Retinol vs Collagen vs Hyaluronic Acid For Wrinkles: Things You Didn’t Know You Didn’t Know

retinol vs collagen vs hyaluronic acid for wrinkles

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We're not sure about you, but when we go on line or into the department store to buy anti aging skincare products, the choices are overwhelming!  Which is the most effective product? Is there a dietary supplement to help smooth out my wrinkles? What can I do to prevent wrinkles?

What you'll see most often is products that contain retinol, collagen and hyaluronic acid. All three are effective in supporting aging skin. 

In addition, you can also take the 'beauty from within' approach too. That's where you'll see collagen and hyaluronic acid as well.

In this article, we break down the differences between retinol vs collagen vs hyaluronic acid so you can make a good decision on which skincare products will be the best for you and your wrinkles.

retinol for wrinkles

Retinol Explained

Dermatologists and skin care professionals can argue on a lot, but one thing they all agree on is that topical retinol included in a cream or serum is the gold standard for pushing back against aging skin.

Simply put, retinoid is the umbrella term for all vitamin A derivates. 

Retinol is a subcategory and type of retinoid.  

Not only that, but there are also several types of retinol that can be categorized by strength.

Unfortunately, around age 30, your skin doesn't turn over skin cells as often and those tired cells cause dry, dull and wrinkled skin. 

Unlike creating beauty from within, retinol/retinoids in topical creams or serums encourage the top layer of your skin cells to turnover at a higher rate, like when you were younger.

What's also great about retinol is it helps to create the fibroblasts that are the precursor to new collagen protein. 

More collagen protein will assist your body in firming the skin, shrinking pore size, evening out skin tone and helping reverse sun damage.  

As much as it is a 'miracle' product of sorts, there are important factors to consider when choosing which retinol product to use.

One of the most important is to understand the types of retinol available.

Click on the image above for more information

Types of retinol

When choosing which retinol product is best for your skin, you'll want to know there are different types of retinol that you'll want to be aware of.

More importantly, because retinol can be harsh on the skin (especially sensitive skin) when you start using it, you'll want to remember to take a slow approach.

You'll find these types most over in over-the-counter options:

  • Retinyl palmitate: the weakest of the retinoids and most often found in drugstore products, it's also the best retinol to start with
  • Retinol: the next strongest type and well-tolerated by most people
  • Retinaldehyde: the next strongest option available over the counter
  • Adapalene: the strongest available without a prescription and often used to treat acne

If you go to the dermatologist, they would probably prescribe tretinoin or tazarotene, both of which work faster and more effectively, but can also cause more irritation.

Either way, your dermatologist will advise for you to take things very slowly when using retinol products, especially if you have sensitive skin.

Namely, start with the weakest strength and work your way up over a year's time to get your skin acclimated to the new regime.

What are the downsides of retinol/retinoids?

Stanford dermatologist Zakia Rahman, MD weighed in on the best way to approach starting to use retinol or retinoid products.

First, he reassures his patients that the side effects of products  vitamin A derivatives are temporary and that they tend to subside once their skin gets acclimated to the new treatment.

Second, the most initial common results his patients experience include redness, dry and scaly skin which can peel, itch and burn. 

To lessen these side effects, the doctor recommends starting with the lowest strength and working your way up. Also, he says to add in a good moisturizer (one with hyaluronic acid would be a good idea!) after applying the retinol/retinoid product to help lessen any peeling.

Third, retinoids increase sensitivity to the sun's ultraviolet light, so you'll want to remember to apply sunscreen (which he recommends you do every day anyway).

Whether you're using an over-the-counter retinol product or one prescribed by a dermatologist, the key is patience and consistent use to see visible results.

retinol vs collagen vs hyaluronic acid for wrinkles food

Can you eat your retinol/retinoids?

Because retinol is derived from vitamin A, then you can boost your skin's health by increasing the consumption of foods that are high in vitamin A (beauty from within).

Also, you can consume vitamin A supplements if you don't think you can get enough of this important vitamin through your diet.

What you do have to be careful of is consuming too much vitamin A as it can be toxic for your liver.

To boost your consumption of vitamin A, look to eat more:

  • salmon
  • beef liver
  • dairy products, such as milk, butter, and cheddar cheese
  • eggs
  • fish
  • cod liver oil
  • shrimp
  • carrots
  • tomatoes
  • sweet potatoes
  • leafy green vegetables
  • fruits, such as mangoes, apricots, and plums

Finally, a healthy diet including the foods listed above will go a long way to glowing skin.

