The difference between retinol and Retin-A is that Retin-A comes in prescription form and is stronger than retinol, according to WebMD. Retin-A is considered a retinoid while retinol is not.
Both retinol and Retin-A are used to promote faster skin cell turnover on the face leading to better facial skin. They are both made from vitamin A and are used to treat skin issues. However, retinoids come in prescription form as well as over-the-counter products. Retinoids in prescription form are Tretinoin (includes the brands Atralin, Retin-A, Retin-A Micro and Renova), Tazarotene (includes the brand Tazorac) and Adapalene (includes the brand Differin).
The three prescription forms found in the retinoid category prevent dead cell buildup and help to keep facial pores open and cleansed. They also promote healthy cellular growth. Retinoid products do have common side effects that include redness, irritation, dryness and skin peeling. They can also make the skin more sensitive to the sun and should not be worn before going out in the sun for a long period of time.
Retinol is a weaker product though it is touted as doing the same things as retinoid products such as Retin-A. If a person is interested in purchasing a retinol (since they can be purchased over-the-counter), they should make sure that vitamin A is listed as one of the top five ingredients on the product, otherwise the product may not be effective.