What are Retinoids?
The Retinoid family includes vitamin A (retinol) and its natural derivatives such as retinyl esters, retinaldehyde, retinoic acid, and numerous synthetic derivatives.
Topical retinoids work by interacting with nuclear retinoic acid receptors in the cells of the skin. To be utilized by skin cells, a retinol ester – most commonly retinyl palmitate in skincare formulations – must first convert to retinol, and then to retinaldehyde, and finally to a retinoic acid. A retinol, in contrast, would need two conversion steps – from retinol to retinaldehyde to retinoic acid. And a retinaldehyde would require just a single conversion – from retinaldehyde to retinoic acid. These conversions occur through natural enzymatic processes on and within the skin.
Formulations which include retinoic acid directly do not require any enzymatic conversion steps and are generally considered stronger (and potentially more irritating) than other retinoids. Retinoic acids are generally available through prescription only.
These are the most common retinoids used in skincare:
- Retinol Esters (Retinyl Palmitate)
- Retinaldehyde (Retinal)
- Retinoic Acid (Tretinoin) – prescription only
Retinol esters are considered the least potent and most gentle retinoids, with potency and potential irritation rising for retinol, retinaldehyde, and retinoic acids. However, this is a very general rule of thumb given that the concentration and quality of the specific retinoid and the combination with other ingredients in a skincare formulation can have significant effects on efficacy and tolerability.
Other retinoids and retinoid alternatives relevant for skincare include:
- Tazarotene aka Tazorac
- Isotretinoin aka Accutane
- Adapalene aka Differin
- Bakuchiol – a plant-based retinoid alternative known to have some similar anti-aging properties
Should I be excited?
Retinoids have been extensively studied and clinically proven to produce superstar results for the skin:
- encourage cellular turnover
- stimulate collagen production
- soften wrinkles
- fade hyperpigmentation
- improve texture
- treat acne
- give the skin an overall glow and vitality
Don’t forget the risks.
While these skin impacts sound too good to be true, they have been studied and confirmed again and again for over 40 years. But the benefits do come with significant – but manageable – risks. Side effects from retinoids can range from minor irritation to outright dermatitis. Many people experience angry, red, inflamed, and irritated skin. Excessive transdermal water loss and severe dryness are common outcomes. And severe flaking, peeling, and shedding – like a snake shedding its skin – are also frequent complaints. These side effects are so common and so alarming that they have inspired labels like “retinol uglies” and “Tret face.”
How can I incorporate retinoids to maximize benefits and minimize downsides?
Here are key tips to help guide your retinoid journey:
- Start low. More is NOT more with retinoids. Start with a low percentage and work your way up very slowly. Consider retinol esters, retinol, and retinaldehyde before jumping into a prescription retinoic acid option.
- Go slow. Start using once a day for just two times a week. After about 4-8 weeks, incorporate one more night a week but still limit to just once a day. And then increase another day of the week after another 4-8 weeks. The idea is to make very incremental increases in frequency once you have established that your skin is tolerating the treatment. Eventually, you should be able to use retinoids once a day every day. From there you may consider experimenting with higher concentrations and other retinoid forms. But these experiments should all take place over the course of months and years – not days and weeks.
Note: even with this approach, you should still anticipate some flaking. However, by starting low and going slow, you can help prevent harsher reactions. Peak reaction is around 2-3 weeks. We curated the Vitamin A Retinol Serum by Eco Your Skin because we love how it is a wonderfully low dosage of 0.2375% retinol so that you can easily incorporate into your routine without overdoing it for skin – while still seeing the great benefits.
- Consistency is key! Monitor your progress carefully. Take a picture of your skin each day for 4 weeks and track any side effects. See how your skin is adapting to the retinoid. Also, start looking for benefits. With regular usage, you should start seeing acne benefits in 2-3 months, hyperpigmentation improvements in 3-4 months, and reversing signs of aging in 4-6 months. Resist the urge to push for faster results. Consistent and careful use of a lower concentration retinoid will almost always beat out an overly intensive retinoid regimen – while also minimizing the risk of alarming side effects and skin damage.
- Don’t use too much. All you need is a PEA sized amount to spread a very thin layer on your face. More is NOT more.
- Avoid and protect sensitive areas. Around the mouth, the eyelids and around the eyes, and the neck are all areas that can be more sensitive. If you want to use on these areas, check out the next tip.
- Buffer, buffer, buffer. In sensitive areas, use a moisturizer (or even Vaseline or our KBeauty Rescue Balm), then apply the retinoid, and then follow up with more moisturizer or balm. You can use this approach for whole face, not just the sensitive areas, if you have sensitive skin or really want to be super careful with retinoids. We love that the Vitamin A Retinol Serum by Eco Your Skin includes beautiful oils like macadamia, argan, apricot kernel and sunflower seed oils to help protect the skin barrier while using the retinol.
- Do not exfoliate on the day you're using a retinoid.
- Use at night. Retinoids do NOT make you more sensitive to the sun. But some retinoid formulas get deactivated when exposed to sunlight, so it is best to use at night. Plus, your skin is in renew and repair mode while you sleep – and retinoids are active participants in that process.
Meet the Vitamin A Retinol Serum by Eco Your Skin
We curated the Vitamin A Retinol Serum by Eco Your Skin because it's such a thoughtful formula. We love that you can approach skin slowly and consistently with retinol to benefit from the consistency and upside of retinol - while minimizing any downsides. Plus, love that it's packed with damage-fighting vitamin E (0.2375% retinol plus the Vitamin E makes up 93.7% of the formula!). And the barrier strengthening oils.
Are You Ready for Retinol?
Who the Vitamin A Retinol Serum by Eco Your Skin is not for:
- If you're already using a stronger percentage retinol every day, this one is not needed.
- If you already have a prescription topical retinoid, you don't need this as well.
- If you're pregnant or breastfeeding, it is a hard no.
- if you have exceedingly sensitive skin and you want to go even lower - you can start with 0.1% and see how that goes - but this formula has a relatively low amount still and includes oil so it is quite gentle
Who the Vitamin A Retinol Serum by Eco Your Skin is for:
- If you're starting off with retinoids.
- If you're already using a higher % retinoid but can't use consistently as it's too strong and you're not seeing the benefits, try this instead and use consistently. Consistency over intensity.
- If you love retinoids and looking for an effective and thoughtfully formulated one that can be easily incorporated into your routine.
- For all skin types and skin tones.
- Wide age range can benefit from this. Teenagers for acne, and all the way up to very mature skin to help reverse visible signs of aging.
If you have any questions about retinoids, let us know below. Our team of estheticians will be here for you.
Cheers to radiance!
Peach & Lily