Why Do We Need Retinol Alternative Skincare

Retinol cream is one of the most well-known cosmetic ingredients nowadays, but there are a lot of controversies about it. It is certainly very efficient, but it is also not possible to ignore limitations such as side effects or over-sensitivity to retinoids.

Health concerns about the use of retinoid family products in pregnancy or breastfeeding period should be taken seriously as well, even if topical forms of this cream are much less dangerous than oral prescriptions. 

Retinol alternative formula with similar benefits arrived on the market just in time to provide us with a new gentle option for all skin types, including sensitive skin. Who can resist getting the same smooth-skin effect as you can get from regular retinol products but without the side effects associated with retinol?

True, skincare based on retinol alternative ingredients can be more expensive than retinoid-based, as it often is with innovative products. However, for many people, retinol alternative is absolutely worth it. 

You may be curious why regular retinol cream creates some unwanted changes in the skin, being such a great ingredient. Science can explain it. 

It Is Not Only About Smooth Skin Texture and Even Skin Tone

The first scientific paper about retinol biological properties was published in 1937 by Paul Karrer. It explained how retinol use transforms the body and what role vitamin A (another name for retinol) plays in keeping us healthy. It may sound surprising for skincare lovers, but retinol is no less important for our digestive system or brain than for our skin tone.

It regulates not only a skin cell turnover process but also the renewal of many other organs in our body, stimulating and controlling the differentiation and proliferation of cells in general. That's why vitamin A can be dangerous to use in pregnancy while an embryo's cells are proliferating and differentiating actively. 

Another surprising fact about retinoids - if you do not apply it on the skin your skin will get it anyway. How? It is synthesized and naturally derived by the thin intestine during our life to regulate cell renewal in all of our organs, including the skin. Like many processes in our body, retinol synthesis is decreasing with aging, but it never stops. 

How Retinol Is Transformed by Skin and Why It Can Cause Damage

The active form of retinol is called retinoic acid, and our body transforms it naturally in small portions, so natural skin renewal is smooth and delicate. When applied on the skin as a cosmetic ingredient, retinol transforms to this active form too, but it is impossible to use it in such a small amount as our intestine delivers to the skin, so a renewal can be much faster, leading to sensitive skin, redness, and irritation. All together these symptoms are known as retinoic dermatitis, which is a predictable side effect of this treatment. 

Retinol and its derivatives don't have a stable chemical structure. While exposed to ultraviolet light, it is easily destroyed, generating free radicals and activating oxidative stress in skin cells, leading to high sun sensitivity. It can be even more dangerous for people with darker skin types, as their skin is often more vulnerable and fragile.

As it may be damaging to DNA and potentially lead to mutations, it is not recommended to apply retinol-based products on the skin in the morning or during the daytime to avoid environmental damage. Multiple research shows that at least 10% of retinol is oxidized on the skin, even protected by antioxidants and sunscreens, so it should be night skincare only to avoid potential sun damage, as well as redness and irritation.

New European Regulations Limit the Use of Retinol in Skincare

All forms of retinol and derivatives except for all-trans retinoic acid are currently in use in the European Union but upcoming restrictions were announced in 2022. The new regulations include Retinol, Retinyl Acetate, and Retinyl Palmitate percentage of 0.05% RE (retinol equivalents) in body lotions and 0.3% RE in face and hand products.

On April 4, 2024, the Official Journal of the European Union published Commission Regulation (EU) directive 2024/996 confirming the regulatory changes. We'll see what future brings us but a total ban on the use of retinol in skincare is not off of table as of now.

The most efficient and potent form of retinol is retinoic acid also known as tretinoin. It is proven to be effective in very low concentrations, starting from 0.025% or even less. Retinol is about 10 times less potent and most clinical research has been focusing on the benefits of 1% retinol skincare solutions which is equivalent to approximately 0.1% retinoic acid. Retinol 0.3% is equivalent to 0.03% retinoic acid solution, which is near the borderline of lower efficient concentration, but it still should be efficient with regular use.

