains vitamin C, which can also impart anti-aging and skin-brightening benefits. 

This potent yet absorbent serum is well-balanced to suit all skin types. It’s free from any toxins and chemicals, including fragrances. This Asterwood Naturals product is ideal for those over 30 who are starting to see signs of normal aging processes.  

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Final Verdict

So which is better, retinol vs. peptides? While both these skincare ingredients offer anti-aging restorative benefits, retinol remains a favorite in the skincare world. Although it takes its sweet time to work, it does work at the end of the day. 

Peptides, on the other hand, may start to show improvement fairly quicker and continue their work on regular use, but the results can vary based on the exact formulation. 

As compared to retinol, peptides have fewer side effects, which makes them a good option for those with skin sensitivity of any kind. 

Using any or both of them can help you target not only aging signs but also improve overall skin health.

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