How long does it take for the ordinary retinol to work?

The good thing about retinol is that no matter which strength you use, you'll see results in your wrinkles, skin tone, dark spots and acne by using the product consistently over a period of time.

Usually, you'll start to see visible results within 3 months of regular use, so plan on using retinol for the long term.

Moreover, remember to be patient as your skin acclimates to the new product. The good news is you'll be able to enjoy the anti-aging benefits of retinol for years to come.

Does retinol affect fillers or other anti aging treatments?

The good news is that using retinol will not negatively affect other anti-aging skin treatments you may use like fillers or Botox.

Actually, retinol can help maintain and improve those types of in-office treatments.

Retinol wrap up

Retinol is a subset of the umbrella term for retinoids, which are derived from vitamin A.

It works to boost a faster turnover of skin cells which help to encourage new collagen production, even out skin tone, smooth wrinkles and fine lines, lighten age spots and heal acne.

There are different strengths of retinol and can be bought over the counter or your dermatologist can prescribe one too.

Either way, dermatologists recommend starting with the most gentle strength and work your way up.

Some of the side effects of using retinol products include peeling skin, redness and irritation. The good news is they tend to be temporary and there are tricks to help get your body through the adjustment period.

In addition, your skin will become more sensitive to the rays of the sun, so be even more diligent about applying sunscreen.

Quick Review Retinol for Anti Aging Skincare

  • Retinoids are the blanket name for vitamin A derivatives, retinol is a type of retinoid 
  • You can buy retinol over-the-counter in topical creams and serums and in different strengths
  • Your dermatologist can also prescribe even stronger retinol formulas which may work faster
  • Retinoids/retinol encourages new fibroblasts which is the pre-cursor to collagen and encourages faster skin cell turnover
  • When first using these products, your skin will need time to adapt so you may experience skin peeling, redness and sensitivity
  • Start with the mildest strength and one or two days and then work your way up over time
  • Your skin will be more sensitive to the sun's rays, so use sunscreen
  • You should start to see noticeable improvements in wrinkles, fine lines, skin tone, pore size and acne within approximately 3 months of consistent use
collagen for wrinkles powder pills

Collagen Explained

We're going to start our discussion on describing what collagen is so you understand its role in your body and skin.

Collagen is the most abundant protein in the human body (and it also is in animals, more about that in a bit) and appears everywhere.

When we say everywhere in the body, we mean everywhere--arteries, gut, hair, skin, nails, muscles, bones, eye, cartilage in joints and any other place connective tissue appears like the pelvic floor.

What is collagen made from?

Collagen is a large, long, flexible, strong protein that's made from the unique synthesis of vitamin C, zinc, copper and three main amino acids (glycine, proline and hydroxyproline).

As you approached the end of your 20s, your body's collagen production slowed down by approximately 1% each year...once you are in and after menopause, it decreases at an even faster rate.

Not only that, but you more than likely also participate (like most of us) in a lifestyle that includes sun damage, too much sugar, stress, alcohol, smoking and not enough sleep.

The collagen deficit in your body starts to shows signs of aging, especially in your skin. You'll start to notice fine lines, wrinkles, cellulite and sagging skin more and more as the years go by. 

Can collagen be absorbed through the skin?

This is an age-ole' question that, of course, doesn't have a straightforward answer, so we're going to go with 'maybe' and explain more below.

In today's world, you can use collagen in different ways to reduce wrinkles, increase elasticity and reduce sagging:


Collagen fillers have been around for quite some time and are effective in plumping up and and hydrating the skin to reduce the appearance of wrinkles and fine lines.

These fillers are administered by a dermatologist or trained clinician directly under the skin through a needle.

The effects do last a long time, up to a year, but you may find you'll have to go in for touch ups here and there.

Collagen cream and collagen serum

In its original form, the collagen protein is way too big to be absorbed through the layers of the skin.

With this in mind, manufacturers have been able to take collagen protein and break it down with water into small chains of amino acids called peptides. That's why you'll often here the term collagen peptides which is also known as collagen hydrolysate or hydrolyzed collagen.

Unfortunately, even with these peptides, there is no conclusive evidence that they can be absorbed through the layers of skin through a cream or serum.

No doubt though, collagen cream and collagen serum as skincare products can help hydrate your skin and make it feel firmer. 

Synthetic (man-made) collagen

Research, science and technology have come a long way in skincare and one of the celebrations includes the creation of man-made, collagen-like products. 