The good news is the risk of side effects is lower with smaller concentrations. Retinyl palmitate is less potent that retinol at a concentration of 0.6% is half as active compared to 0.25% retinol, so 0.3% retinyl palmitate solution can be questionable choice for treatment of objective and visible skin changes.

5 Reasons Why You Need a Retinol Alternative

  1. Retinol-based skin care products potentially cause excessive retinol exposure, leading to health risks, especially in young and middle-aged people with a high natural level of retinol in their bodies. 
  2. Inappropriate use of retinol-based skin care may cause mutations in the skin cells in the areas exposed to sun rays despite active sun protection. 
  3. Side effects of retinol based skincare use are difficult to prevent and avoid. 
  4. Retinol based skin care is not recommended to use in pregnancy or breastfeeding period as it can be potentially harmful for the embryo. 
  5. Prolonged use of retinol-based cream can potentially trigger dermatosis, affecting the quality of life. 

Don't be afraid, there are many alternative ingredients available today in skincare. Most of them are natural and sustainable active substances derived from plants, helping to achieve retinol-like benefits and improve skin tone and texture in a gentle manner, helping to reduce the appearance of acne comfortably and safely.

9 Best Retinol Alternatives for All Skin Types Including Sensitive Skin

Though there are many benefits of using retinoids, which include acne-prone skin, there are many blemishes that can occur with their use, which include higher sun sensitivity, irritation, redness, dark spots and retinoic dermatitis. So, let's look into gentle retinol alternatives that can also help not only sensitive skin but all skin types as well as reduce the appearance of various visible signs of aging.

Maclura Plant Bioflavonoids — Anti-acne Retinol Alternative

A new ingredient we've been using since 2022. Maclura cochinchinensis plant extract was used in traditional Southeast Asia medicine for centuries to treat diabetes, rheumatism, neuralgia, as well as various skin conditions and irritation. 

Bioflavonoids of Maclura are able to bind retinoic acid cell receptors, mimicking the effect of its most potent form. Skincare with bioflavonoids of Maclura can reduce sebum production exactly like retinoic acid but it also restores the healthy shape and structure of sebum glands' cells preventing future acne breakouts. 

Additionally, Maclura bioflavoniods stimulate collagen production in the deep layer of the skin and restore skin elasticity, preventing post-acne scarification and helping to improve skin tone and elasticity. It can be used for acne treatment and prevention, as well as for acne scars and aging-related changes in the skin, such the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, by activating the renewal process.

Avocutine — the Best Retinol Alternative for Oily Skin

We've been using this molecule since 2013 to treat oily and problem skin. Extracted from virgin avocado oil, Avocutine works similarly to retinol. It inhibits a particular enzyme (5-alpha reductase), which transforms testosterone into DHT, a potent androgen playing a key part in the development of acne, seborrhoea (excessive sebum) and even alopecia.

It was clinically shown that avocutine slows down the transformation of testosterone reducing sebum production by 30% in the first 2 weeks of application and reducing shining in T-zone by 78% in three weeks. It has a prominent anti-inflammatory effect, calming down the skin and restoring its natural barrier function. 

Bakuchiol — Anti-age Retinol Alternative

Derived from leaves of the Psoralea corylifolia plant, also known as Babchi, it is probably the best-known retinol alternative. As an equivalent in structure to retinol, Bakuchiol works similarly to it - boosting collagen production in mature skin.

The patch test of skincare products has clinically shown a lot of promise – significant improvement concerning the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, skin elasticity, and other aging skin changes. Often psoralea corylifolia plant is used in combination with retinol itself, as it helps to tolerate retinoids and reduce its side effects.

Siliphos — Collagen Boosting Retinol Alternative

Derived from a milk thistle flower, it acts similarly to Bakuchiol, boosting collagen synthesis and preventing its destruction by enzymes. Helps to improve the elasticity of skin and prevent appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. 

