An introduction to Retinol

retinol for all skin needs

Retinol

Overview of Retinol

Retinol is a very well-known anti-aging ingredient – for good reason! It can reduce wrinkles, helps build skin structure and acts as an antioxidant against free radicals. In this article, you will learn what forms of retinol are available and how it works best in the skin.

A few topics that we will touch on in this article:

  • How can Retinol help your skin?
  • What is Retinol and how does it work?
  • Retinol: Antioxidant
  • What type of derivates of Retinol exist?
  • Is there a Retinol alternative?
  • Is Retinol dangerous?
  • Retinol and sun

How can Retinol help your skin? 

Retinol has been used in anti-aging for years.  Studies go back more than 40 years. The positive effect on the appearance of the skin has been proven multiple times over again. Throughout these studies, the pioneering finding was: Retinol can really reduce wrinkles.

But overall, it can do so much more:

  1. Retinol supports the structure of the skin through reduction of collagen break-down and the stimulation of collagen production.
  2. It is used in the acne and pigmentation treatment.
  3. Finally, it is one of the most potent antioxidant against free radicals.

Thus it is not only for customers with anti-ageing concerns but also those that want to introduce a powerful antioxidant in their skincare routine as well an acne treatment ingredient.

What is Retinol and how does it work?

Retinol is a very effective form of vitamin A. Retinol/Vitamin A is a man-made, and vegan ingredient. Any brand calling their product ‘vegan’ should be referring to the entire formula and/or the lack of animal testing in their own product.

This vitamin plays an important role in building the skin structure. The top layer of the skin is formed by horny cells (corneocytes). Vitamin A promotes the formation of these cells and supports the skin’s regeneration process. It ensures a skin-improving effect and visibly smoother skin.

Thus it has also been research in regards to acne treatment and it has been successfully applied in acne treatment.  As it overall stimulates the production of healthy skin cells and regulates cell functions.

So what does cell renewal and collagen mean? 

Collagen forms the skeleton of the skin in the lower layers of the skin. A healthy collagen structure ensures that the skin remains supple and flexible. This will reduce the appearance of wrinkles. Retinol stimulates collagen production and thus ensures a fresh, stable framework and thus a lower wrinkle depth.

There are many collagen products in the market promoted by brands. However, collagen has a far to high-molecular structure to go skin-deep. Thus, you rather save your money on collagen products as the research isn’t there to proof that collagen-based products can support the skin synthesis. In particular when it is vegan collagen. As collagen is animal-based. So if you are vegan and want to have a collagen-like-effect, use a hyaluronic concentrated product.

So how does retinol work in the skin:

  • It promotes skin renewal / regeneration.
  • It refines the complexion.
  • And it stimulates collagen synthesis in the deep layers of the skin.

Retinol: Antioxidant

Vitamin A is one of the most potent antioxidant that protects the body from free radicals. You’ve probably heard of these troublemakers. Free radicals are unstable molecules that do all kinds of damage to the body. They destroy our cells, which leads to premature skin aging, wrinkling and can also take away our radiant glow.

Antioxidants neutralise the effects that free radicals have on the skin. And thus should be part of your Everyday skincare. In addition to vitamin A, there are many other antioxidants such as Vitamin C, vitamin E, deserticola, niacimaide or others that have been proven to be effective.

Ultimately, the job an antioxidant has to do – to basically keep our skin protected and neutralise and reverse the effects of  free radicals, cannot be done by one antioxidant alone. It is the combination of antioxidant which we refer to as an antioxidant complex.

What types of derivates of Retinol exist?

There are 3 types of retinol. There are retinol precursors called retinol esters. There is pure retinol and there is tretinoin, which is the active retinoic acid. In the skin, retinol esters are converted to retinol. Tretinoin then arises from retinol. You can only get tretinoin as a prescription as it is categorised as a medicine and not a cosmetical ingredient.

Although retinol is very well known, there is still a lot of confusion about its various forms. In the following we explain in more detail what it is all about.

  1. Retinol esters (INCI Retinyl Palmitate, Retinyl Linoleate, often incorrectly referred to as Retinol Palmitate or Linoleate)

These are retinol precursors that are first converted into retinol in the skin by chemical reactions. Since these substances are inactive forms of retinol, they are less potent, but because of that they can be milder to the skin. With Retinol, the following applies: as little as possible, as much as necessary! Because too much retinol can lead to redness and irritated skin. The delicate skin around the eyes can be very sensitive. Retinol esters are a gentle alternative. However, we would still only use it at night. 