In other words, instead of using straight collagen protein, they have concentrated combining the amino acids in collagen that are able to penetrate the epidermis and enter deep into the dermis.

An ingredient you may see included in today's creams and serums is Palmitoyl Tripeptide-5.

This revolutionary ingredient may keep skin healthier and younger-looking longer by encouraging collagen production and firming the skin.

It's also thought to interact with hyaluronic acid and elastin production to help increase water content of the skin, soften fine lines and wrinkles and thicken it as well.

What does 'beauty from within' mean?

When trying to figure out retinol vs collagen vs hyaluronic acid, the plain truth is that the best beauty results come from within.

Drinking enough water and eating a healthy diet rich in vitamin C and natural, non-processed food products, along with other superfoods like bone broth, can go a long way to encourage your body to make new collagen protein and protect what you already have.

Consuming a diet of processed foods and sugar, experiencing stress over a long period of time, not getting enough sleep and skimping on water all will do a number on how your skin holds up during the aging process.

Alternatively, using a collagen supplement is also an effective and popular way to give your body that boost it needs to help make more collagen and hang on to what you have.

Don't take our word for the fact that collagen dietary supplements are effective in turning back the hands of time. 

There have been three published studies in 2014,  2016 and 2018  have shown that the oral intake of collagen protein dietary supplements reduced the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, improved elasticity and increased hydration.

More importantly, oral intake of the dietary supplements didn't have any adverse effects or side effects on the participants in the studies.

What does marine collagen do for your skin?

Actually, marine or fish collagen supplement is celebrated as that perfect 'beauty from within' product. One reason is that it contains more of a concentration of type ii collagen, the type found mainly in the skin. 

The fish collagen is extracted from the unused scales and skins of fish. Because fish collagen is smaller in size when extracted, right off the bat it makes it more bioavailable than bovine collagen.

Therefore, if your skin's condition is your most pressing goal, we suggest you include a marine collagen supplement into your daily routine to enhance your youthful glow and reducing the visible signs of aging.

Check out our review of the best marine collagen for our top picks.

Collagen wrap up

Collagen protein extracted from animals (bovine, marine, chicken mainly) has exploded on the health, wellness and anti aging scene and often referred to as the 'fountain of youth'.

Although the collagen protein is too large to be absorbed through all the layers of the skin, topical skin care cream and serums that include collagen protein can still help restore hydration and give your skin a little plump.

Interestingly, research labs have been able to create synthetic collagen that can go deeper into your skin and encourage your body to make new collagen.

A better approach with collagen is to take it orally through a high-quality clean powder or liquid supplement--especially marine collagen which is high in type ii collagen found in the skin.

Using the 'beauty from within' approach can not only improve wrinkles, fine lines, firmness and tone of your skin, but you also may experience other surprising benefits like harder nails, fuller, thicker hair and less joint discomfort.

Quick Review Collagen for Anti Aging Skincare

Creams and serums

  • Natural collagen peptides have not been shown in studies to be able to completely penetrate the skin
  • Can be helpful to restore and maintain moisture in the skin
  • Marine or fish collagen is especially useful for skin since its peptides are more bioavailable
  • Lab-created collagen made by duplicating the amino acid change in collagen has been a promising and exciting development

Collagen supplements

  • Adopts the concept that beauty starts from within
  • Collagen powder, pill and liquid supplements, especially marine collagen, have been clinically shown to be effective in improving the skin's hydration, elasticity and the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles
  • Collagen supplements are readily available at price-friendly cost and come in different forms and flavors
  • Readily available for purchase online or in stores
  • Easily tolerated by most people and with no adverse effects
  • Most people experience more benefits like less joint pain, bigger muscles and a healthier gut


  • A cosmetic procedure where collagen is injected under the skin
  • Lasts for about a year, although touch ups may be needed
  • An allergy to the collagen may be of concern, discuss with your health professional
hyaluronic acid for wrinkles 1

Hyaluronic Acid Explained

Now let's talk about hyaluronic acid in our discussion of collagen vs retinol vs hyaluronic acid for wrinkles.

Hyaluronic acid (HA) is a naturally-occurring substance in our bodies and is especially present in the skin, joints, connective tissue and eyes. It prevents the loss of hydration in the skin and can retain up to a mind-blowing 1000 times its weight in water.

When using hyaluronic acid topically, it can help make the skin look plumper, thereby reducing the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles.

