Retinol, retinoids, and Vitamin A – these are some of the ingredient names that are floating around the beauty industry but they're often misunderstood when it comes to your skincare routine. For a start, some of us get confused between retinol and retinoids but they're not the same – they're related like cousins, but they're different.
To understand a bit more about these derivatives, we sought out the advice of beauty expert Larry Yeo, who's been in the business for over 20 years. Yeo was educated in Biotechnology and Cosmetic Science, and he’s passionate about educating, correcting make-up misconceptions, and bringing out people’s beauty.
All skin types are beneficial for retinoid usage. It is finding the right brand that your skin reacts well to – is the focus.Larry Yeo
What is retinol?
So let's get down to business: retinol – alongside retinoid esters and retinal – are basically derivatives of retinoid, which our body needs for creating new cells. Retinol is found in beauty and dermatologic products to promote collagen production, skin renewal, and reduce acne.
What is retinoid?
Retinoid is the family group, and are a class of compounds that derive from vitamin A. The ingredient is amazing and is converted by our skin into retinoic acid.
"Retinoic acid is instantly effective because it is bioactive and is readily absorbed by the skin to work immediately. Like a key (Retinoic acid) and an engine (our skin) – when applied topically, it can kickstart the skin renewing and regeneration processes," shared Yeo.
Some retinoids can be found in over-the-counter beauty products but some powerful ones can be found in oral form. The stronger-performing retinoic acid has to be prescribed by a doctor, but Differin is one exception.
"Those suffering from acne can find comfort in Differin (Adapalene), another retinoid that reduces inflammation and unclogs blocked pores by regulating cell renewal," Yeo added. However, it shouldn't be used as a spot treatment to treat a single pimple.
"There is also Granactive Retinoid, which is a less studied retinoid but it doesn’t have to be converted to Retinoic acid to be effective. It's basically a new structure and offers a “milder” retinoid ester option (due to its character being bioactive without conversion), explained Yeo.
Which skin types are most suited for retinoids?
"All skin types are beneficial for retinoid usage," Yeo stressed. "It is finding the right brand that your skin reacts well to – is the focus. And you have to give 8-12 weeks to see the vast improvement change. Most people want immediate change overnight (impossible) or less than seven days."
Yeo added that the price point also matters as it can affect the eventual product formulation. A beauty product with a better formulation will cost more, on top of factors like brand name and luxe status.
"Let me bring this up – STORAGE is also important. Most brands and retail outlets are aware of storage issues and most formulations are stable. DO NOT BUY from the grey market or parallel importers because their storage will affect retinoids' stability."
"If you need to buy cheaper retinoids or skincare because it is too pricey, that product IS NOT WITHIN your budget. Set realistic needs with your skincare," Yeo added.
Are there any side effects when using retinol or retinoid?
Retinol takes time to work and has to be used in a higher percentage of the formulation.
"Our skin enzymes have to convert retinol to retinal and then to retinoic acid in order to be beneficial to the skin. It is these two conversions that can cause irritation in people (besides the final active). That is why I prefer retinal (retinaldehyde) which requires only one conversion into becoming bioactive (and it is used in a lower %)," Yeo shared.
We also should be using encapsulated products. What this means is that a cosmetic ingredient is housed in a liposome or polymeric wall (usually capsules) to allow the active ingredient to be slowly released over time. This makes the active ingredient even more effective and gentle for your skin to benefit over time.
"That is why I love AHC Youth Focus Essence because they use a barrel shape encapsulation for their retinal/retinaldehyde and with other ingredients to minimise risks of irritation," Yeo added.
5 best retinol and retinoid products that Larry Yeo recommends
1. AHC Youth Focus Eye Serum For Face
There is also a “creamier” version AHC Youth Focus Eye Serum For Face that drier skin types might like.
2. Sunday Riley A+ High-Dose Retinoid Serum
Brands with other retinoids like Sunday Riley A+ High-Dose Retinoid Serum uses Granactive Retinoid and encapsulated retinol.
3. BioEssence Bio-Age’Luxe Smart Precision Ampoule
BioEssence Bio-Age’Luxe Smart Precision Ampoule contains Granactive Reintoid and skin brightening ingredients too.
4. Dr Dennis Gross Advanced Retinol+Ferulic Overnight Wrinkle Treatment
If you want only want all-in-one nighttime treatment that offers everything in the formula, choose Dr Dennis Gross Advanced Retinol+Ferulic Overnight Wrinkle Treatment.
5. First Aid Beauty Skin Lab Retinol Serum
Like Dr. Dennis, both products contain retinol benefits thrown into it for that one-night time serum use.
How to lessen skin irritation when using retinol or retinoids
There are various ways to lessen that effect:
Kickstart usage twice a week nightly, leaving enough breaks in between before increasing to three/four/five times a week gradually after testing out for 3 to 4 weeks. This allows the skin to get used to retinoids and the proliferation action.
Apply a minimal active/neutral moisturiser BEFORE applying the retinoid. This acts as a layer to slow down the retinoid being released into skin (and also apply the moisturiser as it acts as a sealant)
Add an additional step of hydrating serum if your skin tends to be drier. Just apply on wet skin and apply the serum to massage into the skin. Leave to dry before applying your retinoid product. Do note that for some people, better hydration means an improved uptake of retinoid treatment. So always finish with a dense neutral moisturiser.
Also, to amplify the retinoids effect, try coupling it with a Niacinamide (if the serum does not contain it) as it works in tandem to increase the total effect. I like Glow Recipe Watermelon Dew Drops for both amplified hydrating properties and Niacinamide presence.