–> We wouldn’t use these ingredients in our skincare for various reasons.

 

  1. Retinol (INCI Retinol)

Pure retinol must be converted in the skin to the retinal (retinaldehyde) and finally to the retinoic acid (tretinoin). The active form of retinol is therefore tretinoin. Pure retinol is mostly used in the EU with maximum concentrations of up to 1% (and not up to 0.3% as often claimed in pharmacies). The following applies: the lower the concentration, the less irritating.

–> We would use this and are using this ingredient in our Renew Cacay Oil + A formulation at a 0.3% concentration.

 

  1. Tretinoin (retinoic acid)

Tretinoin is the active retinoic acid, also called vitamin A acid. This retinoid also arises naturally in the human body. However, only in very small quantities. Applied topically, it is extremely irritating. Therefore, there are no cosmetic products with pure tretinoin. This ingredient only contains prescription acne medication that you can only buy in the pharmacy.

–> We couldn’t use this ingredient as it can only prescribed by a doctor for a medical reason.

New Retinol Derivates

We also want to introduce you to a newer retinol that has recently taking a little of the spotlight which is referred to as a more gentle alternative called Granactive Retinoid. Granactive Retinoid has been around for only a very short period thus there is hardly any research out there in relation to Retinol and its derivatives. While claims are made that this is a far less irritant and still as effective as the pure Retinol we would not use it in our skincare at this stage. Mainly due to the reasons as there is a lack of research available to support those claims made by brands.

Conversion steps through enzyme activities on the skin:

The more conversion an active needs to go through the less effective it becomes and the ultimate results one achieves on the skin.

Which retinol dosage is best for the skin?

We are often asked this question. A product with pure retinol, we advise against the highly concentrated preparations. Retinol should obviously not irritate the skin, but should develop a positive effects in the long term.

The current EU recommended limit for pure retinol used in cosmetic products is 0.3%.

We use a recommend dosage of 0.3% as the upper limit for pure retinol. With Retinol in particular, the following applies: every skin is different, so it is best to approach it carefully at the beginning until you have discovered your individual “retinol threshold”. One should be particularly careful with the sensitive eye area.

A little tip: You can find many “retinol products” that do not contain pure retinol. Therefore, look for the word retinol in the ingredients or ask the manufacturer which form it does contain in which concentration. As the concentration various depending on the type of derivate and what it translate into pure retinol once converted by enzymes in your skin.

Are there any alternatives to retinol?

There are many active ingredients with proven anti-aging effects. But as an alternative to pure retinol, one could use pure vitamin C. It also has a skin-refining effect and strengthens the collagen structure as it stimulates amino acids to build and protect collagen.

Vitamin C also acts as an antioxidant against free radicals. In our Glow Serum we use a derivate of Vitamin C – SAP – as well as hyaluron and other active ingredients. In our new Defence Booster we used the pure form of Vitamin C which we suggest you use if you want to address similar concerns as Retinol would do.

Bakuchiol is also increasingly being read about. This is a plant-based substance that was isolated from the Babchi plant for the first time. Although it does not belong to the group of retinoids due to its structure, bakuchiol has similar effects. For this reason, it is referred to as a functional retinoid analog. But again, it does not contain retinol. Also, the quality is key with Bakuchiol. Never apply Babchi Oil on your skin or use a product that has a higher concentration than 1% of purified Bakuchiol. We will talk more about this in the coming months.

Does Bakuchiol Work as well as Retinol?

Bakuchiol has only recently been used in cosmetic products. Thus there are only limited studies available to support the claims.  Bakuchiol is compared to retinol and is often claimed to be equally as effective with better tolerance. However, the decades of experience available with Retinol are missing. In our view, bakuchiol is therefore an interesting molecule that should be better examined in the future. We cannot recommend it as the ultimate replacement for retinol. We are working with a research institute that is conducting further studies into bakuchiol to review its effectiveness. Quality is key to luxury. In particular when it comes to this newly used active.

Does Cacay Oil work as well as retinol?

Cacay Oil is certainly the hottest export from the Amazon. When we came across it, we conducted our own research working with institutions such as Derma Consultant and BASF to research the ingredient and test it for its effectiveness but also if it does contain retinol. And we were able to find pure retinol in Cacay Oil. This is unheard of as it is typically only found in animal-derived products thus making it quite an innovation. But in addition, we found that one could use it everyday – day and night – as it behaves differently to the traditional pure retinol. Making it a natural alternative.

