As the war on oily skin and wrinkles continues, beauty buffs are on the hunt for the next best “miracle” ingredient to help combat these pesky and sometimes unmanageable skin conditions.
From peptides to alpha hydroxy acids, to some luxurious oil that’s been imported from the deep amazon with the “highest omega content of all time” (I’m being satirical here, but it’s kind of true!), there is always an ingredient trending in this current $115 billion dollar industry.
The consistent emergence of new ingredients is not such a bad thing, but what I’m seeing a lack of in the industry is education (and continuing education, at that) around ingredients that have existed for decades and that do work effectively when used properly, but are often not prescribed appropriately. In fact, some people “self-prescribe” their own facial treatment products and that, my skin care friends, can be a recipe for disaster.
At Annmarie Skin Care the frequency of ingredient questions we receive is through the roof, and with one ingredient in particular: Retinol.
Oh, retinol, how you’ve gained somewhat of a “bad” reputation in the world of skin care. Maybe it’s because of your misuse or overuse? Perhaps you are not suitable for certain skin types? Or maybe, just maybe, you aren’t being paired with the right skin care products in conjunction with your use. These are all possible and likely culprits.
I’d like to dive into the history, functions and types of Retinol – then you can draw your own conclusion on this powerhouse ingredient and if it’s right for you.
What is Retinol?
Retinol is simply pure Vitamin A, which is also commonly referred to as a retinoid. There are many natural and synthetic (prescription) forms of retinoids. We’ll discuss these different types further on.
Your first question might be: “What does retinol do for the skin?”
First and foremost, retinol has been around for decades and has been clinically tested with an abundance of successful results.
Overall, retinol has shown to:
- improve the appearance of skin texture and wrinkles
- help restore an even skin tone
- manage sensitive or oily skin with its exfoliating effects
This powerful antioxidant is all across the board with amazing benefits, but at what cost?
It’s important to know the cons of topical retinoids before you consider using such a potent vitamin in your daily skin care routine.
Retinol vs. Retinoids
Retinol and retinoids are one in the same, but also different. To simplify the difference between the two, retinol can be purchased over the counter, while retinoids are prescription-only.
Retinol is commonly labeled on over the counter products as retinol, but also under retinyl palmitate, retinaldehyde, and retinyl acetate, which are all derivatives of Vitamin A. OTC retinols are much weaker and work slower than prescription retinoids because the body first has to convert it into retinoic acid. This acid is the only active form that has a direct, biological effect on the skin (or “where the magic happens”).
Retinoids, on the other hand, are prescription strength under the names retinoic acid or tretinoin. These are much more potent and work faster than OTC retinols because no conversion needs to be made by the body from retinol into retinoic acid—it is already formulated with retinoic acid. The classic brands Retin-A, Renova, Tazorac and Differin fall under this category.
These differences inform us that retinoids have a much higher concentration of vitamin A, thus may be more effective for the skin.
Your next question might be: “Then why is retinol still used in OTC products if they are not as effective as prescription retinoids?”
Prescription strength anything is far more active than over the counter products. In skin care, too active of an ingredient may sometimes not be to everyone’s advantage. OTC retinol and its derivatives still deliver amazing benefits to the skin (even though it may take longer to achieve them), without the potential side effects that prescription retinoids may cause. Often times a dermatologist might recommend these OTC forms of vitamin A for people with sensitive skin.
How To Properly Choose and Use Retinol
Before purchasing OTC retinol or getting a prescription through your dermatologist, here are some basic guidelines:
- All forms of Vitamin A break down and become unstable in the presence of exposed light and air, so it’s crucial to purchase retinol that is packaged in opaque containers or tubes, which is why they often come in metal tubes in prescription form.
- Do not apply retinol daily, but rather every other day. Gradual usage is key here so that your skin can acclimate to this active ingredient. If your skin is resilient and shows no signs of sensitivity, thereafter you may apply it once a day. Stop using retinol if irritation occurs with persistent use.
- The best time to apply retinol is at night because exposure to the sun can decrease its effectiveness.
- Use nourishing ingredients to help protect your skin while using this potent vitamin. Annmarie Skin Care products are wonderful to use in conjunction with retinol.
- Always wear sunscreen on a daily basis when using retinol.
The Drawbacks of Topical Prescription Retinoids
- Skin irritation and side effects including: dryness, flakiness, thinning of the skin (if overused), sun sensitivity and redness.
- Filler ingredients such as: stearic acid, isopropyl myristate, polyoxyl 40 stearate, stearyl alcohol, and butylated hydroxytoluene are commonly used in retinoid creams and gels. Though not all ingredients prove toxic, do these align with your skin care philosophy?
- Cannot be used during pregnancy.
- Not suitable for sensitive skin, rosacea or eczema.
Alternatives to Retinol
At Annmarie Skin Care, it’s our philosophy to use the cleanest, most effective ingredients mother nature can provide. However, we do understand that the medical approach to skin care can be favored at times. We love providing as much information as we can around a particular ingredient, especially one that is known to deliver beautiful results (when used correctly). Fortunately, there are many options in the world of vitamin A!
If you’re a skin purist like us, we prefer to choose natural forms of vitamin A in our skin care.
Rosehip seed oil is an excellent source of trans-retinoic acid that may not have the risk of potential irritation that prescription retinoic acid might cause. We include rosehip seed oil in several of our products, like our Anti Aging Facial Oil. If you are looking to take a more targeted approach, you may use pure rosehip seed oil which can be purchased through one of our favorite herbal vendors.
Whether you decide to go with a pure vitamin A, prescription retinoid, or good ‘ol rosehip seed oil to receive the benefits of this fabulous anti-aging and oily skin assisting ingredient, we hope that this information has offered some guidance around your choices.
Is Retinol Right For You? What has been your experience using retinol, retinoids or natural alternatives?
by Abby Jean, Licensed Esthetician
Paula's Choice – Retinol (Vitamin A) for Aging
Statista – Size of the Global Skin Care Market from 2012 to 2021 (In Billion U.S. Dollars)
Daily Mail – Is Retinol the Miracle Ingredient?
International Dermal Institute – A New Generation of Retinoids
Skinacea – Natural vs. Synthetic Retinoids
Doctor Oz – Anti-Aging: Why Retinols Work
NCBI – Retinoids in the Treatment of Skin Aging: An Overview of Clinical Efficacy and Safety
Abby Stoecker is a Licensed Esthetician with 9 years of experience in the beauty industry. Her journey has led her to experience first hand the entire cycle of the esthetics industry—first working as a practitioner, then as an Account Manager/ Brand Evangelist at a skin care product company (ASC), and previously as an Educator at Cinta Aveda Institute where she originally studied for her Esthetics License almost 10 years ago. Currently, she is freelancing with start up skin care brands in the green beauty space. Her objective is simple—spread awareness, educate and make people feel their best when it comes to the decisions they make for their wellness and beauty. Abby finds immense joy in navigating clients through the world of skin, helping each person craft their own at-home rituals to achieve balance, inside and out. You can find her on most mornings with a face mask on, coffee in hand, listening to “The Daily” podcast.
what’s your skin snapshot?
Take the Quiz
Our skin is affected by many factors, including our environment, health, the food we eat, and more. Get your free personalized results and find out your skin snapshot!