Retinoic Acid, Retinol, Retinyl palmitate, Retinaldehyde — however you describe or derive it, Retinoids are the undisputed darlings of Dermatology. The vitamin A metabolite alters genetic expression to accelerate cellular turnover and increase collagen production and to put it simply - it's the most effective solution for brightening, blemishes and wrinkles alike.
Considered one of the only active ingredients that can actually change the quality of the skin, it comes top of the charts for skin specialists as part of any targeted (and intelligent) skincare routine.
Originally discovered as having beneficial side effects when treating acne, vitamin A is widely considered to be the gold standard of skincare because it is scientifically proven not only to reverse the signs of ageing, but also shown to prevent them. Tried, tested and proven – Retinoids treat a myriad of skin conditions including large pores, fine lines, wrinkles, acne blemishes, pigmentation and dull, uneven skin tone.
It’s fair to say there’s not a lot this superstar skincare ingredient CAN'T do, but with all the information, must haves, must do’s & must buys out there surrounding this celebrated treatment – we wanted to cut through the noise with a simplified cheat sheet for everything you need to know about this holy grail skincare hero.
Without further adieu here’s our 6 Rules of Retinoids….
RULE 1: Rule 1: KNOW WHAT CONSTITUTES A RETINOID (& more importantly what doesn’t) Confused? we get it, there’s a lot of info out there around Vitamin A and some of it conflicting too. The most important thing you need to know is that all these fancy names that fall under R family are ALL Vitamin A – in the wise words of Caroline Hirons “All you need to know is that it’s ALL VITAMIN A. In the same way that white sugar, brown sugar and maple syrup are all sugar, retinoid is the family name for any vitamin A product. Other ways you might see this ingredient listed on packaging are: retinol, retinal, retinyl palmitate, tretinoin, retinaldehyde, retinyl retinoate, hydroxypincolone retinoate or adapalene.”
What you do need to know is what DOESN’T constitute a retinoid, and that is plant based Vitamin A. Plant-based retinol doesn’t exist because retinol can only be made in a lab. (Nb: Retinol is safe, however it is synthetic. If you define “clean” as completely plant based then retinol doesn’t qualify. Whereas clean retinol (synthetic but BHT Free does exist) - and this can be found in Mara's Retinol Oil.Whilst there are natural alternatives on the market (Bakuchiol & Rosehip to name a few) The reality is that none of these will work quite as well or nearly as fast as retinoid products will. They each have their own benefits and can be used in conjunction with retinol but if you’re looking for something truly effective, don’t be afraid of a safe synthetic, like retinol.
Note : There are many derivatives of vitamin A, but ‘retinol’ is the name for the pure form.
Rule 2: SLOW AND STEADY WINS THE RACE Balance and patience is critical when starting with retinoids. It’s often easy to overdo it and end up a red hot mess. So it’s important to start slow, using the product once or twice a week – giving your skin the chance to acclimate, and then gradually increasing usage up to most nights.
A little redness, flakiness, peeling and sensitivity is to be expected when you first start, but this is often transient and you’ll develop tolerance with repeated use.
The good news is - Retinoids have advanced significantly in recent times with lower dose, time release formulas that are gentler on the skin. These new-age formulas are ideal for people who have sensitive skin or who are new to retinol treatments as they release the active ingredient over time and offer less irritation.
Studies show that you’ll reap the long term anti-ageing benefits over time with a lower strength retinoid as you would a strong or prescription strength. We believe retinol is a long-term game and consistency is key - habitually using a mild retinol that’s developed with a modern formula is by far the best practice.
We believe retinol is a long-term game and consistency is key - habitually using a mild retinol that’s developed with a modern formula is by far the best practice.
Rule 3: Wear SPF A cardinal sin of skincare is failing to wear SPF in the day while using a retinoid overnight (though you should be applying sunscreen daily regardless). Retinoids make our skin particularly susceptible to the sun because they cause our skin cells to lose some of their protective action, so wearing a high SPF is essential in order to fend off skin damage.
Moreover, sunlight decreases the efficacy of the product so diligent sun protection is all the more important to support its effectiveness. Using a broad-spectrum sunscreen is critical (min SPF30), as even the most effective, research-proven anti-ageing ingredient like retinol won’t work as you want it to if you’re not committed to rigorous daily sun protection.
RULE 4: DON'T OVERDO IT All good skincare routines are simple ones . It’s important to pair back your products and not overwhelm your skin with too many active ingredients, especially when using a retinol treatment. On the days you apply your retinoid treatment, make sure you swap out any acid-containing products to avoid unwanted reactions - this includes AHAs and BHAS, (Glycolic, Lactic, Salicylic Acids), peels and acne treatments.
Following retinol with any other skincare will dilute the active ingredients, so if time permits apply your retinoid treatment to clean skin, wait 20min and follow with a hydrating serum or moisturiser.
All good skincare routines are simple ones . It’s important to pair back your products and not overwhelm your skin with too many active ingredients, especially when using a retinol treatment.
RULE 5: START IN YOUR 20s Thirty has long been the banner year for introducing retinol into one's routine – 30 is when the first signs of sun damage show up, as your skin’s reparative abilities begin to weaken.….say hello to brown spots, dull skin and crow’s feet.
What’s important to know is that those changes are actually a reflection of past behaviour. The damage you do in your 20’s is going to show up your 30’s, 40’s and 50’s – yay. So, by taking early action with protection and prevention in your 20’s can make a significant impact of your skin’s future health.
Choosing a gentle retinol product that’s not irritating or too exfoliating, is a good idea when you get to your mid to late 20s as a preventive measure that will treat and strengthen skin heath for years to come.
RULE 6: KNOW WHEN NOT TO USE RETINOIDS While certain side effects, such as mild irritation, dryness, and sun sensitivity are normal as your skin adjusts to the active - intense flaking, severe redness, and burning are not. If you have intensely sensitive skin, or struggle with severe eczema – even the most gentle formulas may cause reactions. Retinol may not be for you.
If you are pregnant, breastfeeding or trying to get pregnant, Vitamin A and any of its derivatives are a no-go.