Ask any skincare veteran what their holy grail ingredient is, and it’s likely that retinol tops that list. In the vast realm of skincare, few ingredients have generated as much buzz and excitement as retinol. But beyond all the hype, retinol has also acquired a somewhat intimidating reputation. After all, it’s unlike other ingredients that quickly play well with others or can effortlessly be added to any routine. Mix it with the wrong products or use a fraction more than you need, and you’ve got yourself a recipe for irritation. But if you play your cards, right? Well, you could achieve everything from eliminating acne and skin texture, to boosting collagen and reducing pigmentation.
The good news is, retinol is a lot simpler than you think, and it doesn’t have to be scary! Below, we dive into the world of clean retinoids.
What are retinoids?
The first thing to know is that retinol is merely one type of retinoid, which is a class of chemical compounds derived from vitamin A. While ‘retinol’ is now commonly used as an umbrella term, it’s important to know that not all retinoids are equal. They come in various forms, with each having their own unique benefits. Some of the most common retinoids you’ll encounter are:
Retinol — The least irritating and most gentle retinoid, retinol has since become one of the most sought-after ingredients when it comes to anti-aging. Even in small doses, retinol is known to support collagen production, smooth skin texture, even out complexions, and speed up cell turnover. It is a non-prescription retinoid that takes more time to see visible results.
Retinaldehyde — Considered the “strongest” of all non-prescription retinoids, retinaldehyde delivers the same excellent anti-aging benefits as retinol, but in a faster and more efficient way. It can be irritating to those who have never used retinoids, so it is not typically recommended for newbies.
Tretinoin (Retinoic Acid) — Our skin is only able to use vitamin A when it’s converted to retinoid acid – a process that takes a few steps for gentler retinoids like retinol and retinaldehyde. Because tretinoin IS retinoic acid (or Retin-A, as its brand name), this ingredient is already in its most active form. Think of it as the Mt. Everest of retinoids. It can reduce fine lines and hyperpigmentation, improve skin texture, and even treat acne. Tretinoin’s efficiency and ability to penetrate the skin easily is unparalleled, but it also means that it has a great potential to irritate the skin. As such, tretinoin is only available by prescription and needs to be used carefully.
Which retinoid reigns supreme?
Like we said, each retinoid has its own unique benefits, so choosing the best one will largely depend on your own skin goals and skin type. Many consider prescription retinoids to be the gold standard due to their potency. In fact, tretinoin happens to be the most studied retinoid in the treatment of photoaging. However, these powerful ingredients aren’t always for everyone.
When properly formulated, over-the-counter retinoids are an excellent and easily accessible option for skincare consumers. Studies have shown that retinol can improve fine lines and wrinkles, hyperpigmentation, texture, and even acne. Because it’s much gentler and tolerable for more skin types (even beginners!), retinol can certainly level with its more potent counterparts.
Clean Retinol or Retinol 2.0: a game-changer for conscious beauty
Despite the countless derms and skincare geeks singing retinol’s praises, it’s not without its controversies. For starters, retinol is a synthetic chemical — something that all-natural skincare enthusiasts tend to flag. Of course, simply being grown in a lab doesn’t make a product “bad,” just like being all-natural doesn’t automatically equate to good. Case in point: poison ivy is a natural ingredient, but you wouldn’t dare to put it on your skin.
The more serious issue, however, is that retinol is often stabilized with ingredients such as butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT) and parabens — both of which make the Dirty Dozen list. Unfortunately, BHT and parabens are endocrine disruptors that could potentially cause cancerous tumors, birth defects, and other developmental disorders.
Thankfully, retinol has come a long way. With Clean Retinol or Retinol 2.0, and many formulations today prioritize high-quality, responsibly sourced ingredients that are free from harmful chemicals like BHT, parabens, sulfates, fragrances, and more. A true game-changer for anti-aging skincare.
At Pure Culture, our own Bulgarian Rose Everything Elixir is powered by Clean Retinol to diminish pores, spots, fine lines, and wrinkles brought about by premature aging. This innovative formula is derived from sweet potatoes, and utilizes cutting-edge encapsulation technology that allows it to penetrate deep into the skin before being activated. Plus, it’s made even more nourishing and gentle with the addition of hydrating Bulgarian Rose Water and anti-inflammatory Bisabolol. It’s all the goodness of retinol, minus the purging and carcinogenic preservatives.
How to begin your clean retinol journey
Now that we've banished the retinol fears, it's time to kickstart your clean retinol journey. Here are some tips to get you started:
Retinol can be potent, so it's essential to introduce it gradually into your routine. Begin by using it once or twice a week, then gradually increase frequency as your skin adjusts.
Choose the right strength
Retinol strengths are typically indicated by a percentage. If you're new to retinol, start with a lower concentration (around 0.3%) to minimize the risk of irritation, and work your way up as your skin builds tolerance.
Be mindful of other ingredients
When incorporating retinol into your routine, be cautious of other active ingredients that may cause further irritation. Avoid harsh exfoliants or acids initially and focus on gentle cleansers, moisturizers, and sunscreen.
Moisturize and protect
Retinol can be drying, especially during the initial adjustment period. To combat this, make sure to moisturize your skin thoroughly after applying retinol. Look for a hydrating moisturizer with ingredients like hyaluronic acid or ceramides to lock in moisture and soothe your skin.
Don't skip sunscreen
Sunscreen is a non-negotiable step in any skincare routine, but it becomes even more crucial when using retinol. Retinol can make your skin more sensitive to the sun's harmful rays, so applying a broad-spectrum sunscreen with at least SPF 30 is essential. Not only will it protect your skin, but it will also prevent any potential dark spots or sun damage from undoing your retinol's hard work.
Patience is key
Rome wasn't built in a day, and neither is flawless skin. It takes time for retinol to work its magic, so be patient and consistent with your routine. Results may not be immediate, but with regular use over several weeks or months, you'll start to notice the transformation in your complexion.
Listen to your skin
While retinol is a fantastic ingredient, it's not a one-size-fits-all magic bullet. If you experience persistent redness, severe dryness, or excessive irritation, it may be a sign that retinol isn't the right fit for your skin. Consult with a dermatologist to explore alternative options that can still address your specific skincare concerns.
There you have it. Retinol doesn't need to be an intimidating journey. With clean retinol, you can enjoy the benefits of this superstar ingredient while prioritizing your skin's health.