Although there is no magic formula for perfect skin, there is an ingredient that comes close: retinoic acid .

It is a compound that is frequently used in anti-aging facial creams and serums, and no wonder, as there is no other ingredient that can rival the history of retinoids of scientifically proven efficacy .

Retinol is considered by dermatologists as the star active ingredient to treat almost any skin problem: acne, fine lines, wrinkles, blemishes, sagging, dullness, enlarged pores, etc.

When applied topically, this vitamin A derivative stimulates collagen production and cell renewal , significantly reducing these problems.

Improves sun damage, lines and wrinkles, acne, scars and dark spots, toning down skin tone and smoothing texture. It is the closest thing to a miracle cosmetic that you will find!

What are you waiting for to use a retinol cream? Not sure which one to choose? You have come to the right place, because we are going to tell you which is the best retinoic acid cream on the market, based on its ingredients.

Yes! We take the most popular creams, and the ones with the best ratings, and we analyze their INCI (list of ingredients) to see if it is a cream that is worth it, or just the opposite.

It is the best way to know if it can work on my skin, without having to try it; and if the ingredients are worth what they cost. So in this post you will find the complete analysis of the two best options, and a summary of the remaining creams, with a link to the complete analysis, in case you want to take a look.

I analyze the ingredients one by one, although not to repeat myself, if I have already explained it in another formula, I leave the link so that you can see it if you want.

And there are not only analyzes of creams, below I explain everything related to retinoic acid and retinoids: their benefits, their side effects, the types that are and how to use it in a cosmetic.

We start now!

Best creams with retinoic acid

  • Vsadey Retinol Nourishing and Anti-Wrinkle Moisturizer
  • InstaNatural Retinol Moisturizer
  • Poppy Austin Anti-Aging Moisturizing Retinol Cream
  • Intensive Firming Serum Essential Shock Intense Retinol Fluid by Natura Bissé
  • Intensive Retinol Cream by Esthederm
  • Retinol 3 TR Advanced Night Serum by Medik8
  • StriVectin-AR Advanced Retinol Night Treatment by Strivectin
  • Time Retreat Radiance Boost Treatment by Eve Lom
  • Refining Night Cream Retinol 0.3 by SkinCeuticals
  • NeoStrata High Potency R SerumGel

Vsadey Retinol Nourishing and Anti-Wrinkle Moisturizer

This moisturizing, nourishing and anti-wrinkle cream has 2.5% bioavailable retinol, which works together with hyaluronic acid, provitamin B5, vitamin E, jojoba oil and plant extracts, fighting the signs of aging and acne.

It is one of the highest concentrations that you will be able to find in over-the-counter products, so make sure your skin is tolerant of retinol before applying it.

To minimize the side effects that retinol can produce, it includes anti-irritant and softening ingredients, which soothe and relieve the skin of irritation and itchiness.

The result of the synergy of the formula is a cream capable of replenishing the skin’s nutrients; stimulate collagen production, and promote skin renewal, achieving hydrated, renewed and shiny skin.

In addition, the container is perfect to contain Retinol, it is opaque and airless, so it does not let air or light enter the formula, and all the compounds are kept in optimal conditions.

But let’s go to what interests us, which is the INCI analysis.

What I like about this Vsadey cream is it treats a wide variety of skin related problems, as it includes a lot of different actives.

Not only does it have retinol, which will give our skin back the radiance and texture it had before; it also has moisturizers, which replenish the moisture our skin needs; nourishing ingredients that intensely nourish the dermis; and antioxidants that protect the skin from free radical damage.

From the first to the last ingredient there are beneficial assets, and it does not include anything we do not need. It has no silicones, mineral oils, alcohol, parabens, irritating or toxic agents, or perfumes or fragrances.

There is only one natural preservative, and all this means that this cream prevents the combined effect , or what is the same, the accumulation of small amounts of harmful ingredients (like the ones I mentioned above) with each application of a cosmetic, for days weeks and years.

This accumulation can have serious consequences in the future, not only on our skin, but also on our health; so it is better to avoid it now. How? Using products like this, without any ingredient that is problematic for our skin.

One drawback I find is that it does not have a sustained release mode (such as encapsulation), to reduce retinol irritation as much as possible.

But for everything else, I find it the perfect Retinol cream for all those people who already tolerate Retinol, and want to look younger without going under the knife.

Well, you already have the best retinol cream, but if you really want to achieve the best results on your skin, I advise you to accompany the cream with a hyaluronic acid supplement .

