Unless you’re completely new to the world of skincare (in which case, welcome!), you’ve probably heard of retinol. Retinol belongs to a group of vitamin A derivatives called ‘retinoids’ which also include retinal (also known as retinaldehyde) and prescription retinoids (e.g. retinoic acid or tretinoin).
Retinoids are one of the most popular skincare ingredients for good reason: they’re well-researched, incredibly effective, and they can improve a wide-range of skin concerns.
In this article, we’ll explain how retinoids work and the top 5 reasons that EVERYONE should be using them. Let’s get started:
How Do Retinoids Work?
Once applied to your skin, over-the-counter (OTC) retinoids, like retinol and retinal, convert to retinoic acid so that they can bind to specialist receptors in your skin cells and initiate your skin's natural renewal process.
Newer skin cells = younger, dewy skin.
The more efficient a retinoid is at converting to retinoic acid, the more potent it is. For example, retinol is ten to twenty times less potent than retinoic acid because it has to convert to retinal first. Retinal still has to convert to retinoic acid but, as this process is much more efficient, there’s not a huge difference in potency between retinal and retinoic acid.
Here are the top 5 reasons that everyone needs to be using a retinoid in their skincare routine…
The Top 5 Reasons EVERYONE Should Use A Retinoid
1. Retinoids Increase Cellular Turnover and Renewal
The main way that retinoids work is by increasing your skin’s cellular turnover and renewal. This means they encourage your skin to produce new skin cells and bring those skin cells to the surface of your skin faster.
As you age, your skin’s cellular turnover rate slows down which causes dead skin cells to build up on the surface of your skin. Not only does this lead to rougher and duller looking skin but it can cause clogged pores and enhance the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles.
(If you’ve ever wondered why babies and young children have such dewy looking skin, it’s because they have a much faster rate of cellular turnover than adults.)
By increasing cellular turnover, retinoids can help brighten your skin, minimize the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, and prevent breakouts.
A common misconception is that retinoids exfoliate your skin, however, they don’t break down the bonds that hold your dead skin cells together like acids do.
That’s why it’s a great idea to include acids in your routine alongside retinoids. In fact, research suggests that both ingredients are more effective when used together! Sensitive skin types might prefer keeping them separate for the first few weeks and once the skin adjusts, amp up to layering them together.
We recommend using our award-winning Moonlight retinal serum with either our Night Renewer moisturizer with 10% glycolic acid (for aging skin) or our Super Smooth serum with AHA and BHA (for acne-prone skin).
Start by using the products on alternating nights for the first month, and if your skin feels fine, you can layer them together.
2. Retinoids Can Improve Your Complexion
Retinoids can improve your complexion in a number of different ways.
With age, your skin gets less blood flow which can make it look dull and gray, as well as leaving your skin thinner, more lax, and finely lined. Retinoids increase blood flow to your skin which allows more oxygen and nutrients to reach your skin cells and fuel cellular renewal. By increasing blood flow, retinoids keep your skin looking healthy and full of color.
Retinoids also help to fade dark marks and uneven skin tone by interfering with the melanin production process and preventing pigment from spreading from your melanin-producing cells (melanocytes) to your skin cells.
If you’re prone to acne, retinoids can also help keep your complexion blemish-free by keeping your pores clean, decreasing the activity of enzymes involved in oil production, and calming inflammation. Retinal (star ingredient in our Moonlight serum) is also able to decrease acne-causing bacteria!
Retinoids also interfere with one of the key inflammatory pathways involved in acne and research has shown that they can prevent acne scars from forming.
3. Retinoids Can Increase Collagen
Retinoids are one of the most effective skincare ingredients for delaying skin aging. Not only do they increase collagen production, they also prevent the activity of the enzymes that break down existing collagen (MMPs).
After the age of 25, it’s estimated that your skin naturally loses around 1% of its collagen every year. Collagen is the substance that keeps your skin looking plump and youthful so the more you lose, the more fine lines and wrinkles you’ll see appearing.
Too much sun exposure can drastically increase the rate that your skin loses collagen so it’s important to make sure you’re wearing sunscreen every day while using retinoids - especially as they can increase your skin’s sensitivity to the sun.
We recommend using our Sun Protector every morning at the end of your skincare routine (after moisturizer).
By boosting collagen production, retinoids can help plump your skin and reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles.
4. Retinoids Can Thicken and Plump Up Your Skin
One common myth regarding retinoids is that they thin your skin. However, the opposite is actually true - retinoids thicken your skin.
As you age, your skin naturally becomes thinner which means less laxity and wrinkles.
Your skin is made up of three layers:
- The epidermis - outer layer that protects your body from the outside world
- The dermis - the middle layer that provides cushioning
- The hypodermis/ subcutaneous layer - the deepest layer made up of fat
Retinoids thicken your epidermis by increasing the number of new skin cells your skin makes and your dermis by boosting your skin's natural production of collagen and hyaluronic acid.
5. Retinoids Can Improve Skin Texture
Retinoids improve your skin texture in a number of ways. Firstly, their ability to increase cellular turnover and renewal means that there are less dead skin cells on the surface of your skin making your skin feel softer and smoother.
Secondly, retinoids improve skin texture & make pores appear smaller.
Thirdly, retinoids help prevent and treat lesions called actinic keratoses which are rough and scaly patches of skin caused by sun damage.
You can improve skin texture further by using an exfoliating acid, like our Super Smooth serum, alongside retinoids.
How To Add A Retinoid Into Your Skincare Routine
Retinoids are best used in the evening as some are broken down by light which means they may be less effective if used during the day. Plus, your skin's natural cellular renewal process is higher overnight.
One downside of retinoids is that they can often cause skin irritation when you first start using them. We’ve formulated our Moonlight and Stargaze serums with a whole bunch of soothing ingredients so that you can get all the benefits of a retinoid without the irritation.
However, if you have particularly sensitive skin, we recommend using either the Moonlight (for advanced retinoid users) or Stargaze serum (for retinoid beginners) on alternating nights for the first month. Then, if your skin is feeling fine, you can increase it to nightly use.
After applying your retinoid, you’ll want to lock it in with a good moisturizer.
If you're a complete retinoid newbie, dermatologists often recommend sandwiching retinoids with a moisturizer to minimize irritation & dryness. This involves using a moisturizer → retinoid → moisturizer to provide a buffer.
We recommend our One Cream if your skin is on the dry side or our Plush Cream if you have oily or acne-prone skin. This will also help keep irritation at bay!
As we mentioned above, retinoids can increase your skin's sensitivity to the sun which means your risk of sunburn and damage is higher. To prevent damage, it's important to use a good sunscreen every day.
We recommend our Sun Protector, a zinc-based mineral sunscreen with SPF 30. Apply it at the end of your morning routine after your moisturizer.
Wrapping It Up
Retinoids are one of the most well-researched and effective skincare ingredients available. They can help improve a wide range of skin conditions and concerns, including:
- Fine lines and wrinkles
- Hyperpigmentation and dark marks
- Enlarged pores
- Sun damage
- Actinic keratoses
They’re an essential ingredient to any skincare routine but they’re not all created equal.
The most effective OTC retinoid is retinal which you can find in our award-winning Moonlight serum. The conversion of retinal to retinoic acid is very efficient, to the point that retinal performs just as well as retinoic acid but with less irritation.