Store-Bought vs. Prescription
The main difference between over-the-counter and prescription retinol is the concentration of ingredients. This affects its ability to convert to that wonderful retinoic acid our skin is so receptive to. Cosmetic and procedural dermatologist, Jody Comstock, MD advises you to consider three things when choosing between medical grade and OTC: the timeline you have in mind for desired results, your skin’s sensitivity, and how much you want to spend.
Since prescription retinol is more intense, it can cause skin to become red and flaky. If you don't mind that, it will give you quicker results than over-the-counter products. The downside is that this form is much more expensive if your insurance doesn't cover it.
If you don't think you can tolerate red, flaky skin (or you don't want to make your wallet weep), Celeste Hilling, CEO of Skin Authority, has good news for you. Using a more gentle, store-bought product can give you the same benefits and results as using a prescription . . . it just takes a little more time. Plus, unlike most prescription retinols, "an over-the-counter [formula] is gentle enough to use daily, which allows it to become part of your routine," she adds.
Both Hilling and Dr. Comstock agree you should start to see results within 10 to 14 days, with more dramatic results within six to eight weeks. In the world of skin care, that's pretty impressive.