Specifically, with the Nezeni Cosmetics capsules, which in addition to this compound includes a mixture of three antioxidants to reverse the signs of the passage of time: coenzyme Q10, resveratrol and astaxanthin.

Not only will it help your skin to be more hydrated, fuller and healthier, but it will also be smoother, smoother, and over time, more youthful and protected. A simple gesture of taking a capsule a day can help you a lot to take care of your skin.

Nezeni sells its capsules in an antiaging pack, or individually, through its  website . 

InstaNatural Retinol Moisturizer

InstaNatural Retinol Moisturizer contains a blend of ingredients designed to treat multiple signs of aging.

Retinol is one of the most powerful and reliable ingredients for skin care, so it cannot be missing in the composition, and it is combined with vitamin C, hyaluronic acid, oils and nourishing extracts.

This blend helps visibly smooth lines and wrinkles, while reducing blemishes and blemishes on the skin.

Retinol supports the skin’s natural exfoliation process to improve texture, clean pores, minimize blemishes and scars, and reveal smoother, healthier skin.

But it is not its only benefit, it encourages the synthesis of collagen in the skin, which helps reduce sagging, wrinkles, blemishes and fine lines. Vitamin C also supports healthy collagen production, so results are enhanced.

The brand tells us that the formula has no parabens, mineral oil, formaldehydes, PEGs, or harmful preservatives.

We are going to analyze the INCI to see what type of vitamin A it includes, as well as the rest of the active ingredients.