Vit-A-Like — Retinol Alternative for Skin Renewal

Active substance of this alternative that can be used in a serum or a cream is derived from moth beans. It is able to stimulate the renewal of skin and speed up the differentiation of epidermis cells, so it is a great alternative for an improvement of skin texture.

It is especially recommended for skin care addressing sun-damaged skin, post-acne scars, or hyperkeratosis. The benefits include boosting collagen synthesis, helping to strengthen skin, and diminishing age-related changes in texture.

Nephoria — Retinol Alternative to Slow down Skin Ageing

Derived from Rambutan fruits and combined with a Maltodextrine, it boosts synthesis of collagen and elastin, simultaneously suppressing its destruction in the skin. Prevents and visually diminish age-related changes in skin and helps to maintain its elasticity. 

Halorubin — Antioxidant Retinol Alternative

The natural precursor of retinoids, acting as an antioxidant pro-vitamin. It is a biotechnological ingredient synthesized by Haloarchaea microorganisms and is able to protect skin from ultraviolet damage and free radicals, preventing premature skin aging and dark spots. 

Retinaturel — Retinol Alternative for Aging Prevention

Retinal, a natural precursor of retinoic acid, is a biotechnological ingredient synthesized by microorganism Halobacterium salinarum. This retinol alternative boosts collagen synthesis, helping improve skin elasticity and prevent wrinkle formation. It may be used in combination with Halorubin.

Novoretin — Pore Reducing Retinol Alternative

One of the most innovative ingredients derived from Mastic gum. Its structure has nothing in common with retinoids, but it is able to inhibit the destruction of natural retinoic acid, increasing its level in the skin. Impressively pore-reducing and increasing skin's elasticity and moisture levels, it can be used in skin care, addressing mature skin with enlarged pores. 

What Should We Call a Retinol Alternative? 

Technically, the term "retinol alternatives" defines substances similar to it or its derivatives’ structure, mimicking its effects. Also, it can be used to describe ingredients that are able to increase or support the level of natural retinoic acid in the skin, promoting its activity.

However, many other innovative ingredients can be as efficient as retinoids as well as gentle in formulations addressing mature skin, wrinkles, pigmentation, or other age-related skin changes. 

Remodeling peptides such as Matrixyl-3000 or Rigine show more effects boosting collagen or elastin synthesis in mature skin. Epidermal Growth Factor (EGF) is highly efficient in improving skin renewal and regeneration. Apple and some other plant stem cells' anti-aging properties are not less prominent than retinol, and they help to improve skin resilience to sun rays and even minimize ultraviolet-induced damage.

Cysteamine, tranexamic acid, hyaluronic acid, glycolic acid, polyhydroxy acid and new brightening peptides show similar or higher efficiency in skin brightening and skin renewal without the potential risk of skin sensitization. It makes them safe to use in the summer, with no need to avoid outdoor activities during the day, as regular sunscreens are efficient enough to protect skin during active pigmentation treatment from environmental aggressors like sun rays.

Most importantly, all of these ingredients are safe and inclusive and can be used by all people, with no exception for age, gender, fertility status, or skin type. So, you see, there is more than one alternative, and the future will surely bring us more good news - stay tuned! 

Meder Retinol Alternative Products

We never used Retinol or any of its derivatives in Meder skincare because inclusivity and safety of all our products for pregnant and breastfeeding women are our core values since the first days of the brand's existence. 

Our founder, Dr. Tiina Meder, has been an advocate and enthusiast of retinol alternative treatments since the beginning of her career more than 25 years ago, so we've been one of the first brands using Avocutine and Maclura bioflavonoids in acne-prone skin treatment, as well as pioneering peptides, stem cells, and growth factors, used in skin care. 

You can find best retinol alternatives in Eu-Seb concentrate, Equa-Derm cream formula for oily skin, and Eu-Skin anti-acne cream, as well as in Arma-Lift collection addressing mature skin and the newest Lumino-Derm brightening collection designed to fight pigmentation.

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