Wait, What Are The Skin Benefits Of Vitamin A?
All of the different types of retinoids are basically looking to have an effect as close as possible to prescription vitamin A. The goal is to improve surface texture, assist with the appearance of large pores, blemishes, pigmentation, and improve the look of fine lines and wrinkles. Vitamin A hits all the bases.
Prescription vitamin A is active and recognised by your skin immediately, cosmetic skincare options need to go through conversions to become active. Retinol coverts into retinaldehyde (retinal), which then converts to retinoic acid (the active form). How well this pathway happens is kind of dependent on how well a product is formulated/stabilised.
Other options include hydroxypinacolone retinoate (HPR, also known as Granactive Retinoid) and more niche types like retinyl retinoate. These aren’t on the retinoid path directly but are designed to have related action. Usually known to be less sensitising.
Why Are People Talking About Retinoids Now?
Retinoids are known to have stability issues and are more difficult to formulate than most other skincare ingredients. As consumers, we want results, while brands want shelf life along with results.
Many retinoids breakdown in the presence of air and/or light, so while a retinoid product might be “active and fresh” when it’s just been made, how long it remains “active and fresh” in the tube is the formulation hurdle.
To combat this issue, ingredient suppliers have developed encapsulation systems to protect the retinoid activity from accelerated degradation. Encapsulation may also help deliver the retinoid deeper into the skin and allows for a “slow release” effect to minimise irritation.
Not all brands use encapsulation, some prefer to stabilize in other ways, sometimes just through packaging. Some brands test for efficacy, some brands don’t. These are some of the reasons you’ll see various price points.
Another reason additional retinoid derivatives have been developed is due to skin sensitivity. It is well known retinoids can have side effects, such as dryness, peeling, redness. Especially with higher strength versions. Some of these derivatives are made to try and bypass the downsides.
Retinal is my preferred retinoid just because it is closer in the conversion process. In my experience, retinal has also been far less aggressive on my skin than equivalent strength retinol. Ingredient suppliers of retinal suggest that avoiding the extra conversion step is what makes it less irritating.
How Important Are Retinoid Percentages?
While percentages are rarely useful in giving you the full idea of a product’s function, it can be a handy guide for retinoids in particular. It’s generally considered that retinoids in the 0.03%-0.06% range to be the common or intermediate range. Anything higher is probably best left for a bit later in your retinoid journey.
All of my favourite dermatologists talk about consistency being more important than strength. So, if you’re concerned, start lower, but use it more often.
What’s The Best Retinoid For Beginners Or Super Sensitive Skin Types?
If you’re brand new to retinoids, I would look at hydroxypinacolone retinoate/Granactive Retinoid as a good starting point. The risk of side effects from this is low, and it’s usually quite easy to tolerate and integrate into a routine. Both The Ordinary Granactive Retinoid 2% Emulsion, $13.50 and Skin Rocks Retinoid 1 - Vitamin A Face Serum, $80.00 are great formulas.
The other option is to look for encapsulated retinol. My favourite starter serum is the NATURIUM Retinol Complex Serum, $29.00. Very lightweight texture, easy to layer, and because of the encapsulation, you’re getting a more slowed-down release into the skin.
If you happen to enjoy the texture of a luxurious face oil, Sunday Riley Luna Sleeping Night Oil, $55.00 also makes for a good retinoid introduction.
What’s The Best Retinoid Most People Should Use?
Skin type isn’t really relevant in my view when it comes to retinoids. It’s more just a textural preference. I think the most universally compatible texture is the Skin Rocks Retinoid 2 - Vitamin A Face Serum, $90.00. This contains 0.05% retinal coupled with hydropxypinacole retinoate for enhanced activity. Plus, don’t we all love Caroline!
What If I Want A Stronger Retinoid?
If you aren’t ready to jump into prescription territory, or simply don’t want to deal with the side effects, stronger cosmetic retinoids are available too. Medik8 is the leader in retinal options, and something like would be the industry-leading option.
It’s not necessary to go straight to higher strength retinoids, or even work your way up to them. Higher strength is probably a good consideration only if you want faster results, or if your skincare concerns are a little more chronic. Be aware that side effects may be more prevalent.
Michelle from Lab Muffin Beauty Science, Jen from The Eco Well, Esther from The Melanin Chemist, Annalisa from Skinperspective, Dr. Samantha Ellis, Dr. Mark Strom, Dr. Andrea Suarez, and Dr. Ranella Hirsch who I follow religiously. Opinions and interpretations above are my own but influenced by their content and research.
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