  • Aloe Barbadensis Leaf Juice : Analyzed in Fiori di Cipria’s anti-wrinkle cream for men .
  • Carthamus Tinctorius (Safflower) Seed Oil : Tested in Shiseido Men’s Active Energizing Concentrate anti-wrinkle cream .
  • Glyceryl Stearate : Tested in Fiori di Cipria’s anti-wrinkle cream for men .
  • Glycerin : Tested in Clarins Men’s Anti-Wrinkle Cream for Men .
  • Dicaprylyl Ether : Tested in Fiori di Cipria’s anti-wrinkle cream for men .
  • Cetyl Alcohol : Analyzed in the anti-wrinkle cream Vita Lift 5 from L’Oreal Men Expert .
  • Stearic Acid : Analyzed in Fiori di Cipria’s anti-wrinkle cream for men .
  • Sodium Ascorbyl Phosphate (Vitamin C) : Analyzed in the restorative serum of Noray Cosméticos .
  • Butyrospermum Parkii (Shea) Butter : Tested in Nezeni Cosmetics anti-wrinkle cream .
  • Sodium Hyaluronate : Analyzed in Nezeni Cosmetics anti-wrinkle cream .
  • Retinyl Retinoate: It is a lesser known but very interesting member of the retinoids (derivatives of vitamin A). Retinyl Retinoate is a molecule that is created by attaching retinol to retinoic acid. The binding makes the molecule more stable (pure retinol is unstable and difficult to formulate) and more active. The Korean research group, which invented the molecule, conducted several studies published in highly respected journals to prove that Retinyl Retinoate has better anti-aging activity than retinol. It is often touted as 8 times more active than retinol, but when it comes to research, we can quote that “Retinyl Retinoate showed higher biological activity than retinol. In addition, it showed a side effect similar to retinol, and not retinoic acid. ” As for in-vivo, Also known as real people studies, there is one from 2010 comparing 0.06% Retinyl Retinoate to placebo and 0.075% Retinol. The conclusion of this study was that Retinyl Retinoate 0.06% is significantly more effective than placebo or retinol, and it also has a faster-acting effect. Another study (in test tubes and mouse skin) concluded that Retinyl Retinoate increases hyaluronic acid production more than other retinoids and is also less irritating. It is also promising for treating acne. In an 8-week double-blind clinical study, Retinyl Retinoate 0.05% “showed a significant decrease in inflammatory and non-inflammatory lesions, and in the amount of fat.” Overall, it is a very interesting and promising member of the retinoid family.
  • Polylactic Acid : Also called (PLA). It is a polymer of lactic acid (LA), with a higher pH. Furthermore, the degradation of PLA by hydrolysis allows the slow release of the LA monomer over a longer period of time. For this reason, PLA is capable of showing properties similar to those of LA (whitening, moisturizing and exfoliating) in cosmetic applications, with a gentler effect on the skin.
  • Cholesteryl Nonanoate : It is a form of cholesterol, an emollient and occlusive that helps lipids in the skin by releasing and stabilizing lipophilic active ingredients such as vitamins.
  • Canola Oil: Rapeseed oil, which is formally known as Brassica Campestris, is a fragrance-free oil that is a great source of healthy fats such as omega-3, omega-6 fatty acids, and also alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). The body does not produce the fatty acids found in rapeseed oil naturally, yet they do offer incredible emollient and antioxidant properties for the skin. The emollient property of rapeseed oil helps to hydrate and prevent dry and itchy skin, keeping the skin smooth and healthy. Rapeseed oil also contains large amounts of vitamin E, which is considered an antioxidant that scavenges free radicals that damage the body and intensifies the appearance of aging skin. Rapeseed oil in general is considered to help regenerate, restructure,
  • Cetearyl Alcohol : Analyzed in the Kiehl’s Midnight Recovery Eye eye contour .
  • Limnanthes Alba (Meadowfoam) Seed Oil : Tested in Shiseido Men’s Anti-Wrinkle Cream for Men .
  • Hesperidin : A flavonoid found in various plants such as citrus fruits and evening primrose oil. It has potential as an antioxidant and prevents free radicals from damaging cells. Hesperidin neutralizes reactive oxygen species. This protects DNA, proteins, and tissues from radiation, inflammation, and toxins. It also prevents oncogenes from causing cells to become cancerous. Oncogenes are genes that can cause cells to transform into tumor cells.
  • Rosmarinus Officinalis (Rosemary) Leaf Extract : Analyzed in the Decléor Harmonie Calm eye contour .
  • Centella Asiatica Extract : Analyzed in Mercadona’s Sisbela eye contour .
  • Hibiscus Rosa-Sinensis Flower Extract : Extract of hibiscus or Chinese rose, rich in flavonoids, malic acid, citric acid and tartaric acid. They are used in skin care products as an antioxidant rich in vitamin C, it prevents acne as it has anti-inflammatory properties,
    increases and maintains skin elasticity, successfully treats fine lines and wrinkles and gives the skin a younger looking. With astringent properties, it acts as a natural moisturizer and treats skin conditions such as eczema. The extract also keeps hair healthy and shiny, cures conditions like dandruff and itchy scalp.
  • Panthenol : Tested in Fiori di Cipria’s anti-wrinkle cream for men .
  • Camellia Sinensis (Green Tea) Leaf Extract : Tested in Clarins Men’s Anti-Wrinkle Cream for Men .
  • Geranium Maculatum Extract : Tested in TruSkin Naturals Vitamin C Serum as Wildcrafted Organic Geranium.
  • Salix Alba (Willow) Bark Extract: Willow bark extract is used in cosmetics for its astringent, anti-inflammatory, soothing and conditioning properties. It has been used for centuries as a treatment for headaches and other ailments due to its aspirin-like properties, as well as as an antiseptic. Willow bark extract contains salicylic acid, a BHA that is a natural exfoliator and is used in many acne treatments due to its ability to help skin remove dead cells and unclog pores; It can also stimulate the formation of new cells. It also contains phenolic acids; such as salicin, salicortin, fragilin, populin, triandrine and vimalin, as well as flavonoids, tannins (gallotannins and catechin-type tannins) and minerals, which allow it to help skin rejuvenation. The astringent properties of willow bark extract, however, soften and loosen dry, flaky, or thickened skin so that it falls off or can be easily removed. It is a low-risk ingredient, and the negative side effects that stem from salicylic acid (such as burns, peeling, and sun sensitivity) are believed to be diminished due to the low levels of salicin actually found in this ingredient. However, it should continue to be used with an additional sunscreen product for safety reasons. and the negative side effects that stem from salicylic acid (such as burning, peeling, and sun sensitivity) are believed to be diminished due to the low levels of salicin actually found in this ingredient. However, it should continue to be used with an additional sunscreen product for safety reasons. and the negative side effects that stem from salicylic acid (such as burning, peeling, and sun sensitivity) are believed to be diminished due to the low levels of salicin actually found in this ingredient. However, it should continue to be used with an additional sunscreen product for safety reasons.
  • Tocopherol (Vitamin E) : Tested in Clarins Men’s Anti-Wrinkle Cream for Men as Tocopherol Acetate.
  • Xanthan Gum : Analyzed in L’Oreal Men Expert’s Vita Lift 5 anti-wrinkle cream .
  • Pentylene Glycol : Analyzed in Nezeni Cosmetics anti-wrinkle cream .
  • Caprylyl Glycol : Analyzed in Nezeni Cosmetics anti-wrinkle cream .
  • Ethylhexylglycerin : Analyzed in Nezeni Cosmetics anti-wrinkle cream .
  • Citric Acid : Analyzed in Fiori di Cipria’s anti-wrinkle cream for men .

