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Collagen Vs. Retinol

Comparing collagen vs. retinol might reveal differences that make one option better for you. Many of us use skin care products containing retinol or collagen without understanding their effects, but this isn’t ideal. To help you use them properly, we explore the similarities and differences between collagen and retinol.

Collagen is a protein present in the human body, and it’s our most abundant protein. On the other hand, retinol is a vitamin A derivative that supports various body systems. Collagen and retinol work on a cellular level to effect positive changes in the skin. A critical difference between them is that retinol is more effective on the skin than collagen.

Are you eager to find the more effective substance between collagen vs. retinol? Let’s unwrap each one and see how they work.

What is Collagen?

The protein collagen is found in skin and connective tissues like bone, cartilage, ligaments, walls of organs, etc. It’s secreted by fibroblasts and comprises high amounts of these amino acids: glycine, proline, and hydroxyproline. Of the 28 known collagen types, collagens I, II, III, V, and X are the most common types used in supplements.

The primary function of collagen in the body is structural support to cells, tissues, and organs. Collagen is responsible for the skin’s strength, elasticity, and waterproofing features. Wrinkles occur with the loss of collagen, and collagen production starts declining by age 30.

You can get collagen from food sources such as beef, fish, bone broth, and dairy or through artificial supplements: collagen peptides. Smoking, oxidative stress, autoimmune disorders, and sunlight damage collagen fibers. Medical and cosmetic uses of collagen include collagen injections as skin fillers, vascular prosthetics, and treatment of osteoarthritis.

What is Retinol?

Retinol is the main vitamin A derivative (retinoids) present in our diet. Vitamin A is an essential vitamin – not produced in our body – that’s important for the eyes and skin. Photoreceptor cells in the eyes use retinol, and it repairs damaged tissues in the skin.

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Retinol came on the commercial scene in the 1970s and is now an ingredient in creams, serums, and dietary supplements. It’s the most tolerable retinoid for humans, so you can easily find it in over-the-counter (OTC) products. Retinol can treat mild acne, improve skin tone, and reduce aging signs.

It’s available in two forms: oral and topical. When you apply retinol-containing products to your skin, skin enzymes convert it into retinoic acid, which works at the cellular level. Retinoic acid can stimulate collagen production and increase cell turnover. 

Decreasing cell turnover by age 30 causes dry and dull skin, but retinol use can prevent this. Retinol also stimulates fibroblasts (increases their number) to produce more collagen fibers, which reduces wrinkles and fine lines.

Collagen Vs. Retinol: Similarities

Collagen and retinol are two top ingredients in the elusive formula for our pursuit of eternal youth. They share certain similarities in their functions, presentations, and applications, as detailed below:


Collagen and retinol both contribute to the skin’s normal functioning. This includes maintaining strength and elasticity, improving hydration, and repairing or replacing damaged cells and tissues. Both also work at a cellular level to improve skin longevity and general health.


With scientific and technological advancements, these substances now come in various formats. Powders, capsules, gels, creams, and serums are some common presentations of collagen and retinol. Laser treatment and injected solutions are formations often used in clinical or severe medical cases.


Whether you’re treating a skin condition (acne, black spots) or fighting against the natural aging process, collagen and retinol are effective. Collagen has been used in guided tissue regeneration (in periodontal therapy), and retinol helps repair damaged tissue in the skin.

Differences Between Collagen and Retinol

There are glaring differences when you consider collagen vs. retinol. You can better decide which is better for your skin after checking out these differences:

Origin and Structure

Fibroblasts synthesize and secrete collagen, while retinol comes (preformed) in our diet. Retinol could also come from natural sources like fruits, beans, plants, etc., or synthetic sources.

Looking at their structures, retinol (vitamin A) is fat-soluble. In contrast, collagen is a triple-helix structure comprising three strands with over 1000 amino acids. Their structures affect their efficiency, as explained later.

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The physiological functions of collagen include structural support to bone, ligaments, tendons, and skin. On the other hand, retinol is essential for the proper functioning of the eye’s photoreceptors and immune system. It’s also necessary for the repair of damaged tissues in the skin.


Collagen-containing serums aren’t as effective as those with retinol because of absorption and penetration differences. While retinol penetrates all layers of the skin, collagen only penetrates the two upper layers. The fat-solubility of retinol helps it reach the skin’s third layer(hypodermis), which has a lot of fat.

Applying collagen and retinol to bare, freshly washed skin is advisable. You should never layer them on each other or over/under other facial products because they’re base products.


While retinol softens your skin and evens or lightens its tone, collagen use causes plump, dewy, and flawless skin. Collagen’s effects appear overnight and are short-term, whereas retinol’s effects take time to appear and are long-term.

Commercial Uses

Retinol is a component of many OTC products – creams, serums, or lotions. Contrastingly, collagen is used for reconstructive surgeries on the skin, teeth, and other organs. Vascular surgeries, wound regeneration, and osteoarthritis treatment are other applications of collagen.


Collagen and retinol differ in structures, origins, efficiency, and more. They also come in similar formulations and both work on the skin. Always consult your doctor before using a retinol or collagen product and watch out for side effects.

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