Retinol and Retin A are both commonly used to improve the look, feel and overall health of your skin. Sometimes they're marketed as anti-aging creams, other times as powerful acne treatments. Retinol tends to be milder and less dramatic in terms of its benefits and its risks. In fact, retinol can be purchased over the counter, but Retin A is only available with a doctor's prescription [source: Estridge].
While retinol and Retin A can both create sensitivity to sunlight, Retin A is more often associated with higher levels of sensitivity; it is considered by dermatologists to be a strong drug [source: Estridge]. Because it exfoliates, your skin may be more susceptible to burning.
The key word to keep in mind when using either of these vitamin A derivatives is caution. Prolonged exposure to the sun is inviting trouble. Talk with your dermatologist before receiving a prescription for Retin A. Even if you use only retinol -- the over-the-counter product -- sunscreen is recommended. The minimum SPF should be 30 [source: Yerman].
Vitamin A, in general, is highly safe and even vital to your health. It's found in plants and animals, and only those in extremely undeveloped countries tend to lack enough vitamin A in their diets [source: Medical News Today]. In its manipulated forms, it has the potential to decrease the affects of aging and reverse acne, but not without some risks. Susceptibility to sun exposure is one of those risks that anyone using retinol or Retin A should be aware of.