Retinol, retinoid, retinish: What do they mean and which should you be using?

Picking the right one, and applying it correctly, can make a world of difference

 From left to right: Skinceuticals Retinol 0.3 High Potency Night Treatment, Ole Henriksen Glow Cycle Retin-ALT Power Serum, The Ordinary Granactive Retinoid 2% in Squalane and Kate Somerville DermalQuench Liquid Lift +Retinol

From left to right: Skinceuticals Retinol 0.3 High Potency Night Treatment, Ole Henriksen Glow Cycle Retin-ALT Power Serum, The Ordinary Granactive Retinoid 2% in Squalane and Kate Somerville DermalQuench Liquid Lift +Retinol

 

Retinol is tricky to navigate. People tend to love it or fear it, and those who have a negative experience tend to avoid it ever after. Retinol does do as it promises – this form of vitamin A can help to increase the smoothness and firmness of the skin, diminish fine lines and wrinkles, help with breakouts and improve pigmentation – both due to sun damage or acne scarring. However, you have to push through some unpleasantness to get to the other side.

Retinol should be used carefully, starting with a low concentration once or twice weekly, and increasing both the potency and the frequency over time. You need to apply the product correctly – on clean skin, ideally with nothing underneath and at most a moisturiser on top. Most importantly, you need to use the right type of retinol. Retinoic acid is the form that does the impressive work – this is what is in the prescription retinol products your dermatologist will prescribe.

Over the counter retinols have to be converted into retinoic acid by the skin, so they take longer to show results than their prescription counterparts, but they will still dramatically improve skin. It may take about three months before you see the improvements, and there will likely be some redness and mild peeling during that time – this is in large part why many people give up on retinol early.

The products

To minimise the chances of unpleasant effects, start with a low concentration, high quality retinol like Skinceuticals Retinol 0.3 High Potency Night Treatment (€70 at skinceuticals.co.uk). You can graduate to a 0.5 and eventually a 1.0 concentration over time. Diving straight in at a high concentration guarantees nasty side effects – the skin needs to acclimatise to retinol and going too hard too soon can compromise skin and lead to genuine discomfort.

Retinoids is the umbrella term for a family of ingredients derived from Vitamin A. Just keep in mind that the term retinoid on packaging tends not to refer to retinol itself. If you struggle with retinol due to skin sensitivity or suffer real discomfort in the days after application, a gentler alternative may serve you better. Try bakuchiol-based skincare like Ole Henriksen Glow Cycle Retin-ALT Power Serum (€65 at Boots). This ingredient acts like retinol, but without the irritation. It is clinically proven to mirror retinol in terms of the way in which it behaves to improve the skin. It may not have quite such dramatic results as retinol, but sensitive skin will get on far better with it.

The Ordinary Granactive Retinoid 2% in Squalane (€9.60 at Brown Thomas) is another retinol alternative and a good formulation for those who like oil-based formulas but find retinol too intense.

Kate Somerville DermalQuench Liquid Lift +Retinol (€94.50 at Space NK) is a sort of retinoid cocktail, containing both retinol and retinol alternatives, as well as bakuchiol. It has a light serum texture that is instantly absorbed. This is a good choice for someone who is nervous of a product like the Skinceuticals retinol, and wants something effective but not frightening.

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