Expert Topic by Joanne Rendell

Retinol vs Hyaluronic Acid

Retinol and hyaluronic acid (HA) are two of the most prominent skincare ingredients that can help improve the appearance of your skin, but when there are so many “super ingredients” constantly emerging, it can be confusing as to which is the best for your skin type. 


Before we break down the benefits of each, the most important thing to know is that these ingredients aren’t directly comparable as they have different functions. Retinol stimulates collagen while hyaluronic acid keeps moisture in the skin. The easiest way to remember their functions is that retinol renews and hyaluronic acid hydrates.


How are retinol and hyaluronic acid different?

While retinol should be used at night, phased into your skincare routine and worked up to higher strengths (more on that in a minute), hyaluronic acid is gentle enough to be used daily as it’s a substance that your body produces naturally. Retinol isn’t necessary to use until your mid-20s or early 30s because your collagen production doesn’t slow down until your 30s. When you turn 30 years old, collagen production naturally starts to decline, which is when you start to notice fine lines, wrinkles and less plump or bouncy skin—and so this is when we can turn to retinol for a helping hand. 


Meanwhile, hyaluronic acid is a hydrating staple for all skin, throughout all ages and all seasons. It can be used during teenage years since its ability to regulate sebum production can help with oily, acne-prone skin, as well as helping to replenish moisture to more mature, dry skin. Like collagen, our natural hyaluronic acid levels decrease as we age, which contributes to the visibility of fine lines and wrinkles and can make skin feel dry and rough.

Let’s take a closer look at how each of these ingredients works.


What is retinol? 

Retinol, a derivative of Vitamin A, is the crème de la crème of anti-ageing skincare routines due to the clinical evidence of its ability to enhance cellular turnover, boost the production of collagen and elastin and reduce sebum production. This means clearer, smoother, more radiant and youthful skin. Due to the acceleration of skin cell turnover, if starting with a high-strength formula or phasing it into your skincare routine too quickly, some people can experience redness, irritation, flaking and sensitivity known as “retinol burn”. However, this shouldn’t scare you away from retinol—when using the right strength formulas as advised, its renewing effects on the skin can be incredible on fine lines, wrinkles, texture, tone, acne, sun damage, dullness and dry skin. It’s best used at night as it can make your skin more sensitive to UV rays. Always remember to use an SPF to boost anti-ageing effects, especially in the morning after using retinol. 


What is hyaluronic acid?

The human body naturally produces hyaluronic acid, a substance that helps to hydrate and plump the skin. Hyaluronic acid (HA) is a humectant, meaning it retains moisture, and is one of the most effective humectants around—binding over 1,000 times its weight in water. This helps to keep moisture locked into your skin, so if you’re looking for long-lasting hydration, hyaluronic acid is a key skincare ingredient for you. 


Which retinol product should I use?

You can discover our full range of retinol skincare here, but Medik8 are a great place to start due to their cult formulas that are gentle on skin and available in progressive strengths. Crystal Retinal is technically a retinal, not a retinol, because it’s a different form of vitamin A but it works up to 11 times faster than classic forms of retinol and has antibacterial properties, perfect for oily or blemish-prone complexions. Medik8 Intelligent Retinol is also a great option for first-time users as it allows you to gently build up to higher strengths to minimise irritation.  


Which hyaluronic acid should I use?

Medik8 Hydr8 B5 is a bestseller for a reason—Vitamin B5 boosts the skin’s ability to retain water and regenerate, while Hyaluronic Acid helps to keep skin supple and nourished. It’s also oil-free, promoting deep, rebalanced hydration for all skin types. Skinceuticals Hydrating B5 offers similar benefits with a potent, targeted combination of B5 and Hyaluronic Acid to quench dry skin.



Can I use both retinol and hyaluronic acid together?

Yes, and you can get great anti-ageing benefits from using both. Use a hyaluronic acid serum after your cleanser and before creamy moisturisers in the morning, and after retinol at night. And since 80% of facial skin ageing is attributed to UV exposure, always always remember to apply SPF—prevention is just as important as treatment.