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Are Retinoids Safe For Your Skin? The ABCs Of Retinols

Are Retinoids Safe For Your Skin? The ABCs Of Retinols

After endless hours of Zoom-time face scrutiny, you are ready to transport your skincare regime and embrace the best skincare products of 2021 to help you achieve a more radiant, younger-looking luminous complexion. Should you add the #1 dermatology-recommended, over-the-counter workhorse that improves collagen-depleted skin to your skincare bag of tricks?

A resounding yes!
Retinol and their retinoid Vitamin A derivative offspring are important as some of the best anti-aging, anti-wrinkle ingredients to add to your arsenal of age defying skincare products for 2021. They can enhance your skin’s texture through exfoliation and skin regeneration to reduce the signs of aging, sun damage, loss of skin firmness and target fine line and wrinkles. They can help lighten and breakdown hyperpigmentation, reduce pore numbers and size, provide a youthful glow, increase collagen and elastin production, serve as an antioxidant, improve acne breakouts and blemishes, and increase hydration, and plump up the skin.

What is a Retinoid?
Retinoids is an umbrella term we commonly hear used to describe both retinoids and retinols. Both retinols and retinoids are Vitamin A derivatives that ultimately get converted into retinoic acid, the active ingredient.

What is the difference between retinoids, and retinoids?
We often hear these words used interchangeably. They are not the same. An easy reminder – retinol is a specific type of retinoid. Retinol is weaker, less strong, less potent (think less irritating) than retinoids. It takes more steps for these ester forms to be converted to the active retinoic acid, so it takes longer to work its magic. Retinoids usually refer to stronger, prescription-strength drugs like tretinoin, the generic name for Retin-A, tazarotene, and adapalene.

Who should use retinoids?
Looking for a hero anti-aging or pre-juvenation product, think of retinols to the rescue. Retinol, a derivative of vitamin A, works by encouraging the skin’s exfoliation process by speeding up cell turnover, while also boosting collagen production. Those using benzoyl peroxide and alpha hydroxy acids need to use care as they can deactivate certain retinoids such as tretinoin. (When in doubt, always seek your physician’s counsel!)

How do retinoids work?
Retinoids are smart solders whose battlefield is the skin’s cellular level. Retinoids work to neutralize free radicals. The war on free radicals is significant. They are responsible for breaking down our skin’s collagen, resulting in unflattering skin blemishes like wrinkling, dark spots, fine lines and loose, saggy skin!

Retinoids, therefore, work to boost the production of collagen, elastin, and hyaluronic acid deep within the skin. This is essential to increase the process of surface skin cell turnover. Skin cell turnover is the continuous cycle of dead skin cells being pushed to the surface by new, healthy cells.
Not only does skin look and feel healthy, but also it actually is healthy. 

Retinoids help to reduce oil and debris that clogs the pores, which can be very aging. Retinoids also work to reduce uneven pigmentation on the skin’s surface, which may appear as darkened patches or spots making the skin look uneven. Some refer to these as age spots or sunspots.

What’s the science behind retinoids?
Here’s a user friendly chemistry 101 lesson that savvy skincare consumers can embrace without using a dictionary. Vitamin A or retinol is essential for normal skin development. Our skin can only use the active form of vitamin A, which is called retinoic acid. This means that we rely on our skin to work some chemistry magic to covert topical retinoids, like retinol, into retinoic acid – the ticket to effective retinoids. Now, to get the best dermal repair benefit we may have to start slow.

What does that mean?
We may need to start our regime with mild levels of retinol, which take longer to convert to retinoic acid, and it may take longer to produce the results we are looking for. Patience with retinol is a must. For those that are new to adding retinol to their skincare regime and for those with sensitive, this approach is sound as it results in less irritation, peeling and redness.
With that in mind, scroll on for a breakdown of the most common retinoids you’ll come across in skincare products—from the mildest to most potent. As an added bonus you will become an expert at explaining why these ingredients matter to obtain optimal skin health.

