Find out the best retinol alternatives that you can use if your skin can’t tolerate retinol.
Retinol, the derivative form of Vitamin A (retinoid), fully deserves its crown as the gold-standard ingredient in skincare. Its clinically proven ability to fight off acne, promote even skin tone and texture, boost collagen and elastin production, minimise fine lines and wrinkles, and support sun damaged skin has turned it into a stellar ingredient in many over 30’s skintellectuals’ skincare routines.
However, in light of retinol high potency that can cause burning, scaling or dermatitis, the “no pain no gain” retinoid ingredient is not particularly well tolerated by people with very sensitive skin, and it is deemed not clinically safe during pregnancy and whilst breastfeeding. These have led the beauty industry to explore gentler ingredients that can offer skincare benefits reasonably similar to retinol minus the irritation and the potential risks to pregnant and breastfeeding parents.
Below are some of the best retinol alternatives that in some ways mimic retinol’s positive skin benefits with less irritating side effects.
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Bakuchiol is a botanical ingredient found in the seeds of the Indian plant Psoralea corylifolia (babchi). The compound can also be found in other plant sources including Psoralea glandulosa, Pimelea drupacea (cherry riceflower), Ulmus davidiana (Father David elm), Otholobium pubescens and Piper longum (long pepper).
In a 12-week clinical study reported in 2018 in the British Journal of Dermatology, 44 volunteers were asked to apply either a bakuchiol 0.5% cream twice daily or a retinol 0.5% cream daily to their faces. After 12 weeks, the study revealed that bakuchiol like retinol helps prevent fine lines and wrinkles, and helps with pigmentation, elasticity and firmness without the associated undesirable effects such as scaling and stinginess linked to retinol during the trial. Bakuchiol has been found to have antiproliferative, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and anti acne properties. Further studies are needed to deep dive into bakuchiol benefits for skin.
Some bakuchiol containing products you can try out include:
- BYBI Beauty Exclusive Bakuchiol Booster 50ml
- Medik8 Bakuchiol Peptides 30ml
- REN Bio Retinoid™ Youth Cream 50ml
- OLEHENRIKSEN Goodnight Glow Retin-ALT Sleeping Crème
Nephelium lappaceum in Latin, traditionally known as rambutan, is a tree that is native to Malaysia and grown in different parts of Southeast Asia and the world. The Rambutan fruit is rich in iron, vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin B complex, protein, dietary fiber, calcium, nitrogen, sodium, potassium, magnesium and zinc.
Rambutan peel extracts obtained from a combination of various parts of the rambutan fruits, leaves and tree owe their antioxidant and anti-ageing properties to their very high content in polyphenolic compounds. These protect against hydrogen peroxide (H2O2-) induced oxidative stress in liver tissue cells and help reduce oxidative stress caused by skin exposure to UV radiation in the prevention and treatment of skin ageing. Rambutan peel extracts are also known to possess anti-inflammatory properties and to aid skin collagen production in support of skin rejuvenation through biological pathways similar to those of retinol. Rambutan use in skincare products is still emerging in light of the novelty of clinical studies and bioactives developed from the plant extracts.
Rambutan containing products you can consider trying out include:
Centella Asiatica (cica)
Centella asiatica (CA), is a medicinal plant belonging to the family Umbellifere (Apiceae) found in Asia, mainly in India, Pakistan, Madagascar, Equatorial Africa, Central America, tropical regions of Oceania, and in Eastern Europe.
Used for thousands of years in the Ayurvedic tradition of India and made famous by K-beauty brands, the therapeutic plant supports the treatment of various skin conditions including leprosy, lupus, varicose ulcers, eczema, psoriasis, and scarring just to name a few.
Rich in vitamins A, C, B-1 (thiamine), and B-2( riboflavin), B-3 (niacin) and beta carotene, the primary active constituents of CA are saponins (also called triterpenoids), which include asiaticosides that are mainly believed to be responsible for its wide therapeutic actions. Some of them include improving the appearance of wrinkles, wound healing and scarring, and increasing collagen synthesis through the compound Madecassoside. The plant also has anti-fungal and anti-inflammatory properties that support the treatment of acne prone skin. It also helps prevent inflammatory or UV-induced hyperpigmentation.