As we have seen, it does not use Retinol as an active ingredient, but Retinyl Retinoate, which is a lesser known, but very interesting retinoid. It is a mixture of retinol and retinoic acid, a more active and stable molecule, so it is somewhat more effective than retinol and has a faster acting effect.

The concentration of Retinyl Retinoate is not specified, but due to its position on the list, it is understood that it is less than 2.5% that the previous product has.

This compound is surrounded by great moisturizing ingredients, the most important, hyaluronic acid; as well as nourishing agents, such as shea butter.

And there are also antioxidants and botanical extracts, which make this cream a great option for skin that wants to start in cosmetics with retinoids.

Its low concentration of Retinyl Retinoate makes it suitable even for sensitive skin.

And as the brand says, it does not have harmful ingredients, no alcohol, no parabens, no harmful preservatives, nothing. So together with the previous cream, they are positioned as the best options on the market.

Poppy Austin Anti-Aging Moisturizing Retinol Cream

It is a pretty good cream that uses 2.5% Retinol as its active ingredient. I think it’s a good concentration, even if you’ve never used retinoids before.

Retinol is accompanied by other ingredients that complement it very well, such as shea butter, hyaluronic acid, or provitamin B5. It also has several botanical extracts, rich in antioxidants, anti-inflammatory and astringent, so the cream is suitable for both dry and oily skin.

The pity is that it includes alcohol, an irritating ingredient and another toxic, which cloud all the benefits that this cream can provide. Still, it is a great option, and not very expensive.

You can enter the full technical analysis in the following article: Poppy Austin Anti-Aging Moisturizing Retinol Cream, Analysis and Alternative .

Essential Shock Intensive Firming Serum Intense Retinol Fluid by Natura Bissé

It is a very complete formula, which has two types of vitamin A (Retinol and Retinyl Palmitate), and other actives such as AHAs, antioxidants, amino acids, vitamin C, shea butter, and even collagen and elastin.

All of them are good ingredients that will show anti-aging benefits. However, other not-so-good ingredients are also present, alcohol, some irritants, and a toxic and irritating preservative.

The amount of fragrances seems excessive and useless to me, and there are also quite a few preservatives. There are a few ingredients left over that would leave an excellent formula.

You can enter the complete technical analysis in the following article: Intensive Firming Serum Essential Shock Intense Retinol Fluid by Natura Bissé, Analysis and Alternative .

Intensive Retinol Cream by Esthederm

For a high-end cream, its ingredients leave a lot to be desired. It does not have Retinol, but with a less effective derivative Retinyl Palmitate, and it is only accompanied by a couple of antioxidants and moisturizers that are in very low concentration.

The rest of the composition has no benefit for the skin, and certain ingredients can be dangerous: there are silicones, various irritants, perfume, and a couple of harmful compounds.

In the end, the most present ingredients in the formula are emollients, silicones and alcohol. This means that I do not recommend this cream for any type of skin.

You can enter the full technical analysis in the following article: Esthederm Intensive Retinol Cream, Analysis and Alternative .

Retinol 3 TR Advanced Night Serum by Medik8

It is a fairly mild serum that uses Retinol at a concentration of 0.3%, and which is also encapsulated, so the release is much more gradual, and the irritating and drying effects are much less noticeable.

So I think it is a good formula for retinoid initiates, or sensitive skin, who need to start small. But if your skin is tough, you will need something more powerful.

It hardly has any active ingredient that supports Retinol, which is why it is a formula that falls short in terms of benefits. There are better options out there.

You can enter the full technical analysis in the following article: Retinol 3 TR Advanced Night Serum by Medik8, Analysis and Alternative .

StriVectin-AR Advanced Retinol Night Treatment by Strivectin

Although the Strivectin formula is packed with actives, most are not in the desired proportions. Only shea butter and some emollients dominate the composition.

Retinol is accompanied by Retinyl Palmitate, a good duo, and its proportion is suitable for the most sensitive skin.

However, copper peptides, Argireline, hyaluric acid, provitamin B5, AHA and vitamins should be in a higher concentration.

Also, there are too many preservatives, a perfume, and other troublesome ingredients that shouldn’t be there.

