Retinol has long been the “cool kid on the block” among skincare experts for good reason. This vitamin A derivative tackles some of the most hard-to-treat issues that plague many of our complexions, from pesky fine lines to deep sun damage. However, even though retinol can be a total game changer for some, it can be far too harsh for others, especially if they have sensitive skin.
[Editor's note: Retinol shouldn't be used by those who are pregnant, considering getting pregnant, or nursing. Please consult with your doctor before use.]
That said, if retinol has proven to be irritating to you in the past, you don’t have to completely shun it from your life anymore. A slew of natural retinol alternatives have landed on the market, featuring formulas that are gentler than your run-of-the-mill wrinkle-fighters. “Retinols work to increase cell turnover, build collagen, improve discoloration, and reduce acne by replenishing the body’s vitamin A,” explains New York dermatologist Dr. Hooman Khorasani. Many times, these options include classic retinol coupled with naturally-derived ingredients that are ultra-soothing and generally irritant-free. This means no parabens, sulfates, synthetic chemicals or artificial fragrance.
For those who prefer a more natural beauty routine, there are also plant-based retinol alternatives that work in a similar way to traditional options. What makes these a superb option is that they don’t typically don’t bring about the same flaking or redness that classic retinol does. Still, it’s possible to see irritation from natural retinols. After all, skin that isn’t accustomed to retinol use may have an angry reaction to all that intense exfoliation and accelerated cell turnover.
Although the potential for irritation is always present with retinol products, they’re still the gold standard for anti-aging. So, we had dermatologists sound off on their favorite natural formulas that they recommend stocking up on. From an under-the-radar retinol alternative that you’ve probably never heard of, to a rosehip-derived retinoic acid, the following options are next-level potent.
According to Dr. Khorasani, the Tata Harper™ Retinoic Nutrient Face Oil ($125)—an anti-aging product that uses retinoic acid from rosehip to smooth wrinkles and even out the skin tone—is an excellent product choice. “It softens and moisturizes the skin without leaving an oily residue,” points out Dr. Khorasani.
Similar to the Tata Harper facial oil, Dr. Khorasani’s second choice, The Ordinary® Retinol Serum 0.5% in Squalane ($6), is a retinol-based formula with an oil texture. Using 0.5 percent pure retinol, this is a moderate-strength option that’s better suited for those whose skin is already used to being slathered with retinol. “I really like [this product] because it offers the benefits of an expensive retinol cream at a wallet-friendly price,” he shares.
New York dermatologist Dr. Matthew Lin recommends products containing a natural retinol-alternative called bakuchiol in lieu of standard retinol formulas. “Bakuchiol is a plant-based extract that has [characteristics similar to] retinol,” he explains, adding that one of his favorite choices is the Biossance® + Squalane Phyto-Retinol Serum ($78). “It’s a lightweight serum that reduces fine lines, boosts elasticity, and improves the overall tone of the skin,” he says. In addition to the line-smoothing bakuchiol, this serum contains moisture-boosting hyaluronic acid, toning niacinamide, and hydrating squalene, as well.
As a second option for a bakuchiol-based product, Dr. Lin recommends the Ole Henriksen® Goodnight Glow™ Retin-Alt Sleeping Crème ($55), which pairs bakuchiol with AHAs. “It targets discoloration and gently exfoliates to reveal radiant skin.” Fortunately, this plant-based retinol alternative doesn’t just exfoliate, it also deeply hydrates the skin thanks to its inclusion of edelweiss stem cell within its formula.
Charleston, SC, dermatologist Dr. Marguerite Germain, prefers an indie brand option, specifically LilyAna Naturals® Retinol Cream Moisturizer ($20). In addition to retinol, this cream is infused with soothing ingredients like green tea, shea butter, and jojoba oil so users will be left with skin that feels nourished and rejuvenated rather than irritated.
It turns out, Dr. Germain is so passionate about skin-sensitive retinol that she even formulated her own product. Unsurprisingly, this is one of her top recommendations that she suggests to all her patients. “My Germain Dermatology™ Retinol Forte™ Serum ($55) is stable and will deliver this bioavailable form of retinol by way of its transdermal delivery system,” says Dr. Germain. “It also contains natural green tea polyphenols and natural sodium hyaluronate to soothe the skin, while the retinol induces skin repair, delivering a firm collagen rich appearance.”
Dr. Marguerite Germain is a paid Allergan® consultant.
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