However, the effectivenss in comparison to pure Retinol is still not the same. Thus we created our Renew Cacay Oil + A to marry nature with science.

Is Retinol dangerous?

Retinol in cosmetic products has been used for decades and is not only characterized by its high effectiveness, but also by its safety. But what are the risks and side effects of care products with retinol?

Vitamin A hypervitaminosis (overdose) can indeed pose health risks and dangers. From mild headaches to severe fetal malformations. However, retinol in cosmetic products cannot be compared to retinol from foods, food supplements and medicines. So one must distinguish if you are using topical retinol or orally.

In addition, the craziness of reversing the signs of ageing due to the society we are living and mental pressure we are putting ourselves on are huge. Retinol is a very potent ingredient and that’s why a little goes a long way and we highly recommend to stay within a safe dosage. The temptation is huge, to go over this recommended limit. Thus always check with the brands.

Retinol: Skin Absorption?

The retinol intake of cosmetics in the systemic circulation is very small. Therefore, an overdose with a retinol with adequate concentration is extremely unlikely. For safety reasons, we still recommend using pure retinol only for the face. Treatment of the entire body increases the intake amount drastically.

For safety reasons, pregnant women should consult their doctor to confirm if they can use it or not.

Retinol can irritate the eyes. So please avoid using it around the eye area if you are sentisive / ultra-sensitive.

Retinol and sun

Retinol and its derivatives (once converted in the skin) stimulate collagen synthesis in the deep layers of the skin. The complexion becomes smoother, healthier and stronger. The top layers of skin, which consist of dead cells, are renewed at the same time.

This is a desired effect so that the skin surface consists of new, healthy cells. However, the dead cell layers of the skin surface also have natural sun protection. Therefore, the risk of sunburn is slightly increased when using retinol.

Use SPF. Everyday. Full-stop

For this reason, use retinol (and its derivates) only at night. And always apply SPF the next day. If you suffer from fair skin, we would even say to stop retinol treatment during the summer months if you are a sun lover.

The UV-rays are the single-most aggressor when it comes to pre-mature ageing to the point of alternating the skin cells DNA.

How do we use Retinol?

The skin is a complex organ in which many different metabolic processes take place simultaneously. Therefore we like to emphasize the following sentence:

There is no one miracle ingredient.

There are many active ingredients that help fight wrinkles. In addition to antioxidants, moisturizers and membrane lipids are also essential.

Our concern is to provide the skin with everything it needs everyday to function ideally and, of course, to get back your natural glow. there is therefore an anti-aging complex that uses a combination of different active ingredients. As good as vitamin A is, it alone cannot work against all ageing processes.

There is an abundance of effective anti-aging ingredients. The following active ingredients can enhance the positive effects of retinol. Many of them work synergistically. Therefore, you should not limit yourself to the high dose of a substance. A combination of different active ingredients will always lead to the best result.

A couple of final thoughts

We wouldn’t mix retinol with your acids (salicylic acid, BHA, AHA), Using them together could potentially run the following risks:

  • potentially reducing the effect of the vitamin A and
  • over-stimulating your skin.

Retinol is already a skin-regenerator – you don’t need to add another one as this will be too much and could impact your skin barrier in a negative way. Use your skincare wisely. Retinol is a potent ingredient and many of our customers combine our Renew Cacay Oil + A with our Glow Serum in the evening to experience a glow and fresh looking skin the next day.

In Conclusion

Retinol has a positive effect on the skin’s appearance. It supports the formation of corneocytes and promotes collagen production in the long term. It works against wrinkles and can also be effective for acne. If you want to experiment with pure retinol, we recommend that you do not exceed the concentration of 0.3%.

In any case, you should keep in mind that holistic anti-aging does not depend on just one ingredient. The full anti-aging effect unfolds in combination with other active ingredients and the right formulations.

