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Hyaluronic Acid vs Retinol

Hyaluronic Acid vs Retinol

By Calum Torrington

Everyone wants to turn back the hands of time and look beautifully youthful, but these days we also want to know exactly what goes into our skincare products.

In 2022, it’s possible to get rid of those fine lines and wrinkles with ingredients that mimic processes that occur naturally in our bodies.

Keep on reading below to uncover what’s no longer just a badly-kept secret of beauty salons and celebrities, as we compare hyaluronic acid and retinol and their respective benefits.

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What is Hyaluronic Acid?

Hyaluronic acid occurs naturally in the body as it hydrates and strengthens soft tissues. This is tied in with its water-bearing capabilities.

By now, you’re probably seeing where we’re going with this:

What if we used it to plump up the appearance of our facial skin?

Hyaluronic acid is thought to play a role in immunity, wound healing, and repair. It’s not yet proven that hyaluronic acid can help with serious skin damage, but as part of a beauty regime, the results can be stunning.

To put it simply, hyaluronic acid expands when added to water. It is often used as a non-invasive alternative to Botox. On a personal level, I have found it extremely effective for crow’s feet and laughter lines.

The only catch is that if I stop using it, those lines come back! But hey, how hard is it to moisturize your face twice a day?

What is Retinol?

Retinol, a form of vitamin A, is another wonder ingredient against aging.

In the past, people would eat carrots to try and harness the potency of vitamin A, but the unfortunate downside of this is that it instead could turn the skin orange!

Wouldn’t you much rather apply retinol at night and let it work its magic while you sleep?

Vitamin A is essential for healthy eyes and skin. And just like hyaluronic acid, it plays a role in immunity too. We know that a lack of vitamin A can make us vulnerable to inflammation and skin infections.

That means that taking vitamin A should do the opposite, right?

Before we discuss how vitamin A benefits your skin, let’s take a brief look at where it comes from.

Retinol is found in fish, dairy foods, and meat. You can also apply it topically to the skin, which is why it is used as a skincare ingredient.

These days, retinol can be synthetic as well, although many companies include botanicals alongside it.

Retinol is fantastic because you simply choose the form best suited to your skin type.

If you are prone to spots, then a gel or serum works wonders. Retinol is also useful in reducing breakouts, as it reduces the amount of oil secreted. If, like me, you have dry skin, then a cream is better.

What is the difference between the two?

Both hyaluronic acid and retinol make your skin look youthful, but they do it in different ways.

Hyaluronic acid plumps up the skin by hydrating it, while retinol increases collagen production- which speeds up how fast your skin produces new cells.

You may be wondering at this point- what is collagen, exactly?

Collagen is a protein found in our connective tissue. You may have heard of collagen injections as an alternative to Botox for lines around the mouth.

The reason as to why we would want to increase collagen production is simply because as we age, less of the protein is produced. Collagen is important for skin elasticity, and it’s what makes young people look young.

Hyaluronic acid occurs naturally in the body, but this process is affected by many factors.

If we do not have enough hyaluronic acid, our skin becomes dry and inflamed- which in turn, makes wrinkles and lines more obvious.

By contrast, retinol speeds up skin cell and collagen production. For older skins, it also reduces the appearance of those annoying brown sunspots as it directly affects how the body produces melanin.

Most importantly, it is highly effective in reducing lines and wrinkles.

Can they be used together?

The short answer is most definitely yes!

Retinol takes longer to work, but it works from the inside out (on a cellular level). In contrast, Hyaluronic acid starts working almost immediately, but it operates solely at a surface level.

So, if you want to look gorgeous in a hurry for that date night, go for hyaluronic acid. If you want to always look great, and are in this for the long haul (let’s face it, who isn’t?), then go for retinol.

No one is telling you that you have to choose one or the other though- you can indeed have both!

Let’s Play Devil’s Advocate: Why Wouldn’t You Use Them Together?

Due to its immune system properties, retinol can be slightly abrasive on the skin’s mantle (protective barrier) at first.

However, hyaluronic acid counters this as it helps to exfoliate the skin. This is excellent because then the retinol gets to work, and actually increases the body’s natural production of hyaluronic acid!

Research does suggest that using both hyaluronic acid and retinol is the way to go. Just be careful not to overdo it, as a little goes a long way.

Use hyaluronic acid, morning and night, on damp skin, but keep the retinol as your night-time skin treat after your skin has dried.

Those with sensitive skin will still see benefits even if they only use it once or twice a week!

Our Product Recommendations

Hyaluronic Acid

We’ll primarily discuss the hyaluronic acid serums here because they can produce dramatic results.

Elizabeth Arden Hyaluronic Acid Ceramide Capsules is our first choice. These capsules are so luxurious that you will feel (and look) like a movie star after using them! La Roche-Posay Hyalu B5 Hyaluronic Acid Anti-Aging Serum is a little pricier, but worth every cent.

As a go-to for those of you with young or oily skin, we recommend Neutrogena Hydro Boost Hydrating Serum, which is both affordable and effective.

Finally, Antipodes Glow Ritual Vitamin C Serum with Plant Hyaluronic Acid is a lovely New Zealand product. This line prides itself on sustainability and the use of botanicals.


Elizabeth Arden makes it into the recommended list again with its Elizabeth Arden Retinol Ceramide Capsules. We like its inclusion of plant oils to balance and enhance the effects of the retinol.

Murad Retinol Youth Renewal Serum is ground-breaking in that it releases the retinol slowly to minimize any irritation to the skin.

It is a two-for-one product that combines hyaluronic acid and retinol together to simplify your routine- as does Neutrogena Cellular Boost De-Wrinkle Concentrate, which is a more affordable, but still very effective option.


[1] A. Shaharudin and Z. Aziz, “Effectiveness of hyaluronic acid and its derivatives on chronic wounds: A systematic review,” Journal of Wound Care 25, no. 10 (2016): 585-592.

[2] Fritzlaine C. Roche and Tamia A. Harris-Tryon, “Illuminating the Role of Vitamin A in Skin Innate Immunity and the Skin Microbiome: A Narrative Review,” Nutrients 13, no. 2 (2021): 302.

[3] Thierry Oddos, Romain Roure, James Leyden, Valerie Bruère, Christiane Bertin, “A Placebo-Controlled Study Demonstrates the Long-Lasting Anti-Aging Benefits of a Cream Containing Retinol, DihydroxyMethylChromone (DMC) and Hyaluronic Acid,” Journal of Cosmetics, Dermatological Sciences, and Applications, 2, no. 2 (2012): 51-59.

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