Slow and steady wins the race when it comes to retinoids. Read on to find how to incorporate them in your routine and some of the best retinoids available.
Retinoids, aka vitamin A is the holy grail of every skincare aficionado (after sunscreen of course). It is a wonderful ingredient that most skin types can benefit from. It’s a super star ingredient for fine lines, pigmentation and acne. However, it can be irritating, drying and can cause redness if not used correctly. That said, retinoids aren’t suitable for everyone (eg if you have rosacea it’s best to avoid them), so always consult a specialist when unsure.
The pure form of vitamin A, tretinoin, was discovered as an acne treatment and soon after it became apparent it was also a great anti-ageing cream. Even though tretinoin is only available on prescription and can be quite intense for a retinoid newbie, there are fantastic choices available over the counter depending on your needs. Retinoids can help with wrinkles, acne, pigmentation, and overall smoother appearance.
Different Types of Retinoids
Before you start your retinoid journey you should understand there are a few different types of retinoids and they aren’t all created equal. Our skin must convert the retinoid in the skin, to retinoic acid, and the shorter that conversion is, the more potent the cream is and the more intense the result. Tretinoin is the only pure form that needs no conversion once applied to the skin as it directly binds to the retinol receptors. The other versions need to metabolise/convert to bind to our skin’s receptors. An exception is granactive retinoid, which works a little differently and needs no conversions.
After tretinoin, there’s retinal (retinaldehyde) which is one conversion away from retinoic acid and the strongest thing you can get without prescription. Plus, it has anti-blemish and anti-bacterial properties apart from anti-ageing. Then, there’s retinol, which is two conversions away from retinoic acid and is a little gentler. Retinol esters which are very mild and you may not see results when using them, as they are three conversions away from retinoic acid. We’d recommend retinaldehyde or granactive retinoid and for beginners you can start at a lower concentration and build it up.
How To Start Using Retinoids
When you start retinoids, you need to start slow. Some say, you can use your age as a guide to how many times you should be using retinoids, eg. if you are in your 40s, four times a week. However, this has to be something you built up to over time, as starting retinoids abruptly can create issues; from peeling skin, irritation, redness and worse, a damaged skin barrier. It’s worth noting you should always wear a separate full-spectrum sunscreen of SPF30 or 50 every morning, rain or shine. This is particularly important when using retinoids, as your skin may be more sensitive.
Start by using your preferred retinoid once or twice a week. Then after two-three weeks you can increase, provided your skin isn’t irritated. We’d recommend a hydrating routine paired with your retinoid. Keep in mind you need to use it consistently for eight to 12 weeks before seeing the full effect of the product.
You can use three methods:
- The ‘sandwich method’: cleanser – serum/moisturiser (wait till absorbed) – retinoid – wait 10-20 minutes – moisturiser
- A simpler method: cleanser – serum/moisturiser (wait till absorbed) – retinoid
- The stronger method: cleanser – retinoid (on dry skin) – moisturiser
Read on to find out some of the best retinoids on the market…
N.B. Retinoids shouldn’t be used when pregnant or breastfeeding.
Skin + Me offer a personalised prescription that often contains tretinoin, azelaic acid and others depending on your main concerns. After answering as short questionnaire on their website, dermatologists will assess your skin and concerns and offer a consultation. Then, your individual prescription will be shipped out to you monthly (unless you cancel). This is the only way to get tretinoin, without being referred to a dermatologist by your GP and I think it’s worth it and the results speak for themselves. I haven’t personally tried this, but have heard amazing things.
The Medik8 Crystal Retinal is a beauty industry favourite and for a good reason. It contains encapsulated retinaldehyde as well as hydrating ingredients. It comes in four strengths, 1, 3, 6, 10 and 20 (can also be bought after a consultation with an aesthetician). If you are a complete beginner, start from 1 or 3. This formula also contains hyaluronic acid, vitamin E and glycerin to support and moisturise the skin. Medik8 claim you can see results as early as four weeks and we agree – this works really well.
Sachi Skin is a relatively new brand, founded by a cosmetic formulator, aiming to tackle pigmentation issues for all. Their proprietary retinoid blend contains encapsulated 0.05% retinaldehyde, ursolic acid and a mix of antioxidants to brighten and smooth the skin. It’s gentle and suitable for beginners and the skin appears overall brighter and less angry if you suffer with breakouts.
Renowned dermatologist Dr Sam Bunting has her own skincare line that’s non-irritating, suitable for all skin types and non-comedogenic—meaning the products won’t block your pores.
Beginner-friendly retinol, the Flawless Nightly Serum is truly suitable for all as it can target blemishes as well as fine lines, simultaneously. It contains granactive retinoid, which actually needs no conversions in the skin, and it’s relatively gentle, so suitable for beginners. There’s also azelaic, niacinamide and bakuchiol in the formula. A great all-rounder.