Ingredient Spotlight: Retinol

You’ve heard of it, right? The magical potion derived from the Fountain of Youth itself!! Well, that’s how it seems to be marketed anyway.

But, do you really know what it is/does to your skin? I’m going to go over the basics of retinol and why you should be wary of using it. And don’t worry- I know no one wants to age (myself included)- so I’ve got some better (read: safer) alternatives for you stay ~forever young~.

Ok, so what actually IS retinol? It’s a type of retinoid (retinoid= umbrella term for derivatives of vitamin A). So, retinol is vitamin A. It’s found in food, dietary supplements, and of course, as we know, skincare products. It is known for its anti-aging functionality, which to be fair is highly effective in the short term.

Here’s how it works- our skin cells renew and replenish, turning over to create new cells. When we reach about the age of 30, this turnover slows down significantly, and continues to slow. Therefore, we’re producing less collagen, and our skin cells are older, causing us to look aged. This is where retinol comes in to “save” the day. It stimulates the production of cells and collagen in our skin…which sounds awesome, right? Well, it is- in the short term. But then we start noticing some problematic issues.

First, these skin cells (since they’re being renewed so quickly) don’t function as well as normal skin cells. The point of skin is to be a barrier to outside forces, but weakened cells don’t do a good job at that. This is why people start experiencing flaking, redness, and peeling. It’s especially bad for people (me!!) who have sensitive skin already. People with rosacea and eczema- don’t even think about it.

Second, it makes you SUPER sensitive to sunlight. You should be wearing (and reapplying) a very high SPF on your face after retinol and some skincare professionals recommend not even using retinol during the day because it’s so difficult to protect skin from sunlight while using it.

Third, normal cells divide a finite number of times. (Remember how retinol works? By expediting the cell turnover process.) So, if you’re putting retinol on your face as a young person (read: 20’s-40’s) you’re using up all of those turnovers and cell divisions and by the time you get to be 50, 60+, you’ve got no more in the tank! Because instead of storing those away for when your skin needs them, you ran threw them all too early.

So, in the long term, retinol won’t do you any favors…not to mention, you can’t use it while you’re pregnant, nursing, have sensitive skin, the list goes on. But again- no one wants to age quickly. Here are some good, safer, more natural alternatives to retinol or vitamin A:

  1. BAKUCHIOL: an antioxidant found in the seeds of the plant psoralea corylifolia that has a similar effect on skin as retinol, but is plant-based, vegan and less irritating. It’s also completely safe to use while pregnant or breastfeeding.
  2. JAMBU EXTRACT: also known as Acmella Oleracea- an extract from the Spilanthes plant that can help reduce the appearance of wrinkles by relaxing and soothing the facial muscles (similar to Botox but plant-based).
  3. CRANBERRY SEED OIL: an oil rich in vitamin E and powerful antioxidants that fight those free radicals in the skin which cause it to sag and wrinkle with age.



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