You can enter the complete technical analysis in the following article: StriVectin-AR Advanced Retinol Night Treatment by Strivectin, Analysis and Alternative .

Time Retreat Radiance Boost Treatment by Eve Lom

Eve Lom is a luxury brand, and it shows in its ingredients, its packaging and its price. You have used liposome-encapsulated retinol to minimize the side effects of retinol. And its amount of beneficial assets is impressive.

However, it also has some ingredients that I don’t like too much, such as alcohol, irritants and toxic, in high proportion.

If it weren’t for these ingredients, it would be a great option to start with a retinoid treatment. But I think there are better, more affordable options.

You can enter the full technical analysis in the following article: Eve Lom’s Time Retreat Radiance Boost Treatment, Analysis and Alternative .

Refining Night Cream Retinol 0.3 by SkinCeuticals

SkinCeuticals is a L’Oreal brand, and it shows in the ingredients. As we are used to, there are irritating and toxic ingredients, and the active ingredients are in a very low concentration.

Retinol only reaches 0.3%, which may be enough for sensitive skin, but falls short for other skin types. The other assets are almost non-existent.

This means that the weight of the cream is carried by emollients and lubricants, several of them irritating. These ingredients do not correspond to the price of the cream, which easily exceeds € 80.

You can enter the full technical analysis in the following article: Refining Night Cream Retinol 0.3 from SkinCeuticals, Analysis and Alternative .

NeoStrata High Potency R SerumGel

The NeoStrata formula leaves much to be desired. Neither the concentration nor the type of vitamin A is adequate to achieve the beneficial effects of retinol, so the mention of retinol in the product description is pure marketing.

It has other interesting assets, such as glycolic acid (in a high concentration), hyaluronic acid (a great moisturizer), and other antioxidants such as coffee extract, carnosine or arginine.

However, there are several irritating, and toxic ingredients, in addition to silicones and compounds that can produce benzene in the presence of vitamin C (which is present in the formula).

For all this, it would not be an option for me.

You can enter the complete technical analysis in the following article: NeoStrata High Potency R SerumGel, Analysis and Alternative .

What is retinoic acid?

Tretinoin (also known as retinoic acid, all-trans retinoic acid or ATRA) is the acidic form of vitamin A, and is part of the family of more than 4,000 retinoids , which are compounds derived from retinol or vitamin A, or structurally similar compounds.

Other retinoids are Retinol , the alcoholic form of vitamin A; Retinal , the aldehyde form of vitamin A; beta-carotene , a precursor to vitamin A, present in orange vegetables, such as carrots or sweet potatoes; Retinyl Palmitate , Retinyl Acetate and Retinyl Linoleate , derivatives called pro-retinols.

Retinoic acid is synthesized from vitamin A (retinol), which is derived from food, since the body cannot produce it on its own.

It is a natural compound (it can be found in good quality rosehip oil), sensitive to light , and its low molecular weight makes it fat soluble, which means that it diffuses easily through cell membranes.

Retinoids are not something new, as they have been researched for years. In 1931 Paul Karrer won the Nobel Prize for calculating the structure of vitamin A; 12 years later, retinol was successfully synthesized, and since then, vitamin A derivatives began to appear.

Tretinoin was developed in the late 1960s. It was originally intended to treat acne, but acne patients in clinical trials began to notice smoother, less wrinkled skin, so research began on its anti-aging benefits.

Today, retinoic acid is the only FDA-approved compound in the field of topical anti-aging.

Types of retinoids


An ingredient derived from vitamin A and subject to medical prescription. When applied to the skin, it converts directly to retinoic acid . It then binds to receptors and activates the cell maturation process in the skin.

The problem is that they can be irritating to individuals with sensitive skin, and if used incorrectly they can do more harm than good.

An alternative is to use less irritating precursors, substances that are themselves inactive but can become active (direct-acting) retinoids in the body. The most common precursors in skin care are the forms of vitamin A, retinol, and retinyl palmitate.


A cosmetic ingredient that is sold in over-the-counter formulas. When applied (assuming it is a well-formulated, stable, encapsulated product), it slowly converts within the skin to retinoic acid .

Retinol is less potent than prescription tretinoin, as it is released over time. This means it is applied to the skin slowly, over hours, rather than all at once at the time of application (as retinoids are). This is why retinol users often experience less irritation.

Therefore, retinol is ideal for sensitive and reactive skin and for those with less sun damage. Make no mistake, despite being milder, retinol is still extremely effective and can give the same results as retinoic acid in the long run.