Like collagen, it's made up of amino acids along with sugar molecules.

Also like collagen, you can receive hyaluronic acid fillers by a trained professional or you can take a hyaluronic acid supplement.

It's also gentle...all skin tones and skin types can benefit from more hyaluronic acid. Applying it topically doesn't irritate the skin like retinol, cause breakouts or intensify eczema or rosacea.

 (Although pay attention to the other ingredients along side hyaluronic acid that may cause you problems.)

If that isn't enough goodness, HA also has antioxidant properties and fights off inflammation and free radicals (which cause tissue damage and accelerated aging) from the environment. 

In addition to using HA topically, you can also find it in dietary supplements that even include collagen.

Hyaluronic acid benefits for skin

The aging process, plus ultraviolet rays from the sun, tobacco and pollution, can deplete hyaluronic acid in your body.

As a result of the depletion, you'll start to experience dry skin, wrinkles, fine lines and less skin elasticity.

Here are the benefits you can enjoy from adding hyaluronic acid to your daily skincare routine:

  • Smooth out wrinkles
  • Can firm the skin with injections
  • Relieve dry skin, redness and dermatitis
  • Return that dewy look to your skin
  • Absorbs quickly into the skin so you have to use less skincare product
  • Easily available over-the-counter

Are there any hyaluronic acid side effects?

Hyaluronic acid is a gentle hydrator and almost zero chance of an allergic reaction since it's a natural substance your body creates.

All skin tones and types can benefit from more hyaluronic acid. Applying it topically doesn't irritate the skin like retinol, cause breakouts or doesn't intensify eczema or rosacea.

If you're going through cancer treatment or have had cancer, then there's some evidence that hyaluronic acid might cause cancer cells to grow.

Also, there hasn't been enough studies on pregnant or nursing women, so if you fall into this category, make sure you speak with your doctor if you want to use hyaluronic acid in supplements or topically.

Hyaluronic acid wrap up

Hyaluronic acid (HA) is a substance that is naturally made by your body to keep your connective tissues, skin and eyes lubricated and hydrated.

As you age, your body doesn't produce as much HA which starts to show in the skin with fine lines, wrinkles and dry skin.

You can easily replace hyaluronic acid in your body through topical creams or serums, fillers and by using a hyaluronic supplement or a product with hyaluronic acid in it (like a collagen supplement).

Because it's a natural substance, there is no known side effects of using hyaluronic acid in your skincare and beauty routine. 

Finally, not only will more hyaluronic acid in your body help your skin, but it can also help the cartilage in your joints and eyes, too.

Quick Review Hyaluronic Acid for Anti Aging Skincare

  • A natural substance created by the body that hydrates skin, connective tissue and the eye
  • The chances of side effects or allergy is extremely low
  • Easy to get on the market--in supplement form, in collagen supplements, fillers, creams and serums
  • Maintains and restores hydration to the skin to help smooth out wrinkles, fine lines, redness and dermatitis.
  • Maintains and restores hydration to the skin to help smooth out wrinkles, fine lines, redness and dermatitis.
  • Provides a look of plumpness and radiant skin
  • Restores a youthful, dewy look to your skin
  • Absorbs quickly into the skin so you get more bang for your skincare product buck
  • Easily available over-the-counter

Retinol vs Collagen vs Hyaluronic Acid: Final Answer Please!

Now that we know more about retinol, collagen and hyaluronic acid, what about retinol vs collagen vs hyaluronic acid? Which one is better for wrinkles?

The good news is:  all three are effective, so you don't have to choose just one product.

Actually, you're able to use all three of them at the same time if you want to create a top-notch anti-aging supplement plan.

For example, there are creams and serums that include collagen, hyaluronic acid AND retinol on their ingredient list--a cost effective and easy way to gain the benefits of all three ingredients in one product.

On the other hand, using a superior topical hyaluronic acid after using retinol can help reduce the flakey, peeling skin that is common when starting to use a retinoid product.

Using a high-quality marine collagen powder or liquid collagen supplement also can help bring out that beauty from within while working with the benefits of retinol and HA topically with no problems.

Bottom line, for maximum effectiveness, there is no contest between retinol vs collagen vs hyaluronic acid.

All three are important components in an effective and thorough skincare regiment.

Starting with beauty from within with collagen peptides then adding on HA and retinol topical treatments can provide a 1, 2, 3 punch against wrinkles, dry, sagging, dull skin, acne and other aging skin conditions.