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Retinoids – Good or Bad for Your Skin?

Updated: Apr 17, 2023

If you’re interested in skincare (I’m guessing you are, since you’re here 😉), you’ve likely noticed that in the industry, the buzz around retinoids is at Queen Bee scale. While they’re known for promoting collagen production, reducing break-outs, and smoothing the skin’s surface, they’re perhaps most famous for reducing the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. Whether naturally or synthetically derived, there’s no disputing the power of retinoids.

A family of compounds derived from vitamin A, retinoids can be broken down into four categories: retinal esters; retinol; retinaldehyde – all available in over-the-counter products - and retinoic acid, which is only available in prescription form. The most common over-the-counter retinoid is retinol – and that’s the one you’ve most likely heard of.

Image : Collagen

How do retinoids work?

All retinoids – forms of vitamin A - change the texture and appearance of skin by binding to about 55 different types of DNA and activating acid receptors. This in turn changes the skin’s DNA makeup, encouraging cells to divide more rapidly and building up the epidermis, the skin’s protective outer layer.

With the collagen levels in our skin decreasing as we age, retinoids are an impressive tool when it comes to increasing cell turnover and promoting collagen production.

Sounds tempting, right?

If you’ve been musing on whether to introduce retinoids into your skincare routine, here are some words of caution.

What are the negative effects of retinol?

Before you sign up for a prescription, make sure you’re aware of the common negative effects from this form of vitamin A as well as the fabulous results it can offer. Holistic practitioners like me have seen that incorrect retinol usage can cause dry, flakey skin, as well as shedding and redness. There’s concern over its corrosive effect on the skin barrier – the key to both retaining moisture and protecting from external pollutants.

Increased sensitivity to UV rays (photosensitivity), irritation, and exacerbated acne are also side effects, making retinoids unsuitable for sensitive skins. Pregnant and nursing women should steer clear of retinoid products for safety. If you have rosacea, psoriasis, or are eczema prone, then these aren’t the products for you.

Hydroxypinacolone retinoate (HPR) is the ‘new kid on the block’ in the always-expanding retinoid family. An ester of retinoic acid, it’s more stable and gentler than its relatives when applied topically, but retains both fine line- and blemish-reducing capacities, making it a possible choice for more sensitive skins wanted to explore the power of retinoids.

Safe, natural alternatives to retinoids for your skin

But you don’t want to miss out on those incredible benefits, right?! Don’t panic, there are some amazing natural, gentle alternatives. Retinol is a vitamin A derivative, so it makes sense that there are natural oils also rich in the vitamin.

Here are my top picks:

  • Bakuchiol is my favourite source, a botanical extract derived from the psoralea corylifolia or babchi plant. Rich in antioxidants and anti-inflammatories, it has long been used in Ayurvedic and Chinese medicines to soothe and calm. While structurally different from retinol and using different sets of receptors in the skin, it does have the same amazing collagen-stimulating and cell-turnover benefits without causing skin irritation and sensitivity to sunlight.

  • Apricot Kernel Oil has perfect rejuvenating and protectant qualities for the skin. The oil is suitable for all skin types but is particularly beneficial for dry and inflamed skin conditions like eczema as well as mature skin. It is rich in vitamins A, B1, B2, B6, B17, and E.

  • Rosehip and Carrot Seed Oils both contain high levels of vitamin A. Rosehip oil is exceptional in regenerating and healing the skin, while increasing collagen production and skin elasticity. Similarly, carrot seed oil promotes cellular turnover. An added benefit of both oils is that they are high in antioxidants to fight free radicals.

Want to try our Organic Alchemist alternatives to retinol?

Discover our latest powerful healing product, Overnight Treatment Oil - packed with regenerating ingredients:

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