Retinyl Palmitate (Retinyl Palmitate)

A derivative of vitamin A (a mixture of pure retinol and palmitic acid), much weaker than retinol.

The process of converting retinol palmitate to retinoic acid is much more complex. The amount that ends up reaching the cellular receptor is very small . It just can’t be compared to the effectiveness of pure retinol.

When combined in a formula, this ingredient can improve the chemical stability of retinol, act as an emollient and antioxidant, but it does not offer the smoothing or whitening results that retinol does.

Retinyl Acetate, Retinyl Linoleate, and Retinyl Propionate are also in this same category.

Retinal (Retinaldehyde)

A stable precursor to retinoic acid. It is just one metabolic step away from retinoic acid and is more effective than retinol or retinyl palmitate.

However, although it is less irritating than retinoic acid, retinaldehyde still causes skin irritation in a significant number of people. Also, it has stability issues, especially when exposed to sunlight.

Retinyl Retinoate

It is a new retinoid precursor and derivative of vitamin A that combines high efficacy, produces fewer side effects, and has good stability (compared to other derivatives of vitamin A and retinoids).

Retinol retinoate is a molecule that is produced by chemically binding retinoic acid and retinol molecules. In the body, it only takes one metabolic step to break it down into retinoic acid and retinol, at which point retinoic acid is immediately activated, while retinol can be converted to additional retinoic acid later on.

As a result, the biological activity of retinol retinoate in the skin is higher than that of retinol (and possibly even retinaldehyde) and may be approaching that of retinoic acid itself.

On the other hand, since retinol retinoate is inactive until it is converted, and the conversion is gradual, it is likely to produce a smoother and more gradual increase in retinoic acid levels in the skin (compared to direct application of Retinoic acid).

This produces less irritation because it helps avoid excessive spikes in retinoic acid levels in the skin.

Additionally, retinol retinoate is more resistant to inactivation by sunlight than retinol and most other forms of vitamin A.

Hydroxypinacolone Retinoate (HPR)

It is the newest member of the retinoid family. It is an ester of retinoic acid, which means that it is directly related to retinoic acid.

Hydroxypinacolone Retinoate binds directly to skin cell retinoid receptors to work its skincare magic.

The great promise of HPR is that it is just as active as retinoic acid, but without the irritation. Based on manufacturer’s testing, 24 hours of an occlusive patch with 0.5% HPR resulted in significantly less irritation than 0.5% retinol.

Additionally, there was a dramatic reduction in lines and wrinkles after applying 0.2% HPR around the eyes twice a day for 14 days.

These results sound promising, but the information out there from the HPR at the moment is primarily from the manufacturer, whose tests may or may not be accurate or properly designed. As the HPR is fairly new, there isn’t much independent research we can find yet.

So what type of vitamin C to choose?

Keep in mind that just because a cream includes any of the ingredients mentioned above, it will not give results. It all depends on the formulation, the percentage used, how it is applied to the skin and the stability of the vitamin.

What is the difference between retinol and retinoic acid?

Tretinoin (retinoic acid) and retinol are both retinoids. They are not exactly the same, but they belong to the same family.

As I mentioned, retinoic acid is so effective because it binds directly to skin cells, which is why it can help prevent the appearance of wrinkles, dark spots, and other signs of aging by regulating cell production.

But retinol doesn’t work the same way. Retinol itself is not active, and it has to be converted to retinoic acid in order for it to be absorbed through the skin.

In theory, our skin has the metabolic machinery to do the conversion, which is a two-step process: retinol goes to retinaldehyde, and from there to all-trans retinoic acid.

After this conversion, it has the same capabilities as tretinoin, but this conversion process is not very effective, and the effectiveness varies from person to person, hence retinoic acid is more effective than retinol.

A 2015 study confirms that retinol is approximately 10 times less potent than tretinoin. This is true of the benefits and side effects, which are milder with retinol than with retinoic acid.

Bottom line: Retinol is not the same as retinoic acid or tretinoin. It is much less potent, but it still works great and is still a great anti-aging ingredient.

Benefits of retinoids

Retinoids are so effective that there is evidence of their effectiveness in more than 125 different dermatological disorders. But we are not going to name them all, we are going to focus on the most important ones.

It is a great anti-aging ingredient . In the aging process, collagen plays an important role. It acts as the pillars that secure the structure of any building, keeping it straight and firm.

