Everything You Need to Know About Retinol
Retinol has become hugely popular over the past couple of years and it is probably the skincare ingredient I am asked about the most by clients during facials. In case you haven’t seen my previous posts about retinol, it is one of the very few ingredients that has actually been scientifically proven to work on premature ageing of the skin. Retinol, a form of vitamin A, stimulates the production of new skin cells, which helps to reduce fine lines, firm the skin and help with skin discolouration.
The Science Part
There is a wide variety of products available to buy now with different forms and percentages of vitamin A and it can be tricky to know which one to choose. Retinoic acid is the ingredient used in prescription Vitamin A products (aka Retin A/Tretinoin) and they are only available from a dermatologist. Retinoic acid doesn’t have to be converted in the skin to work so is very effective but can be difficult for some skins to tolerate. A step down from retinoic acid is retinaldehyde. This form of Vitamin A needs to be converted in the skin to retinoic acid in order for it to work. Next in the chain is retinol, the most commonly known form of vitamin A, which has to be converted twice in the skin for it to work. Finally, there is retinyl palmitate, which has to be converted in the skin three times before it is effective and makes it the most gentle form of vitamin A. Hydroxypinacolone retinoate is the newest form of Vitamin A on the market (it is the ingredient in The Ordinary’s Granactive Retinoid) and is a retinoic acid ester that apparently doesn’t need to be converted to retinoic acid to work like the others mentioned above, it binds directly to the retinoid receptors of the skin cells to work.
Retinyl Palmitate -> Retinol -> Retinaldehyde -> Retinoic Acid
The majority of products available to buy either contain retinyl palmitate or retinol at a percentage of between 0.3 and 1. Products with Hydroxypinacolone retinoate are often labelled as 2%-5% strength but a 1% retinol would actually be stronger. It's confusing, I know! The formula plays a huge part in how much irritation can be expected, for example retinol in an oil base will be more gentle than a retinol in a gel form.
How To Use Vitamin A
Vitamin A products can cause irritation, dryness and peeling while the skin acclimatises to it. They can also cause any breakouts that would have come to the surface eventually, come out all at once so people unfortunately often give up on using the product before they get to the clear, smooth skin stage. It is important when starting on a vitamin A product to only use it a couple of times a week to begin with and cut down on other actives such as AHAs. If I overdo it on the retinol, I use a ceramide-rich moisturiser and rosehip seed oil to repair the skin barrier.
I have put together some recommendations for different vitamin A products available to buy based on experience level/skin type below.
For beginners/dry skin
Indeed Labs Retinol Reface - https://www.boots.com/indeed-labs-retinol-reface-retinol-skin-resurfacer-10163871
La Roche Posay Redermic R - https://www.boots.com/la-roche-posay-redermic-retinol-night-moisturiser-30ml-10259634
Paula’s Choice firming moisturiser – https://www.skincity.co.uk/p-6352-clinical-ceramide-enriched-firming-moisturiser-50ml.aspx?slndg=56faa4c22706&gclid=Cj0KCQjwuLPnBRDjARIsACDzGL0mhELkGULOb56wSoDE8B1qGyoGHTwXVeNrAjc0h41cB6W_Ba_-pVUaAhxfEALw_wcB
For intermediate users/oily skin
Skinceuticals 0.3% Retinol - https://www.skincity.co.uk/p-656-retinol-03-30ml.aspx
Paula’s Choice 1% Retinol Booster (to add in with a moisturiser) - https://www.skincity.co.uk/p-6359-1-retinol-booster-15ml.aspx
SkinMedika 0.5% Retinol - https://www.skincity.co.uk/p-6664-retinol-complex-05-296ml.aspx
Medik8 Crystal Retinal 6 - https://www.skincity.co.uk/p-5704-crystal-retinal-6-30ml.aspx
For experienced users/signs of ageing/acne
Paula’s Choice 1% Retinol - https://www.skincity.co.uk/p-6351-clinical-1-retinol-treatment.aspx
Neostrata NAG complex - https://www.skincity.co.uk/p-4919-skin-active-retinol-nag-complex-30ml.aspx
Medik8 Crystal Retinal 10 - https://www.skincity.co.uk/p-5705-crystal-retinal-10-30ml.aspx
I also wanted to give an honourable mention to Differin, which is a prescription vitamin A based acne treatment. It’s brilliant for acne and is available from the doctor in the UK or in drugstores in the US.