Peptides vs Retinol: Which is Better for Your Skin? An Expert Weighs In

By Tara | Updated: 16/04/2024

In the ever-evolving world of skincare, the quest for a youthful, radiant complexion has led us to discover many amazing ingredients. Retinol has been at the forefront of the battle against aging for years. But, ongoing research has shown that this ingredient may have a rival (better said, a family of rivals), peptides.

These two powerhouse ingredients have sparked discussions among skincare enthusiasts and dermatologists: which one is the key to flawless skin? To navigate this terrain effectively we’ve consulted with UK-based board-certified dermatologist Dr. Chaudhry M.B.B.S. of Scandinavian Biolabs.

We explore retinol and peptides, their distinct qualities, benefits, and which one might just be your skin’s new best friend.

Graphic showing peptide and retinol serums

What are peptides?

“Peptides are short chains of amino acids that serve as building blocks for proteins in the skin”, explains Dr. Chaudhry. To put it simply, they are fragments of proteins. “They offer various benefits, like stimulating collagen production, which can improve skin firmness and reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles”.

By applying amino acids to your skin, you are essentially ‘tricking’ it into thinking you have a wound. In turn reacts, with a natural response to form collagen and elastin.

What is retinol?

Retinol, on the other hand, is a form of Vitamin A. Vitamin A is an umbrella term that includes various derivates like retinol, retinal, tretinoin etc.

Related Read: A Beginner’s Guide to Retinol – Everything You Need to Know

Extensive scientific studies have consistently validated the advantages of retinol and its ability to improve the appearance of the skin. Among these advantages, we can note its capacity to promote collagen production, increase skin cell turnover, reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, and even skin tone.

While retinol products are valuable in anti-aging and skincare routines, they should be used with caution, as they have the potential to cause skin and sun sensitivity.

Similarities between Peptides and Retinol

Peptides and retinol, although through different mechanisms, offer similar benefits for the skin, such as:

But, do peptides work the same as retinol?

Peptides and retinol work differently” explains Dr. Chaudhry. “While peptides primarily target collagen production, retinol is a form of vitamin A that enhances skin cell turnover and can address a broader range of skin concerns, such as acne and uneven skin tone”, he added.

Differences between Peptides and Retinol

Mechanism of action:

Peptides: Collagen and elastin are the two main proteins that constitute our skin’s structure and keep the skin plump and firm. As we age, elastin and collagen production decreases which will result in sagging skin. Peptides increase collagen production and prevent its degradation.

But, not all peptides are the same.

Retinol: Retinol supports collagen synthesis by promoting skin turnover rate and influencing fibroblasts, responsible for collagen synthesis. While there may be different types of retinoids (retinol included), they all go through the same mechanism of action.

The main difference between them is how fast it takes them to convert to retinoic acid. Retinyl palmitate needs more steps than retinol, meaning that it will work more slowly.

Side Effects:

Peptides: Generally well-tolerated and suitable for most skin types, but not all. Like with any ingredient, if you experience any irritation you should stop using it immediately.

Retinol: Retinol is notorious for causing irritation and sensitivity. It’s not recommended in pregnant and breastfeeding women and dry or sensitive skin types should be very cautious.

Time for visible effects:

In general, retinol works faster than peptides. Since retinol speeds up cell turnover rate, it will take a few weeks or months of consistent retinol use to start seeing improvements in skin tone, skin texture, fine lines and wrinkles. While peptides work more gradually.

Cost and availability:

The availability and cost of both peptide-based and retinol products may vary, in general retinol is more available and can be more affordable. However, it’s important to note that the effectiveness of these skincare ingredients can vary, and individual results may differ.

When to Use Peptides

Hailey Bieber skin


If you’re someone who can’t tolerate retinol, it may be worthwhile trying a peptide-based product instead.

“Peptides are generally well-suited for sensitive skin”, notes Dr. Chaudhry, as they are less likely to cause irritation compared to some other active ingredients.

When you’re experiencing skin dryness or dehydration. Peptides can help improve skin hydration by supporting the skin’s natural moisture barrier.

Mild wrinkle reduction. Peptides can be a good option for mature skin that’s looking for a product with anti-aging benefits. They stimulate collagen production and smooth fine lines.

Peptides work well in tandem with other ingredients, including Vitamin C, niacinamide, antioxidants, and hyaluronic acids. Using a peptide with an alpha hydroxy acid (AHA) will actually make the peptides work less efficiently.

When to Use Retinol

Dr. Chaudhry explains that while peptides are suited for sensitive skin types, retinol may be better for oily or acne-prone skin. Study shows that this skincare ingredient can treat acne, unclog pores, reduce inflammation, and regulate oil production.

Retinol is said to ‘slow down the aging process’. It improves visible signs of aging like hyperpigmentation, sunspots, fine lines and wrinkles.

Can I Use Them Together?

“Combining them can offer complementary benefits, but it’s important to introduce them slowly and watch for any irritation” notes Dr Chaudhry.

Peptides can help improve the moisture content of the skin and can help mitigate the dryness and irritation that can happen from using retinol.

Remember these are two active ingredients and it will ultimately it will come down to how your skin tolerates the ingredients.

Peptides vs Retinol for Skin: Which is Better?

It seems like retinol and peptides are both great ingredients to add to your skincare routine and choosing one or the other depends on your skin type and needs. However, using them together can improve overall skin health and help you achieve glowing skin.

It’s important to note that while early research is promising, more studies need to be done into peptides to solidify their efficacy when it comes to skincare benefits.

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Tara Lusk is the founder and creator of Beauty Space
Tara Lusk is a Sydney-based beauty enthusiast and the founder of Beauty Space. She launched the blog in 2018 to showcase the best beauty and skincare brands emerging from Australia, while also providing insider tips and tricks for hair and skincare. With a focus on tried-and-true products, Tara puts the latest cult products to the test to separate hype from substance.

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