What are the ABCs of Retinols?
Unlike the song we may have hummed as we learned alphabet, the ABCs of retinols explained below do not follow an alphabetic harmony but instead are provided from mild to strongest potency.

  1. Bakuchiol
    This gentle, vegan anti-inflammatory and antioxidant natural alternative smooths fine lines and diminishes dark circles. It helps reduce discoloration, fine lines, and other signs of aging, like retinol but without producing skin irritation.
    Bakuchiol is a plant extract that’s often lumped in with retinoids due to its retinol-like effects, but it’s a pretender and not a true retinoid. It works to activate skin cells to boost collagen production.
  2. Retinyl Palmitate
    Your skin’s natural enzymes convert Retinyl Palmitate to retinol, which is a powerful anti-aging ingredient that helps improve skin tone and treats wrinkles by encouraging the growth of new skin cells for skin rejuvenation and pre-juvenation activity.
    Retinyl palmitate is one of the mildest retinoids available, making it a good choice for sensitive skin. An effective antioxidant, it’s been shown to jumpstart collagen production. Collagen helps the skin cells renew and repair themselves. Collagen also helps keep the skin moist to give us a youthful, luminous appearance to our skin.
  3. Retinyl propionate
    Retinyl propionate is another mild retinoid that has been shown to reduce the appearance of wrinkles and hyperpigmentation to  It’s not quite as popular in skincare as retinyl palmitate yet, but it may be the most effective retinol ester molecule, providing all the benefits of vitamin A acid while minimizing the negative side effects.
  4. Retinol
    Retinol (pure vitamin A) is the most effective retinoid over-the-counter non-prescription formula, with concentrations from .01% to 1%. For retinol newbies, it is best to start with a low-strength (.1% or less) serum or cream to see how your skin reacts.
  5. Retinaldehyde
    Retinaldehyde (or retinal) is more potent ingredient than retinol, perhaps working 11 times faster than retinol. Because of its anti-bacterial properties, this is a good choice for those with blemish and acne prone skin who also want to assuage premature ageing.
  6. Retinyl retinoate
    Retinyl retinoate is a novel hybrid, synthetic retinoid, effective as retinol, and great for those with sensitive skin. It is potent anti-aging, anti-wrinkle fighter, and a major contender for as a next-generation skincare ingredient.
  7. Hydroxypinacolone retinoate
    Hydroxypinacolone retinoate, like retinyl retinoate, treats wrinkles, sun damage, and dark spots with less irritation than retinol. It is an ester of all-trans direct retinoid acid – that because it doesn’t need to be converted to a retinoid acid -is gentler to the skin.
  8. Adapalene
    Adapalene (or Differin) used to only be available with a prescription, but certain concentrations (0.1%) are now available over the counter in the United States. It’s particularly effective for acne because it reduces inflammation and keeps pores from becoming clogged.
  9. Tretinoin
    Tretinoin is a prescription retinoid also known as Retin-A. It’s pure retinoic acid, so it doesn’t have to go through a conversion process to get to work on skin. This means that it is potent and may produce unwanted side effects like irritation, redness, dryness and peeling.
  10. Tazarotene
    Tazarotene is a prescription retinoid also known as Tazorac. It’s considered one of the strongest topical retinoids out there, and it’s often prescribed for severe acne and psoriasis.
  11. The key final words:
    The key to a great skincare regime is always to combine education and great products with amazing skin loving ingredients. Consider all your options, go slow, and know that even the mildest retinoid may cause some irritation. For newbies to retinoids, start by using them once or twice per week and slowly increasing from there. It’s best to apply them at night and use a broad-spectrum SPF during the day, as retinoids can increase sensitivity to sun exposure. Always moisturize after to prevent dryness. Avoid using during pregnancy or when breastfeeding. As always, you should consult your physician, dermatologist or plastic surgeon to help you make the right choic