To ensure that collagen does not disappear, we can do two things: one is to preserve the existing collagen in our skin as much as possible, and the other is to convince the skin to create more collagen.

The first will prevent wrinkles and loss of firmness, while the second will be able to repair existing damage. Retinoic acid works both ways: it inhibits collagen-destroying enzymes, and it stimulates the skin’s own collagen synthesis.

Retinoic acid also helps to rejuvenate the skin in many other ways: it stimulates not only collagen (type I and III), but also other important elements of the skin, for example, glycosaminoglycans (GAG), a natural hydration factor, or the protein of the skin, the filagrafina.

It stimulates the new growth of small blood vessels, which improves circulation and increases the supply of oxygen to the skin. It makes the epidermis thicker, and compacts the outermost layer of the skin, the stratum corneum.

And it has the potential to stop photoaging before it starts. Retinoids prevent the increase in collagenase after UV exposure. Collagenase is what breaks down collagen.

The overall result is less wrinkled, firmer, smoother and smoother skin.

But not only can it get firmer skin, it is also an effective treatment for comedonic acne . It normalizes keratinization, which means it prevents dead skin cells from sticking together and clogging pores.

It reduces large pores and improves cell turnover within the pores, making them less likely to clog and turn into blackheads and whiteheads.

On the other hand, retinoids don’t work as well for acne or sore, inflamed pustular cysts. In fact, when someone has pustular, cystic, or infected acne, retinoids can make it worse. Acne is an inflammatory disease of the skin. Therefore, it is not a good idea to stimulate this type of acne with retinoid activity.

Another benefit of tretinoin is skin lightening . It works by preventing melanin from attaching to basal cells (skin cells at the bottom of the epidermis), as well as accelerating epidermal renewal and, therefore, the loss of melanin.

The results are not just cosmetic. Retinoids have been used to treat precancerous skin cells . Studies show that after two years of use, the abnormal cells returned to normal.

The reason that retinoids, especially tretinoin, can solve so many skin problems is that they act on the skin at the cellular level .

As we age, cells behave more erratically, but the use of retinoic acid causes skin cells to behave in a healthy and normal way.

Our skin cells contain receptors for retinoic acid, and tretinoin binds directly to these receptors and changes basic cellular behavior, such as gene expression.

Retinoic acid side effects

The most common are irritation, peeling of the skin and redness . As tretinoin (and retinoids in general) increase the proliferation of skin cells, excess causes visible flaking. This usually occurs between 2 and 4 days after starting a treatment with this compound, and is completely normal.

After two or three weeks, the skin cells adapt to the retinoic acid and begin to tolerate the ingredient, so hold out the downpour these weeks, and you will get superior benefits.

To minimize these side effects, you can reduce the concentration of retinoic acid. A 1995 study compared 0.1% and 0.025% tretinoin creams and found that the improvement in photoaging was similar, but the irritation was much greater in the 0.1% version.

Another very common side effect is dry skin . Tretinoin appears to increase the amount of water that evaporates from the top layer of the skin (this is called Trans Epidermal Water Loss) and may also decrease ceramide synthesis, at least in the short term.

Using a good moisturizer beforehand is a smart step you can take to reduce this dryness.

Manufacturers have found ways to make this ingredient more tolerable, less irritating, and more effective. The creams contain moisturizers and emollients to counteract dryness, and have more advanced delivery systems to introduce the active ingredient into the skin.

But in all cases patience and common sense are required.

Retinol and pregnancy

The use of retinoic acid (and retinoids in general) is discouraged during pregnancy, although it is best to consult with your doctor.

In my experience, however, most advise waiting to use vitamin A until after giving birth due to the potential risks.

High amounts of oral vitamin A have been shown to cause birth defects; However, in topical treatments no evidence has yet been found that any of the forms of vitamin A cause any harm , but doctors are very cautious with pregnant women, and for this reason they recommend not using retinoids.

What happens if you use these creams while pregnant? The good news is that it is highly unlikely that your baby will be affected if you use retinol creams before you realize you are pregnant.

Retinol and sensitive skin

Sensitive skin is the most delicate, and retinoids can be too aggressive.

If you have a history of eczema, you will want to use retinol and not a retinoid. Vitamin A is very active and breaks down the skin’s protective moisture barrier through its aggressive cell renewal process (basically causing dryness). Therefore, many eczema-prone skin types find that retinoids cause breakouts.

I recommend that you start with a retinol cream, the results may take a little longer to achieve, but it is softer and more tolerable.

