Retinol, Retinoids, Retinal. No doubt you’ve heard at least one of these names thrown around in skincare circles at some point in time, probably because this form of vitamin A has reached cult status. Once upon a time, it was difficult getting hold of retinol products without a prescription. But these days, the beauty industry can’t get enough of these vitamin A derivatives, incorporating them in countless over the counter skincare products in varying strengths.
What exactly does Retinol do?
- Prevents wrinkles
- Helps treat acne
- Brightens dull skin
- Fades hyperpigmentation and dark spots
Prescription-strength retinoids, such as Tretinoin, or higher-end cosmeceutical products, you’ll typically find an active form of vitamin A called retinoic acid. In more readily available products however, you’ll find retinol, retinal, and retinol palmitate, which contain precursor molecules that, when combined with the enzymes in your skin, are converted to their active form.
These vitamin A derivates are considered less potent, although studies have shown they can have a similarly positive effect on anti-ageing as their prescription counterparts, even though in some cases it may take longer to see results.
Does Retinol really work?
Retinol undoubtedly makes skin feel smoother, which can encourage us to make it a staple in our daily skincare routine. But when is too much? There’s been an upsurge in overdoing retinol and its derivatives in recent years, and here’s what you should know:
- Fat-soluble vitamins tend to be store in the body, and this can be harmful to your overall health when synthetic versions of vitamin A (or other fat-soluble vitamins) are repeatedly overused.
- Retinol works by encouraging basal cells (in the lowest layer of skin) to divide, resulting in an accumulation of new epidermal cells migrating to the skins’ surface, eventually becoming what’s known as the ‘rooftop.’ The more retinol applied to the skin, the more these cells appear on the surface, kicking into gear the excess skin cell shedding mechanism, known as the exfoliation process.
- The problem with the overuse of retinol is that these new ‘rooftop’ cells don’t function well because of how rapidly they’ve been produced, and therefore lack the necessary adhesion and lipid production needed to effectively protect the skin. This puts the skin barrier function into jeopardy, causing even more serious concerns. See how to care for your skin barrier here.
- Healthy cells generally divide to grow and repair tissue, but they can only divide a finite amount of times (about 50, according to Hayflick Limit), which is one of the primary reasons we age. When we use too much retinol in our 20s and 30s, we could be depleting all our healthy cell divisions that we really should be storing for further down the line.
Retinol is undoubtedly a powerful, multitasking active, but just like most skincare ingredients in the industry, they’re predominantly tested on Caucasian skin. We took a closer look at Retinol, and how it interacts with darker skin tones (which are more reactive to trauma or damage), including the irritation caused by high-intensity skincare ingredients, like Retinol.
Should you be using Retinol if you have melanin-rich skin?
The answer is, yes! Retinol can be ideal for evening out your skin tone, while clearing recalcitrant hyperpigmentation. Retinoids also slough off dead skin cells, increasing a slowed-down cell turnover rate, which can help fade dark spots and increase collagen production, resulting in bouncy, glowing skin.
A word of caution however, Retinol can have a number of side effects, including dryness, redness, itching, burning, and irritation. Although the major con, is it can make skin more sensitive to harmful UV rays, even when wearing high, broad-spectrum sunscreen. This especially can lead to even more hyperpigmentation, so proceed with caution by slowing introducing Retinol into your routine by selecting products with a lower concentration.
To mix or not to mix.
A lot of us combine different ingredients, often from different ranges, with only some idea of whether the combination will be balanced or not. And it’s so easy to see how skincare routines can become chaotic without skin expert advice. Recent studies have shown that retinoids require appropriate selection and careful consideration in order to best benefit the individual through periodic monitoring by an experienced Clinician, rather than risking an unbalanced ratio at home.
How retinol fits into the skincare puzzle.
Here at 4.5.6 Skin, we’re not interested in short-term marketing, we aim to develop innovative and safe products that work equally well in both the short and the long term. Using vitamin A and its derivatives in your skincare routine is only one piece of the puzzle; there are multitudes of other essential vitamins, lipids, proteins, minerals, and other crucial nutrients that are all required to correctly support the skin and achieve a healthy complexion.
Before you even think about using vitamin A, the first step to maintaining a happy complexion is to repair and maintain the skin barrier, dampening down inflammation by using the appropriate cleansers and moisturisers. Choose products that adjust the surface ratio of skin lipids back to normal with their mild formulations. And ideally, contain a wide array of proven anti-inflammatories, such as botanical extracts, and oil of hemp, calendula extract, and olive oil, etc.
Bakuchiol, the gentlest alternative to Retinol.
Expertly derived from the leaves and seeds of the Babchi plant, this herb is commonly used in Indian Ayurvedic and Chinese medicines, helping to heal, calm, and soothe skin thanks to its bountiful anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties. That’s why we exclusively use this new, natural retinol alternative instead of the classic synthetic versions.
In a study from 2019, retinol and bakuchiol were found to be equally effective in the treatment of wrinkles and hyperpigmentation. And according to a study published in The British Journal of Dermatology, bakuchiol is not only as effective as retinol at targeting fine lines, wrinkles, and an uneven skin tone, but also less irritating.
Amazingly, this natural power-house ingredient also doesn’t decrease the size of oil glands, eliminating the stubborn dryness and irritation that retinol leaves behind. Plus, unlike skin-sensitising retinol, bakuchiol may actually help to decrease UV sensitivity in the skin. Other benefits of using bakuchiol include an increase in skin cell regeneration and turnover, which both help to soothe and heal skin from the inside out. But perhaps best of all, there are currently no known studies that show unwanted or negative side effects from the regular use of this natural retinol alternative.
Here at 4.5.6 Skin, we’re constantly searching for the best performing active ingredients with the highest tolerance, that respect the functional specifications of melanin-rich skin. We always prioritise gentler, more natural, less irritating, vegan alternatives, just like Bakuchiol, which work just as well (if not better) than their synthetic counterparts.
Stay tuned to welcome our next formulation into the 4.5.6 Skin family, featuring none other than Bakuchiol (pronounced buh-KOO-chee-all). More details coming soon! Until then, wear your Retinol responsibly, carefully, and mindfully, just as we prescribed.