The skin benefits of the retina, retinol’s stronger counterpart

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If you were to ask leading skincare experts to pick a holy grail product they recommend the most, you’d likely see retinoids come up again and again. After all, these vitamin A derivatives are routinely cited as the gold standard for improving everything from acne to hyperpigmentation to fine lines and wrinkles, and a wealth of research supports these benefits. (Excellent, very much?)

There are a variety of potencies across the retinoid spectrum, from the over-the-counter retinols you can get at Sephora to the Rx strength products you’ll need a doctor to prescribe. And recently, a version of what falls squarely between the two has been showing up in formulations: retinaldehyde, also known as retinal.

What is the retina?

Retinal is one of several types of retinoids offered, each varying in potency. “Before retinols can work, they need to be converted to retinoic acid,” says Corey L. Hartman, MD, FAAD, a board-certified dermatologist at Skin Wellness in Birmingham, Alabama. (For reference, retinoic acid is commonly known by the brand name Retin-A… as if there weren’t too many similar terms to keep track of already.) “Retinaldehyde is one step below retinoic acid, so it requires fewer conversion steps and is ultimately more potent. [than retinol],” he continues.

On the other hand, retinol “has to convert to retinal first before it converts to retinoic acid, which makes it notoriously unstable,” says Renée Rouleau, celebrity esthetician and founder of her namesake skincare line. “Retinal also has a very small molecular size compared to other types of retinoids,” she adds, making it easier for it to penetrate the skin and work its magic. (Still, retinoic acid is smaller, allowing it to be accepted by the skin even more easily, Rouleau notes.)

Simply put, Retinal puts you in the fast lane for addressing common complexion concerns and is the strongest retinoid you can get without a prescription.

The benefits of using retina

“Like retinol, retinal helps promote cell turnover to even skin tone and texture, smooth wrinkles and fine lines, and prevent acne,” shares Dr. Hartman. But the benefits do not end there.

A 2018 randomized controlled trial also found that retinal creams improved overall photoaging, reduced transepidermal water loss (TEWL), and increased hydration with twice-daily use for three months in Korean participants. Additionally, an earlier study found that “retinaldehyde has beneficial effects on the vascular component of rosacea,” and more recent animal research supports its “significant depigmenting activity.”

If you have one or more of these concerns, a single retina product can supercharge progress on your skincare goals, packing a more powerful punch than other over-the-counter options. “Retinal is stronger than retinol,” Dr. Hartman reiterates, “and is often found in a lower concentration than retinol due to its potency. The benefits are greater and faster than traditional retinols.” As long as your skin can tolerate its powerful effects, of course.

Why more brands are jumping on the retina bandwagon

According to Rouleau, there are a few key reasons why retinal shows promise in the world of skin care.

“Demand for vitamin A ingredients is at an all-time high due to its benefits and the consumers seeking it,” he says. be usable by cells. The closer we get to retinoic acid, the better.” In other words, thanks to a greater emphasis on skincare education and deep dives into ingredients, whether through social media, beauty editorials, or information from trusted dermatologists, the star of the retina is clearly on the rise.

Rouleau also points out that retinal (and retinol, even more so) is historically unstable in products, which has made it difficult to formulate. “However, more ingredient companies are now developing technologies to better stabilize the retina so it can be more effective in formulations,” he explains. “Consumer demand is also helping drive the science to meet what shoppers are looking for,” which is fresher, clearer skin through products worthy of their hard-earned money.

Tips before adding retinal to your regimen

Retinol is infamous for causing the so-called “retinol bugs,” aka dryness, flaking, and purging before the skin-enhancing benefits you really want kick in. For that reason, if you’re new to topical vitamin A, diving into the retina early on may not be the best option.

“Since retinals are stronger than retinol, they should not be used by those who have not used retinol,” warns Dr. Hartman. “But if he has acclimated to the class, then it would be an appropriate step up and just shy of the strength of a prescription product.”

Additionally, Rouleau shares that consistency is key to reap the most benefits. And even if you tolerate retinol well and decide to experiment with a new retina product, start slowly and steadily to allow your skin to acclimate to the new ingredient and minimize the risk of irritation. “I recommend using it in a ‘two nights on, one night off’ pattern during the week, for a total of four nights a week,” she says. “On opposite nights, use an exfoliating acid serum to speed up the removal of dull skin. cells,” which she says will promote better retinal uptake. If your skin becomes sensitized, further limit use and/or consult your dermatologist to see if another product (Vitamin A or otherwise) may be better for your skin’s needs.

Retinal Skin Care Products to Try

Avène Retrinal Intensive Cream — $74.00

Don’t be misled by another slight variation in this product’s name, as it does, in fact, feature retinal as an active ingredient. Better yet, it’s also rich in plumping peptides and soothing Avène Thermal Spring Water, which help make it safe enough for even super dry and sensitive skin. It also gets Dr. Hartman’s official seal of approval, noting that this cream “delivers benefits without compromising the skin barrier or causing irritation.”

Allies of Skin Peptide & Retinal Repair Night Cream — $118.00

A leader in “cleanical” skincare, Allies of Skin offers its own patented form of encapsulated retinal to minimize the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles in this overnight mask. At the same time, a 13.5 percent peptide complex reinforces skin’s moisture barrier as antioxidant-rich organic oils recharge and restore dull, thirsty skin for a fresher complexion in the morning.

These products are independently selected by our editors. Making a purchase through our links may generate a commission for Well+Good.

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