You can start using a cream with a low concentration of active ingredients (and supplemental calming ingredients).

In addition to the correct formulation, a smart regimen is key to optimizing results and minimizing irritation.

Just use the night cream, and gradually intensify the treatment. With proper technique and regular use, you will begin to tolerate retinoids, and you will be able to increase your concentration more quickly.

For extra-sensitive skin, apply moisturizer before retinoid to reduce sensitivity. Can’t tolerate irritation? Rinse off the cream after 15 minutes. This will greatly increase the comfort, while you will continue to see the benefits.

Whatever the formula, use it twice a week for two weeks, then increase to three times a week. If you feel irritation, go back to the previous concentration.

What about the eye contour? Can retinoids be used in this sensitive area? Not only can it be, but it must, because it is in that delicate area where most of the damage appears.

Studies have shown that people who apply retinoids to the eye area get the best results. What if it gets in your eye? It may sting a bit, but it won’t do any harm.

How to choose a retinol cream

Because vitamin A is prone to breakdown and loss of potency, choose formulas labeled “stabilized” or “encapsulated,” which do not degrade in the presence of other ingredients.

Packaging is also important. Retinoids are sensitive to light, heat, and oxygen, so look for an airtight , opaque container , such as an airless opaque glass or plastic tube. Lid jars don’t keep retinoids as fresh and effective.

How to use retinoid creams

If the possible side effects have not scared you, and you are determined to use a retinol cream, first you should know how to use it to minimize the side effects and maximize its effectiveness.

  • Work the retinoic acid cream into your skincare routine gradually , starting every three days for the first 2 weeks. If there is no visible irritation, increase every other day for another 2 weeks. If everything is fine, you can apply it every day. When in doubt, start slow and increase applications as you go.
  • Topical retinoids should not be used when the skin is exposed to sunlight, as vitamin A which is key to the anti-aging process is degraded. That is why it is important to use them only at night .
  • Use an amount similar to the size of a pea , it will be more than enough. At first, you can dilute it with an equal amount of moisturizer.
  • If you have sensitive skin, wait 15 minutes after cleansing your face or after applying any other cream to your skin for it to dry completely, which also helps reduce irritation.
  • You will get better and faster results if you also use exfoliating acids in your routine. But watch out for acids (AHA or BHA) and vitamin C, potential irritants; And don’t use harsh scrubs or microdermabrasion.
  • Once a week, skip the scrub and retinol and use a hydrating serum that contains antioxidants, epidermal growth factors, or peptides. Your skin requires a variety of ingredients to age healthily.
  • It is important to use sunscreen if you go outside, not because retinol causes spots, but because newly irritated skin requires more care, and the sun can irritate it more. As long as you are serious about applying sunscreen, you can use retinol creams in the summer months .
  • The use of these creams on a regular basis achieve better results than when they are used only once a week. Therefore, it is important to commit to using it consistently, even during the summer months.

What concentration of retinoic acid to use?

Normally, creams for normal skin contain 2.5% retinol, while products made for people with sensitive skin contain 0.3% of the ingredient.

For first-time users of these creams, milder formulations are the best way to start. After the skin has adapted to this ingredient, the concentration can be increased.

At what age should you start using this type of cream?

If blemishes are not your main concern, it is generally recommended to start between the ages of 26 and 30 . The exact age will depend on your skin type, but I don’t suggest using it before age 26. Why?

Vitamin A accelerates the skin’s metabolism, which begins to decrease after the age of 30. When you are young, your skin is already very metabolically active, and the use of retinoids can backfire and lead to breakouts, rashes, etc. It could upset the natural balance of the skin.

When do you start to see the results?

Retinol (or retinoids) don’t offer visible results overnight, you have to be patient and don’t give up. It is a marathon, not a sprint.

Unlike an acid peel that provides immediate results, vitamin A works slowly to create skin changes. Generally, you won’t start to see texture changes until 2-4 months of use. With continued use, you will see more and more positive changes. Do not give up!

In summary, whether you start to show signs of aging (wrinkles, blemishes, sagging), or if your problem is acne and its effects, and you need a proven solution, your best option is a cream with retinoids. Start with a low concentration and work your way up to minimize irritation. Your skin will thank you!

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Kathie Sand always saw the world of beauty as the terrain on which to build her professional career, a goal that was clear to her when she was only 15 years old. Her great concern to expand knowledge led her to settle in Paris where she studied hand in hand with the best beauty professionals and with the most advanced techniques for skin care.

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