Reference

Siddharth Mukherjee,1 Abhijit Date,2 Vandana Patravale,3 Hans Christian Korting,4 Alexander Roeder,4and Günther Weindl5, (2006), “Retinoids in the treatment of skin aging: an overview of clinical efficacy and safety”, Clin Interv Aging. 2006 Dec; 1(4): 327–348.doi: 10.2147/ciia.2006.1.4.327, Available online: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2699641/

Malwina Zasadacorresponding author and Elżbieta Budzisz, (2019) “Retinoids: active molecules influencing skin structure formation in cosmetic and dermatological treatments”,  Postepy Dermatol Alergol. 2019 Aug; 36(4): 392–397.doi: 10.5114/ada.2019.87443 Available online: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6791161/

Katsuko Kikuchi1Takaki SuetakeNaka KumasakaHachiro Tagami, (2009), “Improvement of Photoaged Facial Skin in Middle-Aged Japanese Females by Topical Retinol (Vitamin A Alcohol): A Vehicle-Controlled, Double-Blind Study”,. 2009;20(5):276-81.Available online: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/20078381/ , doi: 10.1080/09546630902973987.

Samantha Tucker-Samaras1Tara ZedaykoCurtis ColeDara MillerWarren WalloJames J Leyden, (2009), “A Stabilized 0.1% Retinol Facial Moisturizer Improves the Appearance of Photodamaged Skin in an Eight-Week, Double-Blind, Vehicle-Controlled Study, 2009 Oct;8(10):932-6. Available online: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19852122/

Reza Kafi1Heh Shin R KwakWendy E SchumacherSoyun ChoValerie N HanftTed A HamiltonAnya L KingJacqueline D NealJames VaraniGary J FisherJohn J VoorheesSewon Kang, (2007) “Improvement of Naturally Aged Skin With Vitamin A (Retinol)”, 2007 May;143(5):606-12. doi: 10.1001/archderm.143.5.606. Available online: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/17515510/

Kajal Babamiri, MDReza Nassab, MBChB, MBA, MRCSEd, MRCSEng, (2009), “Cosmeceuticals: The Evidence Behind the Retinoids”,  Aesthetic Surgery Journal, Volume 30, Issue 1, January 2010, Pages 74–77,https://doi.org/10.1177/1090820X09360704 Available online: 2009 Oct;8(10):932-6.

Rong Kong, PhD,1 Yilei Cui, PhD,2 Gary J. Fisher, PhD,2 Xiaojuan Wang, BS,3 Yinbei Chen, MS,3 Louise M. Schneider, BS,1 & Gopa Majmudar, PhD1,(2015) “A comparative study of the effects of retinol and retinoic acid on histological, molecular, and clinical properties of human skin”,  Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology, 15, 49–57, Available online: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/pdf/10.1111/jocd.12193

S Dhaliwal 1I Rybak 1S R Ellis 1M Notay 1M Trivedi 2W Burney 1A R Vaughn 3M Nguyen 4P Reiter 5S Bosanac 4H Yan 1N Foolad 4R K Sivamani, (2019), “Prospective, Randomized, Double-Blind Assessment of Topical Bakuchiol and Retinol for Facial Photoageing”, 2019 Feb;180(2):289-296.  doi: 10.1111/bjd.16918. Epub 2018 Sep 21. Available online: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29947134/

R K Chaudhuri 1K Bojanowski, (2014), Bakuchiol: A Retinol-Like Functional Compound Revealed by Gene Expression Profiling and Clinically Proven to Have Anti-Aging Effects,. 2014 Jun;36(3):221-30. doi: 10.1111/ics.12117. Epub 2014 Mar 6. available online: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24471735/

Bakuchiol: A Retinol-Like Functional Compound Revealed by Gene Expression Profiling & Clinically Proven to have Anti-Aging Effects (2014). Article (PDF Available) in International journal of cosmetic science 36(3) · January 2014

Harvard Health (2020), “Do retinoids really reduce wrinkles?”, Available online: https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/do-retinoids-really-reduce-wrinkles

European Commission (2020) available online: https://ec.europa.eu/health/scientific_committees/consumer_safety/docs/sccs_o_199.pdf

 

Reza Kafi 1Heh Shin R KwakWendy E SchumacherSoyun ChoValerie N HanftTed A HamiltonAnya L KingJacqueline D NealJames VaraniGary J FisherJohn J VoorheesSewon Kang. (2007), 

“Improvement of Naturally Aged Skin With Vitamin A (Retinol)”, 2007 May;143(5):606-12. doi: 10.1001/archderm.143.5.606.

Yuan ShaoTianyuan HeGary J. FisherJohn J. Voorhees, and Taihao Quan*, (2016), “Molecular basis of retinol anti-aging properties in naturally aged human skin in vivo”, Int J Cosmet Sci. 2017 Feb; 39(1): 56–65. Published online 2016 Jul 4. doi: 10.1111/ics.12348


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