Centella Asiatica (cica) containing products worth checking out include:
- COSRX Centella Blemish Cream
- Uriage Bariederm-Cica Daily Serum 30ml
- Decleor Cica-Botanic Mask 50ml
- Dr.Jart+ Cicapair Tiger Grass Sleepair Intensive Mask 110ml
Matrixyl™ 3000 is a trademarked synthetic peptide composition developed by Sederma Inc. in France that is used in skin care to stimulate collagen production, leading to anti-aging outcomes. Some of them include a reduction in the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, improving skin texture, and increasing skin firmness. The peptide in Matrixyl™ 3000 is palmitoyl tetrapeptide-7. As a relatively new skincare ingredient, there is not an awful lot of scientific data available for the time being on its long-term safety.
Matrixyl™ 3000 containing products you can consider trying out include:
- Deciem The Ordinary Matrixyl 10% + HA
- Timeless Skin Care Matrixyl 3000 Serum W/ Hyaluronic Acid 1 OZ.
- Absolute Collagen Collagen Booster Serum With Hyaluronic Acid
Rosehip oil is harvested from the seeds of rose bushes. Used in alternative and complementary medicine, rosehip oil is packed with vitamins A, C, K, and F (a fatty acid made of linoleic acid and alpha-linoleic acid) and essential fatty acids such as oleic acid, palmitic acid, and gamma linolenic (omega 3) acid. There are not many clinical studies to establish rosehip oil effectiveness.
However, its high content in vitamin A, antioxidants, and essential fatty acids make it a powerful ingredient in reducing wrinkles, reversing sun damage, brightening and evening out skin tone, treating moderate acne, minimising the appearance of scars and stretch marks.
Rosehip oil containing products you can consider trying out include:
- Pai Skincare Rosehip BioRegenerate Oil 30ml
- Trilogy Certified Organic Rosehip Oil 45ml
- Evolve Beauty Bio-Retinol + C Skin Booster
- Deciem The Ordinary 100% Organic Cold-Pressed Rose Hip Seed Oil 30ml
Carrot Seed Oil
Not to be confused with carrot oil which is a vegetable oil, carrot seed oil is an essential oil obtained by steam distillation of carrot seeds from the wild carrot plant (Daucus carota). The essential oil could be found in Greece, Egypt, India, and France.
Packed with beta-carotene, carrot seed oil possesses mild anti-ageing, antibacterial, antifungal, and anti-inflammatory properties. A 2004 clinical study reveals that topical beta-carotene is converted to retinyl esters (the weakest form of retinoid) by human epidermis and thus appears as a precursor of epidermal vitamin A. Therefore, carrot seed oil might be able to deliver some mild cell regeneration properties associated with Vitamin A. As an essential oil, carrot seed oil needs to be first diluted into a carrier oil before its topical application. Pregnant and breastfeeding women should opt for alternative options as essential oils are not recommended for such groups.
Some carrot seed oil containing products you might consider trying out include:
- Antipodes Kiwi Seed Oil Eye Cream 30ml
- Aesop Parsley Seed Anti-Oxidant Facial Treatment 15ml
- MÁDARA Superseed Age Recovery Organic Facial Oil 30ml
- Darphin Tangerine Aromatic Care 15ml
The retinol alternative Barley EGF (Epidermal Growth Factor) is exclusive to skincare brand BIOEFFECT. It was developed to help minimise the loss of the EGF found naturally in the skin that is depleted as you age. The skincare brand in-house scientific studies have demonstrated the benefits of Barley EGF in boosting hydration, improving visible skin elasticity and in reducing the appearance of wrinkles and fine lines. It has even been shown to help support skin’s natural collagen production for a smoother, healthier, and more youthful appearance.
I was given a sample of this serum 2 years ago to combat some hyperpigmentation on my cheeks, and it did absolutely nothing for my Black skin that naturally ages more slowly with minimal effort on my part. The serum might work better for people with medium to lighter skin based on BIOEFFECT clinical studies.
BIOEFFECT EGF Serum 15ml is available at Lookfantastic.com.